Plus 3 things to do when you’re already in the eye of the storm

For many people, August is a slow time at work. It seems like half the office is out on vacation for at least a day or two each week, and clients often disappear as well. Everyone pushes decisions and projects to September which, coupled with the start of the school year, can make for a hectic few weeks.

Some peaks and troughs are inevitable in life, and it's common to feel crazed when you’re on a project, and then restless when you’re not. Still, as someone who has studied the time habits of numerous busy women, I can tell you there are ways to pace yourself, so you don’t burn out during busy seasons and then feel like you’re wasting your time when things slow down. Here’s how to be smart when your workloads vary.

During the busy season:

Figure out your non-negotiables. What makes life feel sustainable? Maybe it’s getting to the gym three times a week, keeping a Friday morning breakfast date with a friend, and getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Make a short list of your minimum requirements, and then strategize to make sure these things happen. Can you get to the hotel gym two mornings a week when you’re on the road? Can you set an alarm to remind yourself to get into bed? Talk with your manager if you need to; many supervisors are fine with a dependable employee coming in a little later on Friday when she’s consistently there and committed every other day.

Offload anything else that you can. You can’t do everything when you’re swamped at work, and that’s OK. One accountant told me that she sent her dog to live with her sister during February and March (auditing and tax prep season). She knew her dog was getting loving attention, and she didn’t feel guilty about being unable to take long walks with her pet. They could be happily reunited once all deadlines had passed. While you’re probably not going to send your kids to live with someone else during your busy season, if you’re co-parenting with someone, that person can take on more during your busy times if you agree to reciprocate during less busy times. If your partner has the same busy seasons, it might be time to call in extended family (or friends and neighbors you’re close to, and who you’d be willing to help out).

Think 168—or even 8,760—hours. Many busy women find comfort thinking in terms of 168 hours (the number of hours in a week) rather than 24 hours. People often lament that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get to everything, and that’s true! But we don’t live our lives in days. Generally, we live in weeks, and looking at life from this bigger perspective shows there is time for more. If you work late three nights, rather than obsess about that, you can make the most of the four you’re home. During particularly busy seasons, it might help to think in terms of longer periods of time, like the 8,760 hours in a year. I was recently talking with a gentleman who described the long hours people at his firm worked. But in the later part of the conversation, we talked about several of his hobbies: golf, travel, reading. He told me that he found time for these by deliberately taking breaks between projects (something his firm allowed, but many people didn't take advantage of). When he was on, he was on. When he was off, he was off. Knowing that a busy period won’t last forever can make life sustainable.

During the slow times:

Pay in. Think about all the people you might rely on for help—or who might be sad about your absence—during busy times. When work is slow, that is the time to invest in these relationships. Accountants might schedule a lot of lunches with friends in November and December, knowing they probably won’t see them again until May. If August is slow for you at work, you might offer to take over camp carpool duty for a few friends who will then be able to help you during the school year. Invest in self-care by scheduling those doctor and dentist appointments that you won’t get to when you’re busy. Shop for any holidays or birthdays coming up and store the presents in a closet somewhere.

Look at the big picture of your career. Some overachieving types get antsy when business is slow, viewing these less-packed days as “unproductive.” You can rethink this mindset by scheduling a personal retreat. Even if you don’t leave your office, give yourself some open time to think about what you’d like to be doing in 6 months, 12 months, or 2 years. What will your career look like? What will it take to get there? Who do you need to meet and what skills do you need to develop? You can start taking some steps to explore and experiment, and dream big. You can look at the personal side of your life too. Make time to work on a bucket list of anything you want to accomplish. You might even have time to knock an item or two off this list!

Do the stuff you know you’ll skimp on or skip. Slow seasons are a perfect time to get ahead on those things you know you’ll do last minute when you’re crazed. So write those blog posts for your company’s website. Go to networking events and schedule coffees with the people you meet. Take those phone calls with people who want to “pick your brain” about your industry. Read those industry articles everyone’s talking about. That way, when you don’t do these things during busy times, you won’t feel guilty. You know there’s a time for these things in your life. It's just not when everything else is hitting all at once.

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt