Busy season has ended which is supposed to make it feel like you have all the free time in the world now, right? Then why does it feel like your responsibilities are stacking up and growing out of control?
The simple answer might be because you are letting them.
In the same way athletes gain weight after their season is over, accountants risk falling behind their work after busy season. The day to day goes from forced productivity, to a more lackadaisy office culture. Since the amount you have to do drops so drastically, the urgency to do work decreases too. Since 24 hours is feeling like a lot more without the busy season pressure, you start putting off responsibilities. It doesn't seem like a big deal and before you know it, you're behind.
The feeling of getting behind is more likely a feeling of time slip by and now you have to get something done in a tight window. This means increased stress, decreased quality of work, and a feeling of being rushed. You've stepped out of the stress of workload-overload and into the stress of mis-budgeting your time when you have excess.
The hardest part to address in this is that you don't have to change, but you should. Even when your schedule isn't packed too tight, it doesn't mean it's packed right. The matter is simply finding a way to develop better habits for your time.
So what's the difference between someone who is always ahead of schedule vs. always struggling to catch up? Has anyone figured out the magic behind a productive yet stress-free life? The truth is likely and simply, no. Budgeting time is like money in that you can always find something you don't have the time or money for, which makes you feel poor. This will result in times of feeling overwhelmed.
Address What You Have to do
This means responsibilities to your work, family, and self. You have vital tasks to complete at work which are central in the effort you give. Everything else at work are traits you can work on to make yourself more valuable - being a supportive co-worker, helping in office tasks, and keeping up with co-workers on a social level. Often times employees pressure themselves to excel in non-vital areas which pushes off the vital work they have to do.
At home you need to make sure bills are paid, kids are picked up, and the basics of life are met. Again, everything on top of that is excess. Eliminating stress often means recognizing that all the things you want to do are not requirements. Genuine care for your family may manifest in the form of a treehouse being built or a trip being taken, and those things will happen, but you can just get the bare minimum done and spend time with them. Not everything has to be a production in the form of tasks.
You also need to take care of yourself. Are you eating food and drinking water? You've already about 90% of the "have to" tasks of self-care. What this means is that you don't have to do yoga four mornings a week, train for a marathon, write a book, and have a six-pack. Keep your pulse going, the rest is extra.
This brings us to our next point which is...
Eliminate the Unnecessary!
The point of finding out the bare minimum is not to do the bare minimum, it is to cut away the fat to see the core responsibilities before picking what you want to add on. Eight or nine hours of work and eight hours of sleep still leaves you with seven or eight free hours a day. You do truly have a lot of free time.
So, if you see yourself doing things in the free time you have that stress you out, eliminate them! These unnecessary items are often the root of procrastination. They include things like Facebook, Netflix, and senseless social media scrolling, but we don't want to dwell on the obvious. Other unnecessary items include over-exercising, your child's third-sport practice, planning a vacation. These things are great, but ask if your kid really wants to play three sports, if you need an extra hour on the bike to be healthy, and if the vacation really needs to be planned so well. If these things aren't making you happy, it's okay to get rid of them to make more time for what you do.
Pick Your "Dots"
You are in control of your life. Even when it doesn't feel like it, you are. Think of it as a timeline. You are a little blip on this line, to your left is a bunch of dots of things you've done and in front is a big, empty, straight line. Busy season is dotted like a sprinkled donut and once it's over we can get a feeling of emptiness on our timeline, so we sprinkle everything on and before we know it, we have a self-inflicted busy season of sorts.
What you can do is be mindful of your dots, picking them carefully and strategically based upon the time you have. Choose to become a CPA, but maybe be mindful that this combined with having your first child when you start studying may not be the best for your timeline. Or maybe it is, but this means eliminating your softball league, fantasy sport, or all the weekend concerts you enjoy. Understand giving up something for a time doesn't mean losing the dot forever on the timeline. Pass the CPA Exam. Put that dot behind you and focus on the next dot you want.
The thing is, timelines are a line. You can't put too many dots on the line before they all fall off and you're left with this empty looking dash. You'll be pushing off finishing any one thing so you can work on the others. When you don't pick your dots carefully none tend to show up on the line. When you aren't accomplishing your goals because you have too many, you are investing in a form of procrastination. Don't invest in procrastination.
Not staying too busy is about ridding the pressures that make you believe you have no time for what you'd rather do. You may feel like you are regulating your fun or relaxation, but monitoring how you are actually spending your time can lead to a healthier and happier life where you actually reach your goals.