Creating a Stress-Free Busy Season

by Sandra L. Wiley, COO, Boomer Consulting, Inc.

You can thrive, not just survive, during this upcoming busy season. You just need to do five things:

- Keep your expectations rational.
- Take care of yourself.
- Take control of your time and limit your commitments.
- Create a positive work environment.
- Embrace your family and friends.

These tips will help you reduce stress, relax, and breeze through the busy season feeling rested, grounded, and in control.

Keep Your Expectations Rational

The most important contributors to a stress-free, busy season are the expectations you create in your own mind about how the busy season will unfold. You can't make it perfect no matter how hard you try. Clients will be late to appointments, employees will get sick, equipment will break down, and information will get lost. You'll be healthier and happier if you keep your expectations, not low, but reasonable. You don't have to have a "perfect" busy season, so give yourself a break - relax and enjoy. You'll be happy you did.

Take Care of Yourself

Taking care of your physical and mental health is the single most important aspect of creating busy season health and happiness. Start now so you are ready to go when the busy season arrives.

Eat a healthy diet that gives you most of your calories from vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and other delicious non-fat ingredients. Why? Because you don't want to "diet" - it rarely works. The point is to feel better about yourself. If you eat better, you feel better. You have more energy. You look better and consequently, your self-esteem is enhanced. The higher your self-esteem, the more confident and successful you are. (Get the cycle?) Trying to diet during the busy season will only add to the stress!

Exercise regularly. One of our Boomer Technology Circle clients runs 5 miles every day. He never misses, not even when he is away from home on business. I "tempted" him one day with joining me for an early breakfast and he kindly, but emphatically turned me down. He said that his daily run charged him up and relieved his daily stress, and he would not miss it for anything. The challenge for you - don't let busy season be an excuse to not get in your daily work out.

"Choose" to be positive. You create your stress. This is because the only thing in the world that you really have total control over is how you choose to react to circumstances that happen in your world. So, you choose your stressed reaction.

Take Control of Your Time and Limit Commitments

Control time allocation, and goals. Set realistic goals and time frames for yourself. Remember the Alice in Wonderland Syndrome from the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Alice is walking in the woods. She comes to a fork in the road. Not knowing which way to go, she asks the Cheshire cat:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the cat.

"I don't much care where," said Alice.

"Then it doesn't matter," said the cat.

Do you feel this way some days? Setting realistic goals for the busy season helps you feel directed and in control. Goals give you a yardstick against which you can measure every time commitment.

Scheduling more than you can handle is a great stressor. Not only are you stressed trying to handle your commitments, you are stressed just thinking about them. If you are experiencing overload with some activities, learn to say, "No!" Eliminate any activities which you do not have to do. Carefully consider any time-based commitment you make. Use an electronic planner to schedule each goal and activity you commit to accomplish; not just your appointments. If that report will take two hours to write, schedule the two hours just as you would a meeting. If reading and responding to email takes a half hour per day, schedule the half hour.

Reconsider all meetings. Why hold meetings in the first place? An effective meeting serves an essential purpose; it is an opportunity to share information and / or to solve a critical problem. Meetings should only be held when interaction is required. Meetings can work to your advantage, or they can weaken your effectiveness at work. If much of your time is spent attending ineffective, time-wasting meetings, you are limiting your ability to accomplish important objectives at work.

The Wall Street Journal, quoted a study that estimated American managers could save 80% of the time they currently waste in meetings if they did two things: start and end meetings on time and follow an agenda.

You can't be all things to all people - control your time. Something has to give. Make time for the most important commitments and take time to figure out what these are. Time management is a systematic approach to the time of your life applied consistently. The basis of time management is the ability to control events. A study was done some years ago that revealed symphony conductors live the longest of any professionals. Looking into this longevity, researchers concluded that in no other occupation do people have such complete control over existing events.

With the competing demands that exist for your time, you probably feel as if much of your day is not in your control. Feeling not in control is the enemy of time management. Feeling not in control is one of the major causes of stress in our daily lives, too.

Manage procrastination. If you are like most people, you procrastinate for three reasons. You don't know how to do the task; you don't like to do the task, or you feel indecisive about how to approach the task.

Deal with procrastination by breaking the large project into as many small, manageable, instant tasks as possible. Make a written list of every task. List the small tasks on your daily, prioritized To Do List. Reward yourself upon completion. If you do procrastinate, you'll find that the task gets bigger and bigger and more insurmountable in your own mind. Just start.

Create a Positive Work Environment

The creation of a work environment that is "stress free" has become more difficult over the past few years. Economic uncertainty and the difficulties in finding part-time professionals have made the job of creating a positive workforce more of an art for management. Firms have to become creative about how to lift the spirits of the dedicated workforce around them. Here are a few that I have gathered from clients:

 

  • Music is for the soul and it does help many people "unwind" throughout the day. If your employee's don't have the ability to listen to a few of their favorite tunes, consider allowing it for a few months and possibly adding it as a permanent fixture.

     

  • Flex Time is not just for "normal" times, now more than ever, staff must be allowed to manage their time. If they need to leave the office and return later, as long as their work productivity and quality are high, then let them! In fact, I would encourage them to get OUT of the office several times a day even if it is just to take a brief walk. They will feel rejuvenated and ready to work when they return.

     

  • Provide healthy food and a little junk too! Every firm I have ever been in has stocked the shelves with food during busy season. Either staff brings in items or the firm provides them; but it is amazing to me how much of it is the "stuff" that slows down the thinking process and cripples the productivity that you are trying to accomplish. Try stocking up on the good stuff; fruit, nuts, cheese and popcorn are just a few ideas.

     

  • Don't forget the Humor! Every office that is suffering from "busy season" loves to have a jolt of humor. I worked in a firm that had an administrative assistant that as soon as the office closed the doors to clients and she and the staff were left to work on all the administrative tasks, she would put on some VERY large fluffy slippers to walk around the office in. She was comfortable and got a few laughs that helped to reduce the tension. It was a small thing but helped to create that stress-free environment that everyone is hoping for.

    You might not be up for buying "big slippers" but you get the point. If you are going to work those long hours – you might as well find ways to make it enjoyable!

    Take Time to Enjoy Family and Friends

    I'll bet some of you are saying "my family knows what to expect during busy season; spending time with them during the busy season is not a big deal". Well, I believe you have one life with a limited amount of time. Spend the time with people you love. Make the time to have dinner as a family; schedule a "movie date" with your spouse, or just get home in time to read a book with the kids. The bottom line is, don't forget about the most important part of your life just because of the time of the year.

    No matter what the busy season throws at you, these tips should help to make you and your staff happier, healthier, and more productive.

Copyright 2003, Boomer Consulting Inc.

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