This was my struggle not too long ago. I was given an opportunity that I didn’t want but through some serious miscommunication- I took on that project, completely and totally regretfully. This was the project that broke the proverbial camel’s back and I found myself in a busy season. I’m talking crazy busy. In less than a month, I was in physical and phone meetings a handful of times a week and attended two different board meetings—not to mention finalizing my company’s strategic plan and becoming a new team member of another endeavor.
The pace was relentless, and I was on the go nonstop. That is not how I like to work. But who was to blame? Me. I did it to myself.
Have you ever found yourself in this situation, feeling like you have too much work and not enough time? If the answer is yes, consider yourself normal. I have conversations with people about this problem several times a week.
The good news is that it can change. Here are seven strategies I used to regain balance in the midst of that busy season. I’m confident these can help you too:
- Accept responsibility. It’s important to practice extreme ownership. I made the commitments that impacted my schedule. No one forced me. No one held a gun to my head. When we see ourselves as victims, we’re powerless to change our circumstances. But the truth is we have choices. We can decline the work, delegate it, or—at the very least—negotiate the deadlines.
- Confront my FOMO. So often I find myself overcommitted because I was afraid to say “no.” Sometimes, I’m just afraid of disappointing someone. Or getting fired. Or not having enough work. Or missing an opportunity. Maybe you can identify. The Fear of Missing Out is powerful—and also pointless.
- Retain my perspective. My busy season was only a few weeks. I could see the end. I knew I would get through it. In the moment, I just needed to take a deep breath and acknowledge that “this, too, shall pass.” Also try to discuss these issues with team members and friends, so they don’t get frustrated with you.
- Triage my calendar. Just because something is on the calendar doesn’t mean it’s chiseled in stone. Even after my meetings, there were a few commitments I could change to buy myself some additional time. Calendar triage can help us sort the urgent and immediate from the rest. It’s critical to keep our commitments. But that doesn’t mean we can’t request a release, ask for an extension, or delegate the project to someone else.
- Do the next most important thing. Worrying about everything we must get done is unproductive. It only creates anxiety. Yes, my workload looked impossible, but I didn’t dwell on that. Instead, I focused on next most important thing—and kept moving. I tried not to get ahead of myself.
- Get sufficient rest. I can tackle almost anything, provided I’ve had a good night’s sleep. When I get tired, I lose perspective. I also find it difficult to focus and become easily distracted. Two hours in the morning after a good night’s sleep are way more productive for me than two hours at night when I am worn out. We can bring our “A” game, but only if we take enough time off the court to begin with.
- Decide to change. I couldn’t go on at my previous pace, and I didn’t have to. I began building new boundaries around my schedule. And I started enforcing them to keep myself out of trouble. This is where the rubber meets the road for us all. We must deliberately build boundaries into our lives, or our busy seasons will become permanent. No one else is going to do this for us.
Principles to Remember
• Evaluate whether you have the desire and the bandwidth to help with the request and ask if priorities can be shifted or trade-offs made
• Show a willingness to pitch in by inquiring if there are small ways you can be helpful to the project
• Practice saying no out loud — eventually it will become easier
• Use a harsh or hesitant tone, and don’t be overly polite either. Instead, strive for a steady and clear no
• Hold back the real reason you’re saying no. To limit frustration, give reasons with good weight up front
• Distort your message or act tentatively because you’re trying to keep your colleague happy. Be honest and make sure your no is understood
I’ve been diligent to follow these strategies whenever I find myself overwhelmed. And the real win is this: The more I follow them, the less often it happens. Instead of running nonstop, I’ve got the physical and mental energy for what matters most, including the time I need to recharge.