Am I the busiest person in the world, no and I hold no delusions about that. But… every year the work that I have done means I have crazy busy periods. That’s true of me in the past and now. I’ve probably had a busy period most years for the last 15 years. In the last few years I’ve added blogging to that and training for longer and longer endurance events which tend to overlap with our work’s busiest time. Plus we all have personal stuff that takes up time as well. This summer I think I’ve signed myself up for more than ever before and knowingly so… In the last few years I’ve been able to see these crazy time periods coming and preparing for them physically and mentally makes all the difference. So I wanted to share those things with you and TRUST me this is not just a list of ways to literally do everything anyway that ends with just sleep 4 hours a day. So hopefully this is helpful and this is what works for me.
My busy times
I used to make most of my money tutoring and I would have 20-25 students I met with every week. Come exam season in January I would have two to three weeks where everyone wanted double time at least. In the spring the IB students would start wanting 5 hours a week in April and everyone else would want at least double time for all of June. I would work shorter days at the lab, and skip my weekend work there, but it got pretty intense. Back in those days I didn’t do much to to prepare at all and it hit me hard every year especially in the spring. I would run from one thing and one student to the next and not take time to eat. I would use coffee to keep going and usually ended up losing 10 pounds over the course of 6 weeks that I couldn’t stand to lose. I would get home around 10:30 and have to leave for lab at 7 am, so that’s 8.5 hours to sleep and get ready if anyone is keeping track. So I used to drink extra wine to fall asleep fast and then more coffee. It wasn’t ideal to say the least.
These days my really busy period tracks from the end of April to roughly September 1st for the day job. In the last three years I’ve added my own landscaping business to that in my spare time (roughly 10-15) hours a week from April until the end of October. I also try to keep up with my blogging and that is of course training season for end of summer and fall races *usually a half. I also do all the housework around here which is also a big mental load too. But… I’ve done a much better lately managing what I feel like is more for longer over the last few years. This year promises to be especially intense for a few reasons, but after this I promise it’s not going to be about me it’s going to be about you.
This year I’ve made that usual half into my first full and I do hope to grow my landscaping side gig this year. While I’m a terrible estimator I do feel like I’ve already signed up for as much work as I did last year already. We also plan to list our house in June, probably meaning we have to find and move into a rental in this period which is like a lot. I also have this idea that I’d like to spend some time enjoying the last moments of living on the beach and some time on the boat this year. That might sound impossible to you or like a walk in the park but for me it’s sounding like a whole lot. So these are the ways I’ve managed better under time pressure in the past.
Find a way to stay organized where you absolutely have to
This can mean lots of things to different people. For me it’s all about taking care of those dolla dolla bills. In other words I have to keep track of how much I’m working, for who and how much I’m spending. I also need to keep invoices getting out and making sure they are paid. I’ve done this largely with an agenda with custom inserts for the day to day, a spreadsheet (you can get here) and templates for bills. But for you it might be something totally different. Think back to when you’ve been busy in the past and what really fell apart and find a way to get that automated or going easier at least. That might be a chore chart, setting reminders to make grocery lists and shop or coming up with some other sort of ‘system’ to deal with the have to dos.
Do what you can before
I don’t think this is always possible and I don’t think even if it is you should kill yourself in the getting ready stage either. That really just extends your busy period at some point. For example I really could pre-make and freeze every meal for three months beforehand but for me that doesn’t seem reasonable. I do like to deep clean the house before training starts, fill the pantry and the fridge and stock up on what I know I’ll need. Things like makeup, medications, running shoes and work supplies. Never a bad idea right?
Let go of as much as possible
Most of the year I Like to cook healthy suppers (and lunches), get the laundry done every week, spend lots of time with my family and get the house cleaner at least every week. Now I realize when I’m busy it’s just too hard to keep up those standards all of the time. This can include a lot of saying NO and maybe passive aggressively not doing $hit. So as much as I love having long dinners at my mom’s sometimes I just have to say no, right now I have to run, work or just sit for a minute. At this moment it’s not the best use of my time. While I’m not the cleanest person in the world at a certain point mess can get to anyone. So if you don’t like the mess clean it up. I’m on top of the grocery list, meal planning and making 9 months of the year and that’s more than enough in a partnership. If that means we eat out almost every meal and just have the essentials at home for 3 or 4 months that’s okay. If it all falls to you all of the time then you can drop the ball and not pick it up for a while, that’s more than justified. Physically let go and mentally too!
Keep going over the game plan in your mind
Ideally before you get busy but especially once you do keep going over the ‘how I’m going to deal with this’ plan over and over in your mind. So that might be runs in the morning, stop work by 5 and get three hours in doing something ‘useful’ in the evenings. Keep your big picture plan in the top of your thoughts a couple of times a day. Also keep telling yourself this has an end date.
Plan 2 days out
Lots of things can come into play getting through a busy time. It could be other people’s needs, ‘extra’ things you have to do and for us the weather. Look two days out constantly and be thinking really specifically about how your going to fit it all in. You could schedule your next 48 hours down to 15 minute increments but that might be overkill. For me that might be something like: It’s going to rain in the morning today, and I have to pick that thing up at my mom’s, get two runs in and work at least one evening. So I’ll sleep tomorrow morning, get her to leave it out so I don’t have to stay. Run this evening, wake up early tomorrow and run in the evening get some work in. Planning that out further than that in detail can feel oppressive.
Get as much help as you can
Sure you can do it alone but if you can get help you won’t hate the world at the end. I’m not someone who likes asking for help or accepting it when it’s offered but that is actually a me problem. You certainly can accept help from those around you like if you have a mom like mine that offers to make you freezer meals or you have to ask someone to take the clothes off the line. There is no shame in gently telling them how a task needs to be done either. Think about it if someone asked you for help wouldn’t you want all the information to do it correctly. So ask for help and accept it when it’s offered. If you’re lucky enough to have disposable income then you have a lot of options. You could hire a cleaning company, get someone to mow your lawn, pay for extra chid-care or whatever works well for you. Of course try to get this all set up before you get busy!
Use your downtime to rest first
When you’re really busy things around you start going to pot really fast. The house is a mess, so is the lawn and you might be facing lettuce soup for supper again. It seems really tempting to use any bit of down time to get ahead or even caught up on these things but… It’s not the best plan. We tend to notice the things that we are behind on that we can see, not how we are feeling. If you have a client cancel, a wait in your car or the weather just means you have to shut down for a day take that time first to rest. At least part of it. If you haven’t yet reached the end of your crazy busy time then you need to take care of yourself so you can keep going. You’ve been dealing with everything else around you everyday and that really can just continue. The bigger problem will happen if you yourself can’t keep going and in some cases, like training for a big race, then all this sacrifice will be for nothing.
How to eat into your sleep without going mad
The truth of the matter is that when you’re going through a crazy busy time you might end up sleeping less than you’re used to. Honestly being a lifetime insomniac helps me get through times like this. If you are going to be sacrificing some sleep there are a few points to consider. One is think about being totally sober for your busy time. Lots of people (including past me) fall into the trap of using alcohol as a depressant to wind down. Other use stimulants to keep going. I would never have believed it at the time but 4 hours of good sleep is way better to run on the next day than 6 hours of bad sleep with a low grade hangover. All those substances effect your sleep and your health and if you want to keep performing consider doing it sober. Yes even on the weekends.
If you’re going to be getting less sleep take it seriously. Maintain good sleep hygiene and if you don’t know what that means research it. My top tips are sleep in a dark quiet room, with awesome bedsheets you love, only use your room for sleep and maintain your wind down period before bed. Here’s a controversial one for you if you sleep with a partner who often disturbs your sleep and you have another option at night, use it! If the two of you are not equally busy at the same time does it make sense for someone to wake up with the kids at night for a period of time while you sleep?
I’m not one who puts a lot of stock in ‘the badge of busy’ culture we’re living in. I’m about to have a busy time because I’m looking to accomplish a really big life goal doing something that I love and I’ve found a way to do work that I literally love so much I would do it for free. (Don’t tell my clients though!) That and you know working for a living at a day job which isn’t really optional. If you’re literally burnout level busy all the time you need to be taking steps to change that, but that’s just my opinion. What time of year are you the most busy and why? What are your top tips for surviving a busy time? Leave it in the comments below!