Every type of business has periods of high demand. Whether you’re currently in your busy season or ramping up to it, some preparation right now can help you keep your workload and well-being in check.
Before you reach a breaking point with work, make the time and effort to implement some simple steps into your daily, weekly and monthly routines.
The key to effective time management, both professional and personal, is goal setting. Working towards a goal will help focus energy and reduce the stress that comes with not having a purpose.
Give yourself the best possible chance of success by setting SMART goals:
- Specific: Goals should be clear and state what you want to accomplish and why it’s important.
- Measurable: Measurable, quantifiable goals let you know when you’re successful.
- Attainable: All goals, particularly short-term goals, must be achievable with respect to all pertinent constraints.
- Relevant: Goals must be relevant to the situation and align with other goals.
- Timely: Goals require specific deadlines.
Keeping an overarching positive approach to all goals not only keeps propelling you toward completion but can help release your internal “happy drug”, dopamine. Dopamine produces that feeling of pleasure when goals are achieved. Break down your big goals into smaller goals so you have more frequent dopamine releases.
Set goals for the two quarters preceding your crunch time. Based on those outcomes, set goals for each month prior to your deadline. Further break down monthly goals into weekly goals; remember, give yourself the best chance of success!
Commit to Your Calendar
Anytime, but particularly busy times, your calendar is your best tool for managing your priorities and reaching your goals. The secret is to put EVERYTHING in your calendar.
Before your first work day of the week, review your calendar to make sure all tasks related to your goals have an appropriate amount of time scheduled. Client and team meetings should be included of course, but look closely at every deadline for the week and make sure time is allotted for everything. Do you need to do research on a unique client circumstance? Schedule it. Is there a client who is typically slow to send required documents? Schedule time to make a list of outstanding materials and send a reminder. Many people find it helpful to also schedule a time block for making and returning phone calls, rather than constantly being interrupted throughout the day. Be sure the timeframe for each task is realistic.
There is an abundance of calendar apps and software, for both individuals and teams. A tool that allows setting reminders is helpful for more time-consuming tasks. For calendars shared with others, one nice function is the ability to set a “do not disturb” notice. Sure, things will come up. But set your schedule, protect your boundaries, and you, your colleagues and your clients will all be happy.
Do not forget to schedule personal time too!
Take “Me Time”
Even during the busiest days and weeks, a healthy, balanced life is critical for meeting goals during the busy season. While it may seem counterintuitive, work-life balance can actually increase productivity.
The risks of extended periods of intense work are well documented. Overworking takes a physical toll on your body and health. It can also lead to alcoholism, sleep disorder, depression, and damaged personal relationships.
“Me time” doesn’t have to be a spa day or something else extravagant. True “me time” is much simpler. It’s anything you do just for yourself. There is no set expense or time frame to follow when taking “me time.” It can be as simple as taking a walk or browsing the Internet for 15 minutes. The only imperative concerning “me time” is that you actually take it. This is where the calendar comes in!
Put your “me time” on your calendar, and honor it as you would any other task or meeting. You will likely have to adjust your personal preferences during busy time, say working out for 20-30 minutes rather than your usual 60 minutes. During busy times, it’s also important to put all personal and family obligations on the calendar, too. Your pet’s annual vet visit, movie night with your family, grocery shopping – life must continue during peak work times. The people in your personal life are likely supporting you during this time. Be sure to thank them and recognize that time with them is equally as important as the time at work. Your calendar is your reliable resource to make sure you keep all the balls in the air.
Even with SMART goals in place and reliance on your calendar, everyone struggles with focus at some point. And of course, there are always unforeseen “fires” that pop up.
Many people confuse the urgent with the important. Urgent tasks do need to be done quickly, but that does not make them important. We are often stuck completing urgent tasks at the expense of the important ones. Important tasks are the ones that help us meet goals. Often, urgent tasks, such as fixing the copy machine, are distractions from what is important. Learning the difference between urgent and important helps maintain focus.
The Urgent/Importance Matrix
Recognize too, when you are not making progress on your tasks. It may be a sign to take a short “me time” break. Maintaining flexibility is an important skill that takes practice. There are many influences on your schedule beyond your control. Being flexible simply means you are not resisting the inevitable changes of life. Flexibility is not passivity. It is being able to embrace change. This will reduce stress and improve focus and balance. For example, clients that do not remit their information on time will impact your schedule, so adjust your calendar for that day and move the late client to another day.
Too often, the phrase “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” is used to describe the journey toward meeting goals. However, life can be a bit of sprint during busy time. And like any good athlete, training and preparation are critical. Make the time to set your goals, schedule the time to meet them, keep your eyes on the finish line, and you’ll be a winner.