Stay Sane When You’re Really, Really Busy

At some point, it will happen to you. Work will be so busy that your life feels like an endless cycle of: (1) wake, (2) work, and (3) sleep (aka, dream about work).

Having worked in a high-pressure, demanding field, I have much more experience in the art of being busy than I would prefer. The good news is I learned a lot about how to handle it over the years! Today I’m going to focus on one trick I employ to stay sane during busy weeks, months, and even years:

I carve out “me” time.

I know what you’re thinking: yeah, right! It’s true, when you’re so busy that you only see the inside of your home long enough to grab a couple of hours of sleep and a shower, the thought of seeing friends, your significant other, or even a 30-minute TV show is laughable, and the idea of carving out “me” time seems like a mean joke. But if you want to retain your sanity when pulling insane hours, you need to do it.

It doesn’t have to be hard, and it should not add to your stress levels. Carving out “me” time is really just a way to keep a little bit of control over your schedule and step away from work when that feels like an impossibility.

The key to making it effective is to carve out time in a way that fits your personal needs within the confines of your work schedule. So what does that mean? Well…

  • Are you fine working consistently through the week with late nights but you really need Friday night to yourself to unwind? Block out a few hours every Friday night and put it in your calendar.
  • Do you feel better having a little down time each day? Pick a 30-minute window each work day to go for a walk , sign up for a morning exercise class, read a book, or do whatever relaxes you. Put it in your calendar.
  • Is making it home for dinner with your family, significant other, or just your pet a must do for you? Block out time for your commute and dinner. Put it in your calendar.

Sensing a theme here? No matter what you decide to do to carve out “me” time, you must put it in your calendar. Treat that time as an important meeting in your schedule.

At this point, I need to add a vital caveat: you need to know your office and your supervisors. If you’re truly without a minute to spare one day, you may need to cancel your time out.  Or if you work for someone who tends to pop by your office at 7pm every day with an assignment, planning to leave regularly at 6pm for dinner with your family at home is not going to work. But maybe you can do that one day a week. Or switch things up and make breakfast your family meal.

Above all, keep in mind that when you’re in the weeds, it will feel impossible, but there are truly very few times in your work life when taking 30 minutes out of your day is going to lead to actual catastrophe. (And for some good news, generally, as you gain more seniority, you will have greater control over your schedule and can see the busy times coming and plan for them.)

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