This is simple math but incredibly hard to pull off: your calendar and your to do list have to equal each other. They have to walk in the same step. Be a symbiotic pair.

If your to do list for Wednesday looks like this:

Write a blog post
Develop proposal for ERC
Prep the workshop for VGB
Develop draft #1 of GF dashboard
Send 2 month check in email to LP
Plan next week’s social media posts
Revise the visuals for NYS workshop
Follow up with JB about potential gig
Meet with developers to review decision tree

But your Wednesday calendar looks like this:

That math ain’t mathin. More than half the to do list doesn’t have a space in the calendar where it’ll actually get done. The calendar, likewise, has no breathing room for handling the miscellanea of running a business.

So, what happens?

People cut the yoga and meditation time.
Skip the gym.
Forego the family time.
Sit back down at the computer after 8:30pm and knock out a few more hours.
Scrimp sleep and all the things that keep your mental health in check.

You can only do that for so long before you burn out.

You’ll know it’s getting bad when you get that dread in your stomach pit about a half hour after you wake up.

Or when you wake up at 3am thinking about all the things you have to do.

You work weekends (or, since you can work whenever you want, you’re working when you don’t actually want to be).

You get mad at the project manager for doing her job because she’s assigning you tasks in Asana.

The little dictator on your shoulder is both pressuring you and panicking at the same time.

At least, this is how I know burnout is at my doorstep. What are your signs? Email me.

If you’re having any of these experiences, it’s a warning light from Burnout Beacon. And the first place to look for the fix is the matchup between your calendar and your to do list.

My burnout prevention routine: On a Friday, open the calendar and to do list.

Look at the to do list and rearrange or regroup similar tasks. Like, if I need to follow up with potential clients and check in with past clients and send warm up emails for upcoming workshop participants, those are all inbox activities. So I group them together into the same day with my to do list.

I’m batching the to do list.

Then I look ahead at the coming week and put blocks in the calendar (even as small as 15 minutes, so long as that’s realistic) for everything on my to do list, starting with the most urgent activities.

Whatever remains on the to do list gets rescheduled to the following week.

In theory, this means I don’t ever get that crushing panic because I know there’s time allotted for me to deal with everything I need to do. It may still feel like a lot, but I know I have the space to handle it all.

If, after a few weeks, I notice that I’m rescheduling the same activities again and again, that’s my sign that I simply don’t have the time to do everything I’d like to do right now. I’ve probably taken on more than five projects.

I move those perpetually rescheduled activities off my to do list (seeing them turn red invites guilt) and onto a post it note titled with a future month. I can do it. Later.

If I were really good at time management, I wouldn’t be waiting until Friday to look at next week’s schedule. At that point, it’s almost too late, you know? Sometimes I’ve just overcommitted myself.

Proper time management would probably plan a quarter in advance. (Is this what Lean Six Sigmas do? I’ve never really known.)

But the reality is you can’t schedule that far ahead, even if you have current projects that will run that time. Clients are late. You need a sick day. Life happens.

So it isn’t helpful or wise to pop “plan next week’s social media posts” into a 3pm on a Thursday three months from now. Having to move it, because life came up, will be annoying.

There’s a sweet spot between overplanning and acting like your to do list and your calendar have never met.

Get them better acquainted and let me know how it goes.