Sometimes, insanely busy weeks or months at work come out of nowhere—your boss leaves, for example, or you get a brand new client.
But others, you know exactly when things are about to get crazy. The week leading up to a board meeting. The month before a major fundraising event. Your annual summer recruiting trip.
For those times, it’s easy to look down the calendar and feel dread. You know you’re not going to sleep, see your friends, or do laundry for a good several weeks. You know you’ll be run ragged. You know that you’ll have to apologize to the co-workers and friends you’ll inevitably ignore because you’re just so dang busy.
Well, I’ve been there, and I’m here to tell you—there’s a better way. Instead of resigning yourself to a month or so of total and utter chaos, here are a few things you can do ahead of time to soften the blow.
1. Outsource Everything You Can
Ever wondered how the busiest people in the world—CEOs, executives, movie stars, and the like—keep their lives together? Answer: They outsource to their entourage of drivers, chefs, and personal assistants.
Even without the seven-figure paycheck, you can do this on a smaller but equally effective scale. A couple of weeks before things are about to get nuts, order a bunch of frozen (but gourmet!) meals from DCuisine, or sign up for a meal delivery service like Blue Apron or HelloFresh, so you won’t have to cook or food shop. Look for a laundry service in your area (ideally, one that picks up and delivers). Sign up for TaskRabbit, so if you need someone to run an errand for you, you’ll be set. And make sure all of your bills are on auto-pay. Basically, make life easy as possible for your soon-to-be-slammed self.
Same goes for work assignments. Is there anything you can take off of your plate for the next few weeks? If not, consider a work swap: See if a co-worker can pull together your weekly report for you during your hell week in exchange for taking something off of her plate next time she’s slammed.
2. Block Time on Your Calendar for All the Things
You’re probably looking at the dozens of deadlines, meetings, and to-dos looming on your calendar and feeling like you couldn’t possibly squeeze one more thing on there. But, you should. In fact, if you’ve never practiced calendar blocking—where you set aside specific blocks of time in your schedule to work on certain tasks—now is absolutely the time.
For example, if you know you’re going to need 20 hours to complete the quarter-end report, actually block a few chunks of time over the next few weeks on your schedule (and more importantly, stick to them like they were meetings). It might seem overwhelming looking at a calendar where your only free time is between the hours of 10 PM and 8 AM, but I find that knowing exactly what I need to do and when makes me feel much more in control of my to-dos.
3. Prep Your Co-workers and Clients
Once you’re prepared, it’s also a good idea to let your colleagues know you’re not going to be as available as usual. It’ll ensure they don’t get annoyed when their emails go unanswered for a day or two, and it has the added benefit that they’ll likely go a little easier on you for the next few weeks.
A week or two before you-know-what’s about to hit the fan, send everyone an email nicely letting them know your busy dates. Try something to this effect (though, use a more personalized version for your closest co-workers or most high-priority clients):
Hi everyone, I wanted to give you the heads up that next week is the beginning of my 10-day campus recruiting trip. This is always a jam-packed couple of weeks in which I’m not able to be as productive or responsive as usual, so I’d love to chat now and see if there’s anything you need that I can get you ahead of time.
Then, once you’ve kicked off your busy season, you can also set an “out-of-office-more-than-usual” auto responder:
Thanks for your message! I’m currently in the middle of a 10-day campus recruiting extravaganza, which means I’ll be less available than usual. If you have an urgent need to get in touch, please respond to this email with URGENT in the subject line so I know to address it right away. Otherwise, I’ll be checking in several times throughout the week and will get back to you as soon as possible.
4. Prep Your Friends and Family
It sounds silly, but when you’re knee-deep in quarter-end reports and dealing with daily (hourly) outbursts from your boss, getting “Seriously, I haven’t heard from you in days—where are you?” texts from your friends and family can definitely add to your stress levels.
So, prevent them in the first place by letting everyone know ahead of time when you’ll be slammed—and when you’ll be done and ready to celebrate. You can also set up a canned response in Gmail or text shortcuts in your phone, making it easy to respond to people who want to see you:
It’s so good to hear from you! I’m totally slammed this month with our annual campus recruiting program, but once that’s over, I’ll be ready to celebrate and would love to hang out. Let’s touch base on [insert date]?
5. Treat Yo’self
I know—the real treat will be having this crazy season be done. But believe me: Having something tangible to look forward to—a massage, a dinner out, an epic night with friends—on the calendar once things calm down will seriously boost your motivation to keep going.
Beyond that, follow the general guidelines your mama would give you: Get lots of sleep, eat your veggies, take care of yourself, and remember: This, too, shall pass. Work can get crazy, but it doesn’t mean you have to be, too.