Do you remember the busiest month of your life? A time where you over-committed yourself for a few weeks? Maybe it was a project at work, too many classes in school, a bunch of events–or a mixture of everything. A time when you felt like every day you just woke up, immediately hit the gas pedal, and didn’t slow down till you fell into bed at the end of the day. How did that time of intense busyness make you feel? What state did it leave you in? Stressed? Exhausted? Crabby? Anxious? Lonely? Burnt out?
All of my life’s experience has left me with this big piece of advice to give: DON’T commit to an insanely busy schedule. Being overworked and overly exhausted messes with you in a lot of ways. BUT–SOMETIMES we agree to cram our schedule full for a while anyway. Sometimes there’s an opportunity to grow or to contribute or to do something you love, and it’s too good to pass up, so you take the leap and book your schedule absolutely full for a week, or two, or three, or maybe for a month.
What happens when you do that? Well you already know, it will probably bring with it stress, exhaustion, crabbiness, anxiety, loneliness, and burn out. You may gain a few pounds, you may hurt a few feelings, and you may do a little more retail therapy than you wish. It may still have been totally worth it, but the bottom line is that it won’t be a walk in the park. So how do you make it through as healthily and happily as possible? How can you make the best of a tough period of busyness?
I recently got to experience this when I participated in a three week work project with an absolutely brutal schedule and workload. Long hours, working straight through the weekend, and it was the type of work that just didn’t slow down until you get in your car and drive away. Even then, unwinding took almost until bedtime–if you were lucky. I’ve gone through other times before when I was overly busy, and sometimes it’s gone better than others. This last time I didn’t do so well at staying grounded and positive deep down inside. It actually ended up being much tougher by the end than I had expected. So it left me thinking afterward: What could have made it go better? What will I do differently next time?
After reflecting for a while, I came up with 8 suggestions that I’ve learned by trial and error in my experience. 8 strategies for when you’re just way too busy for a while. Try as you may to maintain balance in your life, I’m sure you’ll find yourself facing another of those exhausting months at some point down the road. I hope some of these tips help you make it through happily and healthily.
When you’re facing a period of extreme busyness…
1. Show yourself compassion and support.
Cut yourself some slack. This is going to be a tough time and you’ll have bad days. You’ll be stressed and overwhelmed and you might not feel like your best self. Accept that this is normal when you’re overly busy. It would be weird if it didn’t affect you. It may help to think about how being overwhelmed and overly busy affects you particularly. Remind yourself on the rough days that you knew it would be hard, and be compassionate and accepting toward yourself.
2. Ask for help and patience from others.
Remember that this isn’t just going to affect you. There are other people in your life–spouse, significant other, kids, co-workers–who will also be affected by your busyness. The closer they are to you, the more they may find your stress directed toward them, no matter how hard you try to stay positive. Talk to them–even ahead of time–about what’s going on. It may feel awkward to say “I might be a little mean to you this month.” But if you don’t talk about it, they may not understand what’s going on and may not see a light at the end of the tunnel. Ask sincerely for their patience and help along the way.
3. Pick a couple things you can’t lose touch with.
Pick one or two or three things that will help you stay grounded and happy. Lifelines. Walks with your puppy. A TV show with your spouse. Daily meditation. Half an hour at the gym. Play time with the kids. What is a thing you just can’t lose touch with? A lot of things are important to you, but if you just try to keep up with as many as you can, you may find them to be so much that you end up keeping up with none at all. So pick just a couple and absolutely commit (meaning plan ahead and don’t budge on your plan) to keeping up with them.
4. Choose sleep over keeping up with other activities.
You’re going to really miss all the stuff you can’t do while you’re overly busy–stuff you normally have plenty of time for. It’s very tempting to give up a couple hours of sleep every night so that you can keep up with all your life stuff. DON’T! You need sleep. This is already going to be a physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting month, and being sleep deprived will make it worse. Besides, you’ll find those life things aren’t that fun when you’re sleep deprived anyway. So keep your sleep, keep your health, and keep your energy, so you can actually enjoy the couple routines you do get to keep up with.
5. Use a little transition ritual to stay grounded.
It is so easy to lose touch with all of your Why’s and all of your What’s when you speed from one busy thing to the next without slowing down to think. Try building a couple little grounding practices or rituals that you can use when you move between tasks or between sections of your day. For example, before you start a new task you can close your eyes for ten seconds and ask yourself the question, “Why am I doing what I’m doing today?” Or you can set aside five minutes after each meal to stand outside in the fresh air and breathe deeply or daydream. Just slowing down and re-connecting with yourself can keep you from getting lost in your whirlwind of a schedule.
6. Waste a little time at the end of your day.
Your brain needs rest. Sometimes, and for some personalities more frequently than for others, you need to let it shut down and waste some time. Not be going-going-going, not worry about accomplishing or being productive. This might mean when you finally get to the end of your ridiculously busy day, you turn into a couch potato for a few minutes. Twenty minutes of mind-numbing TV might be just what the doctor ordered. Don’t get stuck in a cycle of not-having-accomplished-enough. Give yourself a break.
7. Celebrate and reward your hard work.
No matter how stressful or frustrating this busy period ends up getting, you’re doing an impressive thing by working through it and taking on so much all at once. Even though it’s not easy, you’re pushing through, because you’re doing this for a reason–to better yourself, to contribute to a cause, whatever it is. So why don’t you celebrate? Reward yourself a little for all this hard work. Bragging to your friends about your hard work, or getting yourself a favorite treat can help make a tough experience a good one. What if you promised yourself a relaxing spa day at the end of the crazy month?
8. Accept and prepare for recovery to take some time.
This is one step you might not have expected, but it will really help to understand ahead of time. When you overwork yourself for two or three weeks, increasing your stress of all kinds–mental, emotional, physical–it’s probably going to leave you in worse shape than you’d like. You might feel anxious, crabby, out of shape, lonely, disconnected from your closest people, and a little burned out by the time life slows back down. Here’s the thing–those things won’t suddenly feel all better when you stop being too busy. It may take you several days or a couple weeks to feel back to normal–back in touch, on top of your game, and in sync with your relationships. Expecting all the burnout to go away on your first day off will only lead to frustration and blame. Accept the shape your busyness left you in and allow yourself plenty of time and space to recover.
What else works for you?
Happy life-ing and good luck!
P.S. For your inspiration…
“Get yourself grounded and you can navigate the stormiest roads in peace.” – Steve Goodier
Can you imagine the feeling, finishing up a task, sitting back, and thinking to yourself, “Hmm… I literally have nothing left to do today!” That would be really weird, right???
Life just needs to slow down. Right? But I have a hundred things to do today. So much to catch up on. So much to organize, fix, clean, or find. So many people to get back to. Those things I’ve been wanting to try, and stuff I’ve been invited to.
I happen to think it’s a particularly American tradition to live every day at a breakneck speed. We never, ever, ever run out of things to do right away. When my wife and I got married and honeymooned in Italy we learned that the entire country traditionally closes its shops and sends its people home from work for a few hours over lunch. I often reminisce about my days in Ethiopia and Uganda, where even hard-working people walk slowly wherever they go and spend hours in peace and quiet with family or friends.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury in the States. We have stuff to do. Always. We wear our over-flowing inboxes and day-planners like a badge, like there’s something special about our ability to cram a thousand little things into every single day.
But what are we even busy doing?
When are we going to do those deeper, bigger, more meaningful life things? The things we keep putting off “until we have more time.”
I think the big things that we want to do–that we want to look back and be happy about at the end of our lives–we want to do just right, and we want to do with unlimited time and attention. So we keep putting our real life off while we try to catch up with our bottomless stack of to-dos.
What would happen if you set aside the urgent stuff today? Let them just not happen? Would you finally start writing that book? Take your kid out to do something fun together? Make a plan to eat healthier and exercise?
And what if you kept ignoring so many of those “urgent” things–would you keep writing, stay more connected to your loved ones, and discover you actually have time to get to the gym most days?
Urgent vs Important–we constantly face a choice between the two. Urgent is the squeaky wheel whining for your attention. But at the end of your life, which will you wish you had chosen more often? Urgent or important?
What big life thing have you been putting off for years because you’re always too busy? What if you decided this weekend you were just going to start it–no matter what notifications pop up?
I have this compulsive habit of doing stuff on my days off. Lots of stuff. Too much stuff. It’s all stuff I love to do, totally worthwhile. I get really pumped about all these things I can do with all my free time. And then I do as much of the happy stuff as I can. But sometimes the more happy stuff I do, the less happy I feel.
In fact, I often find myself feeling anxious when I have spare time. Anxious that I won’t make the best of it. Anxious that I won’t do enough stuff that needs to be done or that I want to do. Anxious that the time will run out too quickly.
Does that ever happen to you? You get to the end of a weekend or a vacation, only to realize you spent so much time worrying about making the most of it that it slipped right through your fingers?
A couple weeks ago I took an afternoon off. This time I decided on a whim to go for a walk. No running, just a walk. No earbuds. No phone. Just walking and being with myself. Lots of freedom to think and feel. And see things! Things I don’t notice when I’m hurrying. Things like a colorful grasshopper I watched up close for a while.
I felt more peace and happiness in that quiet hour than I do in some entire weekends packed full of stuff to do. These kind of days always end up being my favorite.
I don’t think the problem is the stuff I do, either. One thing isn’t necessarily better or worse than the next. Some people take walks, some people go for runs, some people watch movies, and some people read books–and no matter what the activity, they can feel complete peace and freedom the whole while.
I think the key is incredibly simple. Whatever you are choosing to do, be there.
Be where you are right now. Notice the present moment. Your life in this world at this moment is exploding with color and music and flavor and feeling. But we spend so much time trying to make sure that right now becomes a good memory, that we miss the very thing we wanted the great memory to be about. We spend so much time trying to make this moment great, that we don’t see how incredible this moment already is.
Are you going to miss this moment?
“Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now. And that’s a revelation for some people: to realize that your life is only every now.” – Eckhart Tolle