I love my job very much, but my work habits are killing me. Without getting too specific, I do a lot of research and writing, and my main projects are highly researched papers, typically 10-60 pages in length. It probably averages out to about 30 pages a month of polished work, although I generally write about double or triple that amount during the process of drafting and revising. I would venture most of my time is spent on research, but I don't keep track. The job is very intellectually stimulating, and, at times, emotionally taxing (for reasons I won't go into). Despite the stress, I find the work more rewarding than anything I've ever done, and I hope that I can keep this job long into the future.
I largely control what I do and when, but I have extremely important, non-negotioable external deadlines. Here's the problem: I can't buckle down until it's almost
too late. As a result, I have these short periods of relative calm, followed by a week when I either don't sleep, or only sleep a few hours a night. For example, I had one of these big projects due Tuesday, and from Saturday - Tuesday I probably got in about 7 hours of sleep, total. Also, during these time periods, I shirk all other responsibilities -- family obligations, personal appointments, washing dishes, laundry, EVERYTHING, in order to get my work in on time.
These binge work episodes are obviously a serious problem for a lot of reasons. Primarily, I'm concerned about my health, but I'm also concerned about my marriage, and the fact that I'm constantly one heartbeat away from blowing a really serious deadline. (This
was me. For the record, I didn't blow the deadline. But I also worked for 2 weeks straight with barely any sleep and I think it took 10 years off my life. I also had an extreme anxiety/panic attack that scared the shit out of me and my husband. I thought this awful experience would be the catalyst for stopping this behavior, but it's happened three times since then.).
Anyway, one would think that the shoddiness of my last minute work product would solve this problem by getting me fired and/or reprimanded. The thing is, my work product is awesome and I only ever get positive feedback. Part of it is that I demand a lot out of my writing, so even though it's all last minute, I still revise and edit my drafts countless times. Actually, I probably spend more time on these projects than my colleagues, it's just that their work is spread evenly over the course of 6 weeks and mine is over the course of 6 days.
The other problem is that I think my brain cannot complete a project on a piecemeal basis. It's hard to explain, but generally speaking the 9-5 work day is a wash for me. I am derailed by anyone and anything. I have never been able to work on something for an hour and put it down. It takes me at least an hour to orient myself to what I'm doing. I also have a hard time working when there is anything else on my mind-- it could be as simple as a recipe I'm making that night, or a health insurance claim I have to file or an email from a friend I received before work.
And while these work binges are horrific, I also really enjoy them at times. Last weekend I sat on the couch on Saturday morning and didn't move until Monday morning and all I thought about was Project X (because there was no other option!). I had so many exciting breakthroughs and thought of a lot of great things to write. But I find that only happens when I'm totally in the zone, and I'm only totally in the zone when I've spent hours and hours and hours (consecutively) getting deep into the project. If I split it up, it feels like I am starting from scratch each time I approach the work. In a way, this has led to a system where I don't even bother until I know I have no choice but to sit down and work.
I've been working like this since I was a kid (seriously, I pulled all nighters in fourth grade). I thought it would be better when I got out of grad school and got a real job, but I've had a real job for 5 years now and it's only gotten worse. I know this isn't feasible. But I have no idea how to stop.
For what it's worth, I have been diagnosed with ADHD, and I've tried a variety of drugs and dosages. Nothing seems to work. I've also tried therapy. But I'm very successful on paper, and no one takes my problem seriously. ("Well whatever you're doing, seems like it's working!") My husband also thought I was exaggerating until we moved in with each other a few years ago, at which point he realized the full extent of my god awful work habits. He's very patient, but I'm not really interested in testing that patience. I'd really prefer some non-drug, non-therapy solutions.