A few years ago I found myself in a busy season. I’m talking crazy busy. In less than a month, I spoke publicly a dozen times and attended two different board meetings—not to mention finalizing my company’s strategic plan.
The pace was relentless, and I was on the road 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 margin? 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 what the Navy SEALs call 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 season. 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.” I also discussed it with my wife Gail and several of my friends, so they didn’t get frustrated with me.
Triage my calendar. Just because something is on the calendar doesn’t mean it’s chiseled in stone. Even after my dozen speaking engagements, 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. We have to remember Jesus’ statement from the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
- Get sufficient rest. I can tackle almost anything, provided I’ve had a good night’s sleep. When I get tired (as Gail can attest), 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 field 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 margin. 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 margin into our lives, or our busy seasons will become permanent. No one else is going to do this for us.
I’ve been diligent to follow these seven 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 margin I need to recharge.