Sleep deprivation, zero social life, eating all the junk food, constantly questioning your career choices; if you’re a young professional working in professional services, you know the busy season struggle.
The good news is there are a few things you can do to dominate your busy season and still find time for yourself. Each year, I train young professionals who are making their way up the ladder and figuring these things out for themselves. I want to share some of the tips and thoughts that I use personally, after around 8 years in audit, to prepare myself for a busy stretch.
Read to the end for a free “Beat Busy Season” infographic you can save to your own device!
1. What can you do now that will make your life easier later on?
Most of us are natural procrastinators. We’re so used to working flat out through peak seasons that, when there’s finally a bit of respite, we want to take full advantage (and then some). We need to fight that tendency.
Do as many things before your busiest time as you can. What work doesn’t absolutely need to be done later? In my mind, it’s better to work a little harder consistently than to get to busy season and work 16 hour days because I’m doing things I could have done before.
2. Have a plan
As my favourite mentor loves to say, “Remember the 7 Ps.”
Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”
Crude as it sounds, this is my mantra. Being organised and planning for the days, weeks, and months ahead gives me a sense of calm. For me, this organisation means the systematic use of my calendar, Google Keep (for notes), and a project tracker for each project I’m working on. It means trying to anticipate where things could go wrong and developing contingencies ahead of time.
For you, planning might look a little different. Project management and planning take many forms. The key is that you have a plan and that you adapt it as needed over time.
In the times where I’ve decided to wing it, my stress levels skyrocketed. Why? Because in my mind, it felt like I had so much more to do than what I actually did.
3. Plan for wellbeing
Even more important than planning your work, is planning your wellbeing. There is absolutely no reason why your health should be sacrificed in favour of work.
While we sometimes need to compromise and work around our social and wellbeing commitments, this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t happen. My weekly outlet is a squash match on a Wednesday evening. Every week, non-negotiable. In 8 years of auditing, I can recall needing to miss a squash match on account of work only twice. My teams know that on Wednesday evenings I’m not available, and that’s okay.
The challenge is that if you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen. Also, if you plan for it and don’t communicate it, you are unlikely to be supported by your team.
Working in professional services is tough. Planning for wellbeing should extend to the things you want to do that maintain both your physical and mental wellbeing. Your mind needs to be looked after too.
4. Swallow the frogs
One of the most common issues I see people struggle with during busy season is analysis paralysis. We are so focused on the mountain of work ahead of us that we don’t take the first step.
Slow movement is better than no movement. When you start with the work, you might surprise yourself with how quickly you are able to get things done and off your plate.
One of the things that I will challenge myself to do that really enhances my productivity in a busy time is to swallow the frogs.
“If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain
What is the thing you’re dreading most today? Do it first thing in the morning! This might be a complex piece of work or a difficult conversation. It doesn’t matter what it is, but once it’s done you’ll find it’s very difficult for your day to go badly from there on out.
I often feel like half of getting through busy season is managing expectations. While managing expectations is (and will be, soon) a whole post on its own, the crux of it is communication.
Tell your leaders what’s on your plate. Help yourself to plan your workload by asking when things need to be done by. Communicate your progress proactively and frequently!
Struggling? Ask for help and do it early. When you’re already working long hours, the last thing you want to be doing is spinning your wheels. Sometimes the quickest way to solve a problem is to ask someone for help.
All of this requires that you speak up, and speak up often. Many of our problems can be solved with proper communication.
Bonus: Nobody’s going to die
Whether you’re a lawyer, an accountant, a tax practitioner, or you work in consulting, you are likely to feel overwhelmed at some point in your career. In professional services, we are really good at making everything sound ultra-urgent and always critical.
If you’re out there giving it 100% and you still can’t get there, remember this:
The project will still be there tomorrow. Your firm will still be there tomorrow. It’s only a job. Nobody is going to die. It’s okay.”
Busy season doesn’t need to take over your life. High performers often struggle with the idea that there are things more important than work.
Sometimes you need to put yourself first.
Before your next busy season: Check this out
For more help on getting through busy season, I’d recommend reading my post on how to manage your workload better when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
If you have any of your own tips for busy season, please let me know in the comments! I’ll keep updating this post with all the best ones.
You’re also welcome to save and share the Beat Busy Season infographic below with your colleagues and friends. Peak season doesn’t have to suck!
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