Episode: Resetting After a Busy Season

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. We’re going to talk about something that might be really relevant to where you are after a busy holiday season and maybe just a busy start to the new year. Today we’re going to be talking about resetting after a busy season. Okay, Megan. I have to start with a true confession.

Megan: Okay. I can’t wait.

Michael: As you know, on December 30, we did Best Year Ever Live. This year it was virtual. Normally we do it in a live setting and we have several hundred people there. This time, we had 2,000 people there. But as you also know, it’s a huge amount of work to get ready for that. One of the things at Michael Hyatt & Company that we preach and believe is what we call the double win, which is winning at work and succeeding at life.

We don’t like it when we find it in ourselves or in our clients when we’re so busy at work we have no margin for the things that matter even more, like our health, our most important relationships, and so forth. So, I got terribly out of balance in December. In the lead-up to Best Year Ever, I was working weekends. I was working nights. I was the poster child for the anti-double win.

Megan: Right. And that’s not your normal, but it became your temporary normal there.

Michael: It became my temporary normal. I think where I want to start today is just to acknowledge that there are those seasons when we go out of balance. I can think of a lot of examples. I’m sure you can too. For example, you’re starting a new business or maybe you’re finally writing that book you’ve wanted to write or maybe you adopted a new baby or maybe you just built a new house and you’re trying to move in and do all the things of getting settled, like our friend Amy is doing right now. It can be any number of things.

Here’s the key, though. The problem is not when we go out of balance. The problem is when we convince ourselves it’s only temporary. What I want to say is I think we should always be suspicious of that claim, because if we’re not careful, we deceive ourselves and we deceive our family. So much so that early in my career, I lied to your mom, my wife, sequentially, because I would say, “Okay, honey. As soon as I get acclimated to this new job, I’ll get back into balance and give you and the girls the time you deserve.”

Then I’d lose somebody on my staff, and I’d say, “Look. I’m covering for two people right now. As soon as I rehire this position, it’ll snap back into balance.” One temporary situation bled into another temporary situation into another situation, and before long, what I thought was temporary and convinced myself was temporary had become a permanent way of being.

Megan: That’s really easy to have happen. It sounds like, from your story, instead what happened for you is you realized, “Whoa! This is out of balance. This is a warning sign. This is not an indicator that something is temporary and I just need to hang on a little bit and it’ll naturally come back into balance,” which is the lie we tell ourselves on top of the other lie that it’s temporary, that somehow, magically, things will balance themselves.

Instead, I think (and I’d love to have you talk about this a little bit more), you said, “Nope. I’m out of balance. This is not okay. If I’m going to get back into balance, it’s not going to be because of magic; it’s going to be because of intention,” and then you set about that course.

Michael: That’s right. To me, it all comes back to boundaries. For years, for decades, my work didn’t have any boundaries. If I was working in the afternoon and I didn’t finish a project, no problem. I’ll just go home, eat a quick dinner with the family, crack open my laptop, and finish. Or if I didn’t get the work done I needed to this week, no problem. I have Saturday to do it. I could do it on Sunday night. You know, whatever. There were just no boundaries. Yeah, I’m going to be on vacation, but I can answer email in the morning or I can get that work on the project that demands more intention and focus on my vacation.

There was this borderless work style that didn’t serve me and certainly didn’t serve my family. When I go back to what began to change for me was when I got into my first executive coaching relationship where I was the coachee and Daniel Harkavy was my coach. He said to me, “You’ve got to establish hard boundaries.” Now, this was good to get out of that kind of frame of mind, where I’m going from one temporary thing to the next and working all the time, but it’s also helpful in what we’re talking about today about resetting after a busy season.

I’m willing to let go those boundaries during that busy season. You know, say, “Okay. I am going to work this weekend” or “I am going to work this evening, but I’m going to snap back to my boundaries.” One of the things that helps me best when I do that is to go ahead and schedule a vacation or some time off, because I have to have that time where I can rest and recuperate, rejuvenate, and get back on schedule.

Megan: Here’s the question, though. This is in my mind, and it’s bothering me. How do you know when to allow yourself the occasional freedom to go out of balance (maybe there’s truly a crisis or emergency that is not a recurring crisis or emergency, but truly it’s exceptional) and when you need to say, no, you’re not going to work this weekend, you’re not going to work in the evening; you’re going to hold to your boundaries? It’s like there’s this tension between necessary flexibility that’s truly infrequent and the kind of “flexibility” that becomes a betrayal of your boundaries if you aren’t careful. How do you know which one is which?

Michael: That’s a great question. What I did in the past was I never did it in consultation with Gail. I informed her after the fact, like, “Babe, I’m going out of balance for a while.” Essentially, what I was saying was, “Deal with it.”

Megan: Or “Don’t call me on it.”

Michael: Yeah, “Don’t call me on it.” Exactly. For example, if you go back to the beginning of the pandemic where we realized we had to pivot and we realized we had something to offer… Long story short. We’ve told the story on the podcast before. We created a course called Leading Through Crisis, and we did it in one week. From the moment we made the decision to do the course, create the content, shoot the videos, write the course book, create the webinar to sell it… From the time we had that first idea until the time it was in the marketplace was one week.

During that week, I worked through the weekend, and I was working like 12-hour days, but here’s what I did at the beginning that was different this time than it would have been, say, 20 years ago. I went to Gail and I said, “Honey, here’s what we’re thinking about doing. Here’s why I want to do it, but I need some accountability. I don’t want this to bleed into the next thing that makes this permanent. So, I need you to hold me accountable, but more importantly, I want your input and feedback before we venture into this.”

She, of course, was very enthusiastic about the project, and she said, “Absolutely. Let’s just schedule some downtime when you get through this.” I think the week after we launched this, I took a four-day weekend just to rest and recuperate.

Megan: That is a helpful way to think about it, as well as thinking, “How frequently is this happening for me?” If you step back… Maybe you’re in the middle or you’ve just come through a really busy time. You’re feeling out of balance. You’re feeling the need to have those edges again or maybe you’re finally realizing you need them at all because it’s just not working anymore for you. The question is…How often is this happening?

In our company, one of our values is intentional margin. The way we think about that is that people are working a normal workday. In our case now, that’s 9:00 to 3:00. We’re working toward 9:00 to 3:00 for everybody, I should say, and we don’t work nights and weekends 85 percent of the time. That’s how we understand it.

So, 15 percent of the time, roughly, if somebody went out of bounds and needed to work on a project at night or on the weekends, that would be okay. If it gets to be much more than that, what we know is that’s compromising your health, your most important relationships, and your contribution to your work. That’s not okay. So, what we’re not saying is absolute, hard perfection, because that’s not realistic and that’ll cause you to give up.

If you’re a business owner or a leader, you’re going to have things come up that are emergencies from time to time. Some HR thing is going to come up right when you’re walking out the door and you have to deal with it or some product you launch doesn’t work and you have to fix that. So, things are going to happen, but if it’s happening more than a handful of times a year, then you probably have a problem. You probably have a boundary problem.

I think that’s useful to have some way to measure it and even, potentially, to communicate to your spouse or your business partner or a close friend or a coach so they can hold you accountable so you can understand if you’re veering outside of that, if you’re not being honest with yourself about what this looks like.

If you said, “Hey, I have five times a year where I’m going to work a weekend or I’m going to have to work long days throughout a week,” you’re probably going to be fine. The majority of your time consistently is in balance. It’s healthy. You’re attending to the things that matter. You’re not making compromises that have long-term consequences. But if you get outside of that too far, you’re going to start seeing the cracks show, and it’s not good. You’re definitely not achieving the double win in that scenario.

Michael: That’s definitely right. For me, it’s paying attention to some things that are outside of work that tend to go by the wayside during these times. For example, if I stop working out, that’s a sign. If I start eating a lot of junk food, that’s a sign.

Megan: Like a stress response.

Michael: It’s like a stress response. Exactly. It’s also indicative of the fact that I don’t really have the time. If I start bowing out of visiting my parents… There would be a good example. If I’m too busy to visit my parents, then I’m out of balance. If I’m too busy to visit with my kids or I start making excuses why I can’t be at family things, those are all indicative.

If you find yourself in that situation, it’s time to look in the mirror. It doesn’t mean you can’t finish what you’re in the middle of, but this is not sustainable. It’s kind of like when it comes to the food you eat. I like pizza, and I’m going to occasionally eat pizza, but if I’m eating pizza three times a day, seven days a week, that’s not a good thing. That’s not going to be good for what I’m trying to do with my health.

The same thing when your work schedule goes out of balance. You have to be very careful. Occasionally, it’s going to be fine. Don’t be too hard on yourself. But you have to have a mechanism for snapping back into place. I think the multiple layers of accountability is good. I have a trainer who works with me, and during that month, that ramp-up to Best Year Ever, in the back of my mind the entire time I realized I wasn’t working out and I knew she was going to call me out on it, as well as Gail.

Now she’s very gracious, very gentle, but at the same time, that is a gift to me. I don’t resent those multiple layers of accountability. I want people to call me out on that stuff because I don’t want to get into the habit and I know that, frankly, when it comes to being a workaholic, I’m a recovering addict. Megan, am I alone in this or have you struggled with this too?

Megan: I think I have but maybe differently. So, a couple of things. First of all, I’m the oldest. If you’re listening to us and you’re a new listener, I’m the oldest in our family of five girls, so I was an adolescent and teenager in those years when you were working too much. I remember vividly what that was like. I remember you working on projects at night. Many of those memories are not great. We’ve talked about that a lot. We’ve healed from all that. All the good things have come on the other side, but it was costly to our family, as it is with any kind of addiction. You said you were a recovering addict, and I think that’s true.

So, for me, that cautionary tale has been in the back of my mind for a long time. The other thing that’s different about our situation is… You were talking about these hard edges and these boundaries. I have five children, and my younger three children have special needs, so my boundaries are little people. Those little folks are not very forgiving. Joel might be more forgiving of me, but they’re not. They don’t understand that this is really important and I have to do it.

When we adopted our middle boys, which was in 2011… I’ve shared this a number of times publicly. I quickly realized the only way for me to help them to heal from their early traumatic experiences… Any child who is placed for adoption had a hard story before that happened. If I was going to be part of their healing journey, I was going to have to work my life, particularly my professional life, around their needs in such a way that I could be present with them.

I certainly have not always done that perfectly, and I often feel the tension between their needs and the needs of the business, and that can be really difficult, but that has resulted in me putting some hard edges in that I can’t get too far out of whack on or the consequences are right there in my face. They don’t lag. There are no lagging consequences. The consequences are today. Like, you walk in the door and you were gone too long…

Tonight, this is a rare event that I have a long appointment after work, and then I’m on a board with a local nonprofit and we have an event tonight virtually and I won’t be home until 9:00. I can’t even tell you the last time that happened. That means I’m going to miss bedtime with my kids, and that means in the morning they’re going to be like, “Where were you?” and clingy and probably fussy, our baby in particular. You can’t do that very many times without paying the price.

I’ll tell you where it shows up for me, though. It’s not so much in work where I get out of balance. It can be on my self-care. It’s very easy for me to prioritize work, prioritize the kids, have that figured out, but if something is going to give, it’s probably going to be my self-care. That’s really where I found myself this summer. You know, those early months of the pandemic, everybody was out walking all the time, and at the same time, we had all that adrenaline at the beginning, if you guys remember back to that period.

All of a sudden, the adrenaline starts to wear off. The exhaustion sets in. I realize I’ve been eating junk food, probably had more margaritas than normal (probably a few of you can relate to that), and I was like, “This is not sustainable. This is not going to end well.” I’m now a 40-year-old mother of a toddler who I need to be around for long term, and I decided I really have to prioritize my health and my nutrition and my movement and all of those things.

That has been a huge focus for me since about August in the summer, just really putting myself, again, back on the list. I feel like that’s where I have to really pay attention. That can fall to the wayside in favor of meeting those hard obligations I have. So, whichever way you are, whether you tend to overwork or you tend to get out of balance on your self-care, the consequences are big on either side, and you have to have things in place where you can get yourself back in business, so to speak.

Nick: The question is… People still do do this. People still do get rid of those margins. They neglect their children. They neglect their spouse. How do you rationalize that you don’t have to? I know that’s an essential component of the whole message here. Do you have friends who struggle with this more than you do who are also executives, business owners, and stuff? I’m not trying to call them out, but how is it that they get to that place and what’s the difference between you and them?

Megan: I think the answer to that is you have a vision for something else that you’re constantly living in reference to. You have people in your life, and you have literally a written vision for your life that says, “Hey, reality is not matching this right now, and we need to get back in balance.” I think, so often, people don’t have any vision for what they want. They’re just drifting through their lives and just doing the next series of things.

Michael: Totally. As I think about it, at my age… You know, the battle is the battle. It’s going to come and go. There will be another one next week and there will be another one the week after, but I’m in this to win the war. If I spend all my ammunition on this one battle, to push this metaphor probably too far, I could win the battle but lose the war.

Work is important, but it’s not the only thing in life. At the end of the day, for me, it’s not even the most important thing in life. It’s certainly a place where I can fulfill my calling and have a sense of reward and satisfaction, but there will be a point in the future that I either choose to or can’t work, and then what do I have?

Unfortunately, so many people wake up at that point and realize with regret that they’ve sold their health, they’ve sold out their family, they’ve sold out their friendships… They’ve sacrificed all of those on the altar of their career, and now their career is gone, and they’re like, “What do I have left?” There comes a point where all the money, all the acclaim, all of the things you get from work is a currency that no longer has any value.

If you read all of those studies about the regrets people have on their deathbed, no one has ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at work.” I just think we have to be playing the long game, and we have to keep perspective. Perspective comes usually with age, but I think anybody at any age can seek wisdom and perspective. I think those are kind of one and the same thing. But to realize that I want to be here, I want to pace myself… And I’ve had the experience. Megan, I know you’ve run some half-marathons too.

We’ve all had that experience of being on the starting line, and even though we’ve trained for it, even though we know we shouldn’t be going out of the gate so fast, we’re kind of drunk on our own adrenaline and everybody else’s enthusiasm, and we go out too fast. If we’re not careful, we won’t finish. As cliché as it may sound, we have to pace ourselves. What that looks like is that we have to make room for rest, for rejuvenation, for just plugging back into the things that matter so we can continue to run and continue to go the distance.

Megan: Okay. Let’s switch gears and talk about practically for a second. If you’re sitting there and realizing, “Hey, I’ve let myself get out of balance” or “I’ve just wrapped up a season where I really didn’t hold the boundaries I wanted…” Let’s talk about some practical ways you can find your way back to balance.

The first one that comes to mind for me is to reengage in your daily rituals. Those are the things that, for me, when I’m practicing those consistently… The one I’m the most consistent with and almost never let go of is my morning ritual. I feel like I live and die by that. If I’m out of whack, if I will go back to that, it’s so orienting.

Michael: Yep. What you’re really speaking to is putting the scaffolding back into place. If you break your arm, they typically put a cast of some sort so the bone can heal and so it can grow back straight. Well, the scaffolding for your life are those rituals, but I would say, also, the hard boundaries.

Megan: Me too. I was going to say that’s the second thing for me too.

Michael: One of the things Daniel Harkavy asked me when I first began coaching with him was, “Can you commit to a daily time that you’re going to quit?” At that point I said, “6:00 p.m.” which sounds late to me now because we quit at 3:00 in the afternoon, but at the time that was like, “Okay. I’m going to bite the bullet here and quit at 6:00. That means no work after 6:00.” Daniel said, “I’m going to call Gail and check in with her occasionally just to make sure you’re keeping the commitment. I’m not holding you to your commitment. I’m just going to make sure you’re holding yourself to the commitment.” Okay, great.

I think it starts there. As we’ve talked about many times in our coaching practice and in our courses and books, there’s incredible power in constraint. It’s like we’ve always said before. On a Friday afternoon, right before you go on a one-week vacation, you’re never more productive than that afternoon, because you realize you’re up against the clock. The plane is leaving when it’s leaving. They’re not going to wait for you. You have to get done what you’re going to do.

So you don’t fool around. You’re probably not checking social media. You’re probably not getting involved in trivial conversations or trivial pursuits. You’re head down, getting it done. When you have a hard boundary in the evening like that or in the morning or you’re not going to work on the weekends, that forces you to make better decisions and actually raises your productivity.

Megan: Yeah, I love that one. I think that is probably the secret to the boundaries I’ve had. I’ve worked 9:00 to 3:00 for years and years and years because of my children. I just decided that was mission critical and I was going to figure out how to do my job in that amount of time, and I have. It has been really neat to see that that has not compromised my effectiveness, our ability to produce, at all. In fact, it has probably made it better.

Michael: For people who are listening to this, they’re probably thinking, “We’ve heard this before.” Football coach Vince Lombardi always talked about getting to the basics. He would hold up a football at the beginning of the season and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” Sometimes you have to get back to the basics like that. So, we’ve talked so far about getting those morning rituals back into place. We’ve talked about hard boundaries. I want to talk about calendar triage.

Megan: Yes! I love calendar triage. In fact, this is something I have done myself… You and I do it frequently when we find ourselves overwhelmed, but it’s something I do with my executives or encourage them to do often when they get overwhelmed.

Michael: Why don’t you explain to our listeners what we mean by calendar triage and how you do it.

Megan: If you have an executive assistant, they can be your ally in this, but you don’t need one to be able to do it. Basically, what you do, if you’re finding yourself overwhelmed, is you open up your calendar, you look at it for the next 30 days (at least the next two weeks, but preferably the next 30 days), and you just ask yourself the question, “Okay. What can be postponed? What can be canceled?”

Start with canceled. You know, stuff you could not do. Maybe you were going to go to an event that you could bow out of and nobody would know the difference. Now maybe there are things you could postpone. Like, maybe you had a routine doctor’s appointment that if you waited two or four weeks it wouldn’t matter at all. You know, you have a dentist appointment or an eye appointment or something like that. You could just wait.

Or maybe you have coffee with someone that’s just social, and it wouldn’t matter if it waited. You will be amazed with just those two things how many things you can clear out of your calendar and make room for, and what you’ll find in your physical body is that you feel like you’re exhaling, like all of a sudden you can breathe. There’s breathing room in your calendar.

Michael: It’s like cleaning out your closet or your garage.

Megan: It’s like cleaning out your closet. You’re like, “I’m not wearing this stuff anyway.” You can also go through and ask, “Is there anything here that someone else could do?” This is a question I ask with my chief of staff Erin almost every week. She’ll bring stuff to me and she’ll say, “Could Joel do that meeting for you? Do you really need to go to that meeting? Do you think you could accomplish that by creating a Project Vision Caster document for that or you could have a 15-minute phone call for that?”

She’s always challenging, “Do you really need to be there or could somebody else do it?” If you look at those areas…what you could cancel, what you could postpone, and what you could delegate…I promise you you could probably take half the things out of your calendar.

Michael: It’s important to remember that triage came from the world of battlefield medicine. On a battlefield, after there was a big battle, the doctors who were available would divide the people who were injured into three groups: those who were going to survive without medical care, those who were going to die even if they got medical care, and then the big middle group, those where they could make a difference. They basically said, “No. We’re not going to help the first group or the last group because we can’t make a difference.”

This is important to remember when you think about your meetings too. Which meetings will do just fine without me? Maybe I’ve traditionally gone, but they know the drill. They’ll survive fine. They’ll do fine without me. Which are the ones that even if I’m there and even if I were to speak up, I probably can’t make a difference? The place to start is those meetings where you really can make a difference, and even then, like you have demonstrated, Megan, there are ways to deal with those that don’t require your presence or your participation in the way you’ve traditionally done it.

Megan: I love this. These are such practical ideas for how you can bring yourself back in balance. Going back to your daily rituals… By the way, if you’re a Full Focus Planner user, you can go right there in the front of your planner and sketch out new rituals. Maybe they need to be updated so they’re relevant to your season of life now. Maybe things have changed.

Then the next thing would be to remind yourself and recommit yourself of your hard boundaries and find somebody to hold you accountable. I think that’s really, really important, whether that’s a spouse or a coach or business partner. Then also do some calendar triage. I really feel like if you do those three things, all of a sudden you’re going to feel much less overwhelmed. It’s going to all of a sudden feel possible for you to find balance again. It’s not going to feel like an uphill battle in the way it does right now.

Michael: The one thing I would add as kind of the fourth item is go ahead and schedule some time, block some time where you’re going to get away from work. Maybe it’s a long weekend. Maybe it’s a one-week vacation. Maybe the most you can do is a day, but you have to have a time when you… We do best when we surge and then we rest. There has to be that planned rest time. If you’re waiting for your boss or your clients to tap you on your shoulder and say, “Hey, I think you need to take a couple of days off,” that’s not going to happen. You have to claim that on your calendar for yourself.

Megan: Well, guys, I hope this has been helpful for you. I hope you see a path from where you are today…possibly overwhelmed, possibly feeling out of balance…to finding your way back to balance through some really practical steps. As we’ve just shared candidly about our own lives, this is a normal part of life. The key is to not let it become too normal or too frequent so you don’t get too out of balance, but it’s easy to come back when you do using these simple strategies we shared with you guys today. All right. We look forward to seeing you next week here on the podcast. Until then, lead to win.