The Season of Crazy-Busyness

Photo credit: H. Newberry on Pixabay

Personally, I blame the school year.

Like so many, I grew up with the school-year routine: after a summer of fun and relaxation, work begins in the fall, continues through the winter (albeit with a couple of breaks), and wraps up in late spring. Even though we non-educators don’t actually get the summer off (other than an isolated vacation day, or maybe a cherished week or two if we’re very lucky), there’s still the sense that life slows down in the summer, only to ramp up in late August in anticipation of a return to the over-full schedule of classes, sports, rehearsals, homework, commitments, subscription series—not to mention resumption of all the tasks and deadlines that we pushed to the side while our colleagues and clients were away and we basked in the peace of their absence.

Hence, the Season of Crazy-Busyness.

Take September, for example. Here’s what my calendar already shows: five birthdays requiring at least acknowledgement, if not actual celebration with dinner or drinks; a beloved houseguest, which means housework, laundry, and errands in preparation; the fine arts show I love so much, to which said houseguest will accompany me; dinner with another friend who’s coming through town; church on Sunday mornings; helping Mom (at least every other week after church, and likely more often); weekly chorale rehearsals which will begin half an hour earlier this year; resumption of Monday night Bible study; writing cat bios for the shelter cats; and three firm work deadlines.

Speaking of work deadlines, let’s not forget those which that aren’t on the calendar yet, such as a brief to be filed thirty days in response to an appellant’s brief that is due to be filed next week but which can actually be filed at literally any time between now and next Friday, so I can’t fill in the deadline for my brief until the appellant’s brief is filed. In another appeal, a reply brief will be due twenty days after a ruling on a motion we filed in July, and said ruling may be handed down at literally any time. In addition, I’m assisting another lawyer on various and sundry projects in preparation for a trial that starts at the beginning of October.

And then, there are the writing commitments. I just finishing uploading ebooks to Ingram Spark, squeaking in under the wire of their free-upload-in-August promo. In addition to trying to write (or at least attend to writing business) each day, I have to do follow-up and prep for two author events, one at the beginning of October and another at the beginning of November. Also, I’m researching other author events so I can take advantage of the holidays to interest new people in State v. Claus since it has a seasonal bent. And, lest we forget, there’s my self-imposed deadline for finishing the first draft of my novel-in-progress.

Finally, there are the things I’d simply like to do, such as go back to Weight Watchers (now known as WW, although nobody actually calls it that); swim at least two or three times a week; move the porch furniture back to the basement until next summer; clean out the gardens that have been nearly taken over with weeds; schedule the various home maintenance services (boiler tune-up, installation of propane line for the gas log set)—and maybe even catch my breath.

Photo credit: Ben White on Unsplash

And before you say, “Wow! That’s a lot of stuff!”, allow me to remind you that there are people doing most, if not all, of these things while also dealing with school-age kids who have soccer and homework and play dates. Those folks—especially the ones managing all this without a spouse or partner—should be canonized.

So how do we cope? As the Season descends upon us, how do we juggle everything? After all, much our to-do list isn’t optional—work deadlines are rarely flexible (in my case, many are court-ordered). Other items on the list aren’t mandated, but they’re good things we enjoy, so we don’t want to miss out on them. For instance, social connections are important. Pursuing passions—in my case, writing, music, cats, and faith—enriches life. Home maintenance is necessary, if only to avoid bigger, more expensive issues down the line. Housework makes the living space more pleasant.

If I had an actual ironclad solution that works for everybody, I could afford to retire. Instead, I’ll share what I do, because for me, it works more often than it doesn’t: make a schedule.

(I can hear you groaning, but stick with me.)

It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost you anything: go to and make a calendar in whatever configuration you like. Just be sure it has space for you to write in. If you already have a calendar on your computer that you like, such as the one that comes with Office 360, use that (although I suggest segregating your work calendar from your personal one, if only so you don’t inadvertently disclose personal information to your employer).

Once you have your calendar in whatever form it is, you’re ready to begin.

First, take out a sheet of paper (or open a document on your computer) and make a list of everything you need to do for one month. Include everything that consumes significant time, from driving the kids to and from soccer practice to cleaning the bathroom to researching a topic for a freelance project. (Personally, I’d skip things like brushing my teeth, but if you want to include it, feel free.)

Your list will likely overwhelm you. It may go on for pages. But don’t fret. It can be tamed.

Long ago, I attended a talk where the speaker used an effective visual aid. He had a jar, a few large stones, and a bag of pebbles and sand. If he put the pebbles and sand in the jar first, he couldn’t fit all the stones in. But if he put the stones in first, the pebbles and sand filled up the crevices in between, and everything fit.

So on your calendar, fill in the stones a/k/a the immovable items: work, classes, commitments whose time slots cannot be altered. For example, my September calendar shows chorale rehearsal every Tuesday night. Since I know the start and end times, I just note “GMC” at the bottom of the Tuesday blocks. If it helps you to define the block of time, you might write, “GMC 6-10,” which includes travel time because it needs to be accounted for. Either way, I’m not going to double-book that time, because it’s firmly scheduled.

Once you’ve entered the immovable items, look for open slots where you can add in the sand and pebbles a/k/a the flexible items that can go pretty much wherever there’s space. This is key, because if you’re like me, you may tend to waste time trying to figure out what you feel like doing, only to find that by the time you decide, there’s no longer enough time to do it. In my case, since I’ve already decided that I’ll spend Labor Day cleaning the kitchen, I won’t spend half the holiday trying to decide what to do. Plus, knowing this cleaning spree is on the calendar saves me from feeling guilty when I see the stack of papers on the counter or the dust bunnies under the work cart.

Some immovable items can be combined with flexible ones. Instead of making a dedicated trip to the drycleaner to pick up my suit—probably half an hour, start to finish—I can leave a few minutes earlier for rehearsal and swing by the drycleaner on the way. Not only does this save time, but it also saves gas, which saves money.

A few more thoughts to get you started:

First, a motivator is enormously helpful. Much of the housework I anticipate doing in the next several days is because I’d be embarrassed to have my houseguest see my home in its present state of disarray. If you need a boost to do something, figure out what will motivate you to get going. Maybe it’s a self-bribe (if I clean out the garage, I can go out for a pedicure afterward), or maybe it’s external, such as my announcement to you all that I have set October 16, 2022, as the deadline for completing the first draft of my novel-in-progress.

Second, for making appointments and other tiny things that get lost in the shuffle, jot down a list as they occur to you. Then, block out half an hour or so to take care of all of it. Make the calls, log into the scheduling websites, empty the dehumidifier, water the plants, etc. (Just don’t forget to add all those appointments to the calendar when you’ve made them.)

Third, consider outsourcing. If you can afford to hire someone to do things you either hate to do or lack the time or ability for, do it. Whether it’s a neighborhood kid who rakes your leaves or your supermarket’s delivery service, go with whatever helps. Many stores still offer curbside service so that rather than spending time wandering around the store (and succumbing to impulse buys), you place your order online, arrive at the designated time, and smile nicely as someone puts your order in your car. (Don’t forget to tip, especially if it’s a big order.) Or trade services: when you need to run errands, your friend watches your kids, and vice versa.  

Fourth, learn to say “no.” As the wise and wonderful Anne Lamott says, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” Saying “no” means you recognize your limits. I’d love to sing with my church’s amazing choir, but I understand that the time commitment—three Wednesday night rehearsals each month, plus singing every Sunday—is simply more than I can do, especially this fall. If I didn’t have the chorale, I could do it, but the reality is that I can’t do both. I’m already committed to the chorale, and so I need to say “no” to the choir. Disappointing, but as the whirlwind of fall intensifies, I know I won’t regret this decision.

Fifth—and this is a big one—pay attention to your time-sucks. For some people, it’s social media. Over the summer, I’ve developed a very bad habit of flopping on the sofa after dinner and watching television until bedtime. This wouldn’t sound so bad except that I may finish dinner at nine o’clock and not start getting ready for bed until one-thirty. That’s four and a half hours spent doing nothing except watching television and working online jigsaw puzzles. More than half a workday spent being a slug on the sofa.

Photo credit: Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

Granted, consuming stories on TV, whether as movies or binging a series, is every bit as legitimate (at least, to my mind) as listening to an audiobook or reading a print book, but doing so for several hours every night is excessive by practically any standards. If I spent that time writing instead, my current novel would probably be finished. Since my excuse is that by night, my brain is too tired to create, that makes it a perfect time to do mindless things like fold laundry, unload/reload the dishwasher, dust the living room, or pay bills. In other words, don’t let yourself off the hook too easily. Genuine rest and relaxation are good things, but laziness—which is what I’ve been doing—is something else again. Pay attention to what’s gobbling your time, and be reasonable about how much time you’ll allot. If it doesn’t advance what you want to accomplish, train yourself to turn it off.

Because that’s the final piece: what do you want to accomplish? What’s your goal? A clean house? Checking off tasks on your to-do list? Developing a regular exercise routine? Writing a novel? Carving out time for the people and pets and activities you love? Whatever it is, odds are that the time you need to do it won’t magically appear in your day. You’re going to need to put in some effort to fit the sand and pebbles around the stones.

That said, don’t try to do everything all the time. If you put twenty things on your schedule when you only have time for five, you’re liable to feel frustrated, as if you’ve somehow failed. Be realistic: not everything has to happen every day. If you have an eight-hour workday followed by a three-hour rehearsal on Tuesday, you’re probably not going to clean out the refrigerator when you get home at ten o’clock—nor should you, unless that’s what relaxes you. If it is, go for it. Otherwise, schedule cleaning the refrigerator for Saturday morning after breakfast, and shove it out of your mind until then.

We all get the same twenty-four hours every day. There’s no virtue in being constantly, frantically busy. The Season of Crazy-Busyness may have begun, but that doesn’t mean we have to go nuts keeping up. Scheduling tasks and commitments helps to make them feel more manageable even as it keeps us on track so we don’t have a last-minute all-nighter before the houseguest arrives or the brief is due (said the person who has done this many, many times).

If you decide to try scheduling, I’d love to hear how it works out for you. Feel free to contact me or just drop a comment on this post. Good luck!

2 thoughts on “The Season of Crazy-Busyness

    • Drifting can be good–the trick is to figure out how to do it AND get done the stuff that needs to be done. (Maybe schedule “drift time” for an hour, an afternoon, a weekend, etc.?)


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