It pains me to admit that my favorite season, summer, is coming to a close. As we look toward September and beyond, this can often appear to be a black hole of project deadlines, obligations and even more juggling of family activities. Somehow we need all of these things to fit into the same 24 hours in a day we expected so much less out of throughout the summer. It’s a recipe for stress, overwhelm and depression if we are not careful.
The good news is there are a ton of good things that come from your busy season – greater productivity, achievement and organization just to name a few. It’s a great opportunity to wake up and show what we’re truly capable of, but we must be careful to also be realistic with the expectations we have for our schedules and to strategically plan out moments of happiness and relaxation as well.
Take a look at these top tips I highly recommend taking to heart if you hope to make this your most successful – and most manageable – busy season yet!
Start with the big things
Looking at a laundry list of to-items that have to all make it to your calendar can be overwhelming to say the least. But remember that not all of these tasks share the same urgency and importance as one another. Some may simply not even need to be addressed during your busy season at all. Others can be delegated to another staff member or outsourced.
Start by populating your calendar with the “big” events or deadlines that are firmly set. Once you are able to see how these shake out, you can fill in your next level of important items, strategically scheduling them on days and weeks that another big event does not land. If you take care of the big things first, the little things will more easily fall into place.
Map it out long-term
Next, look at the big picture. If you know your busy season runs approximately three months, look at these three months side by side. Based upon your list of priority to-do’s, looking at just one month at a time may tempt you to overload that first month with as many tasks as possible, when that simply isn’t necessary. If a meeting or event can be pushed a month or two down the road with no major repercussions – push it! Just because you can get something done this week or this month, doesn’t mean it has to get done this week or this month. Stretch out your busy season…and maximize your sanity.
Gear up slowly
“Diving in head first” is a phrase we commonly hear in business. Sure, there are some occasions that call for you to jump right in without hesitation or second guessing. But for your busy season, which you can reasonably see boiling to a peak on your calendar, ease into your new schedule gradually.
If you know you will need to get up (a lot) earlier in the mornings to fit in some extra work time, transition your body by getting up just 15 minutes or a half hour early a few days at a time. If you can remember the agony of the sound of your alarm on the first day of school, avoid this by conditioning your body slowly to the “joy” of functioning early in the morning. Apply this theory to working through your lunch hour or getting in a few extra hours before bed. See what works best for you and stick to it!
The activities you enjoyed during your “slower” months, like social coffee meetings or writing daily posts on your personal blog, may need to be moved to your back burner as you gear up for your busy season. These are worthy time commitments when you aren’t overloaded with other client work, but when you hit that crazy time of the year, pull back on these items and focus foremost on the things that are directly making you money. Learning to say “no” now will save you stress and overwhelm in the coming weeks.
There is a big difference between being productive and being busy. The first means you’re tackling priorities, making money and delivering results to clients. Busyness means you’re filling your schedule with tasks that simply aren’t priority or don’t need you immediate attention. This relates back to the advice of “just say no.” Be ruthless with your schedule and only take on tasks that are a productive use of your time.
Schedule time for relaxation, personal development and social activities
Having just mentioned everything I did about prioritizing your time with big, important, money-making tasks, I’m also going to stress the importance of strategically scheduling downtime. How is both possible, you say? Put it on your calendar like any other appointment that’s filling your time that week. Make planned relaxation, personal development and social activities part of your busy season, too. Yes, you may need to scale back from what you would normally get to do during your slower months, but personal time is so important for keeping your sanity and preserving your happiness.
Give yourself “carrots” along the way
Speaking of happiness, I strongly suggest dangling some “carrots” in front of yourself to keep you motivated and engaged in your work. Busy seasons are a welcome change because they often result in greater cash flow, but no amount of increased income is worth burning yourself out for months on end. Once you achieve a certain deadline, celebrate with a dedicated afternoon off. Or reward yourself with a rerun of your favorite TV show if you work hard to knock off your biggest task before noon. Too many rewards will undermine your hard work and self-control, but the right balance will keep you refreshed and focused.
Be realistic with your expectations!
Finally, get real with what you’re expecting of yourself over the coming months. The most spectacularly color-coded calendar, planned out by the hour means nothing if it’s completely unreasonable for a human to achieve. We are not robots and even when we need to be functioning on all cylinders, we still need to ease up on ourselves when the mood calls for it. Get honest with your personality type, work style and capabilities – remember to also extend the same consideration to those helping you through your busy season.
Are you preparing to enter a busy season this fall? Share how you plan to prepare yourself to successfully manage this new schedule by commenting below!