How to survive your company's busy season without burning out
Regular breaks and flexible scheduling can help your team get through the crunch times.
I have friends who work in accounting and estate planning, and they’re in the middle of their busy season right now. Some businesses, on the other hand, are pretty steady throughout the year. Whatever your situation, knowing how to survive your company’s busy season without burning out is key for business leaders and their team members.
My own company’s busiest time of the year is in the fall. It starts with conference season and the travel it requires, and then gains momentum as we work with our clients to map out their strategic plans for the following year. This is also when we pick up most of our new clients. All that means I spend a lot of time on the road in Q4, and as I warned my now-husband, I don’t so much live in Baton Rouge in the fall as take my mail there.
Having gone through several busy seasons, I know what works for me and my team to manage it. Here are some tips.
Take a break
Plan real breaks before and after your busy season. I encourage our team to take good, restful vacations in the summer, so they come into Q4 with high energy levels. Then we all unplug during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. In my experience, people can handle a short burst of really intense work, as long as they also get adequate recovery time.
Declutter your life outside of work. Your busy season is not the time to take on new personal projects or start fretting about how you could save so much money if you did your own ironing. Anything you can afford to reasonably outsource, do so without guilt.
This may be obvious, says Marlon Heimerl, SEO manager at Fun.com, but negative person can affect an entire team. “Emotions run high in a busy season, and there is always an employee who hits the ceiling at some point. I’ve found that using humor — even a silly meme in an email — can really lighten the mood and load.”
This means eating well, going to bed at a decent hour, getting at least a minimal amount of exercise, and making time to unwind with friends and family. It might be less than you might prefer, but don’t give it up entirely. If your busy period requires travel, pack your workout clothes and spend time at the hotel gym instead of the bar.
Some companies work full-bore throughout the year. In that case, try to watch for mini-cycles in each quarter when you can take a break and adapt it to the rhythm of your workload.
Don’t expect constant overtime
It’s reasonable to ask people to work overtime for short bursts. When it goes on for a long time, though, it’s a recipe for disaster. Productivity actually declines. So balance the demands with time to recharge.
It also helps if you give people control over when and how they work. Let them put together flexible schedules. Research has found that people can tolerate more intense demands at work, as long as the extra responsibility comes with control and flexibility over how the work gets done. As long as the projects are finished on time and within budget, does it matter when your employees are sitting in their chairs? And if your busy season is exceeding even overtime capacity, consider bringing in temporary help or contractors.
Review and improve
Brent Ridge, founder and CEO of Beekman 1802, says the best way to deal with the next busy season is to prepare for it right after the current one ends.
“We have an end-of-season summit in which we discuss what went well and what did not and file it away to review right before the next busy season starts,” Ridge says. “It’s amazing what you forget over a year and are doomed to repeat again.” The company tests specific solutions for improvements and new systems during the rest of the year to make sure they’ll work when the busy time comes around again, he says.
Time to find a better fit?
If all these tricks don’t help you lower stress for you and your team, though, it may point to a bigger issue than just one of time management. You could be looking at a fundamental mismatch between people’s temperament and the needs of the organization.
In that case, it’s time to focus on finding a job that suits you — and maybe even encourage members of your team to do so, as well.