I may have shared before how much I hate Fridays. People always seem to need things by the end of the week and if that comes up on Monday cool beans, but when it comes up on Friday that’s just a gentler way of saying, make my need your top priority and get it done now. I am very conscious of owning my schedule and making sure it has the margin and organization I need so I can typically account for these demands but it frustrates me. There is a much bigger version of this that happens at year end. We (individually and collectively) cast a vision for where the year will take us, create numerous goals that support that vision, spend months working toward it with many other priorities being cast on us along the way, and then around November and December everyone consults their goal list again and starts firing off demands and plans to accomplish a mountain of work by year end. Again, all of the important things seem to get done but seriously, frustrating.
This is already one of the busiest times of the year on a personal level with holiday traditions, time spent with family and friends, and all of the preparations that come along with it. For some reason it is also made to be the busiest time of year with work. Why companies don’t offset their calendars for things like annual trainings, performance reviews, goal setting for the year to come, and more, I will never know. (I don’t see why that ‘year’ couldn’t run from April to March every year but I guess no one really asked me.) Couple that with your personally professional goals, the aforementioned goals and plans of other people, and you have a solid two – three months of running yourself completely ragged, oh and don’t forget to be merry and bright. Give your kids a magical season and make sure that they are interested and well behaved for the family Zoom call with Aunt Betty.
There is just too much. I cannot hold it all. It is almost like this time of year is a hundred pound Jell-O mold on your Great Grandmother’s crystal serving platter that you promised to bring to your Mom’s, a friend’s, the office party, and your own family. Bring Jell-O sounded easy enough when you committed but now you’re trying to lug around this giant gelatinous glob on a priceless heirloom, without making a mess of yourself, and smile into the party. Oh and even if you manage to make it work the first time you have two more entirely different groups to impress with your strength, balance skills, and charm, so get ready. My arms are tired, my back hurts, I hate Jell-O, and all I can think is, please don’t trip! I don’t know that I’ve entirely dropped it yet but I can tell you that, many years (this one likely included) I’ve gotten to the second or third party with more lime on my shirt than on the plate.
I want to do well. I want to achieve more, raise the bar, provide a fun and challenging environment for my team, co-workers, and family quite honestly. I can’t do it all right now. Below are some things I remind myself of in times like this, hoping they’ll be a help to you too.
Take some perspective
The stress and demands of the season may feel big, and like you cannot handle them but I promise you, you’ve been here before. Last year had it’s own challenges and you handled them, relatively unscathed. You were still crushing it at work. Your kids lookback on it fondly. If you happened to drop the dang Jell-O everyone has either forgotten or knows they’ve totally dropped it a few years before too. You got this. Take a deep breath, remember that you don’t have to control everything because its already under control, and lets go.
Keep your routine
This doesn’t say create a routine. This is not an add. This is, if you normally go to bed at 10, don’t start staying up until mid-night. If you typically drink a 1/2 pot of coffee in the morning, don’t suddenly increase to a full pot or, conversely, decide that you’re doing away with all stimulants and you now only drink herbal tea. If you work out daily and drink all the water, don’t skip it to make Jell-O while downing Mt Dew to make you more productive. Now is neither the time to throw your body out of whack or throw your good habits out the window. In times of stress you need stability and normalcy, keep what you got. You could drink and extra glass of water now and then or think of a few things you’re grateful for but don’t get crazy, stick to what you know for now. If you have some cool new plan to raise the bar, awesome, let’s revisit in a month or two.
You cannot do everything well so the first step is to decide what is important. If there are 50 things on your work list and another 50 on your home list, somethings likely aren’t getting done and others are going to be checked off the list. Accept that it is going to happen (reread take some perspective) and identify what items in both lists you can’t risk phoning it in on. Maybe your asks from other people are piling up. Organize and categorize them to find what is most critical. It might be the requests from your boss, the first to have come in, the smallest effort ones so you can cross the most off. Maybe you and your kids have had a crazy whirlwind of a last few months (ahem it’s 2020 who is this not true for?) and you need some down time without phones, iPads, or yelling at each other back and forth about what homework needs to be done. Identify what is important, what will have the greatest impact for you and those around you, and focus your time, effort, and intentions there.
You are responsible for you, not you and everyone you come in contact with. If there are things that are falling onto your plate inappropriately, push. them. off. Respectfully and professionally of course. You have your own 15 or 50 or 100 things to do today and you can’t take on the next gals list of 50 too. If it is sucking your time (and the life out of you) to work on a low priority project with someone, tell them you don’t have any more time to devote to it until after the holidays. If this person happens to be your boss or relative or some other non negotiable person, you can still do this, just a little more diplomatically, ‘I have ABCDEFG to complete in the next week, XYZ (which conveniently doesn’t include their topic) are critical, I think we should continue this work (conversation, time etc) after the holidays when there is more capacity.’ If they disagree they can help come up with ideas on how to reprioritize.
Share the burden
Most of the people around you that are demanding every ounce of everything you have, are good people with good intentions and don’t realize what they are asking of you. They are willing to help if they know what you need and here is a key, they don’t have to help with the things on your list. For example, if you are overwhelmed at home needing to plan a menu, go shopping, wrap the presents, buy a few more presents and then wrap those, you might be thinking no one else can do that. You know what they can do, clear dinner and do the dishes every night this week so that you can focus on what’s on the list. Or perhaps its at work that you need to lead the training, write the performance reviews, write your own self review, and review next year’s strategy. You certainly can’t give those things to the team but you can encourage them to ask questions of each other, let your boss know where your focus is so she won’t bombard you with more asks (and if she does she’ll know why you’re not responding), and decline a meeting or two where there are plenty of smart people around that don’t need your direction. This is called empowering those around you and creating leaders, you’re strengthening the whole of the group even in this crazy season, ata girl.
This is not the sort of list you can skip to the bottom on. You need gain perspective before you can appreciate your routine. You need to understand your routine to know how what time you’ll have available to devote to your priorities. You won’t know where to set boundaries or how to share the burden if you don’t have your list prioritized. I know this time of year is a lot. I know this year in particular is a lot. Through all of this though you are not alone, now and always I would encourage you to share your burden with the one who is strong but their burden is light.