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Peaks Need Troughs

When you first go into consulting, everyone tells you it’s famine or feast.  So you learn to make the most of any feasting and prepare for the lean times.  Even the famines have their value: a chance to catch your breath, rest and renew and slow the pace before the next period of abundance.

The highs and lows of workload are not just restricted to self-employment.  Our clients often talk about getting their heads down during busy times and looking ahead to when it calms a little.  Or at least they used to.

Recently we’ve noticed less talk about the quiet times.  We used to have peaks and troughs and now we just have peaks and peaks.  How did this happen?  We are aware of chronic burnout in our teams, we acknowledge it is an issue but push on regardless.  We’ve become used to being rewarded for being “busy” that we value it above effectiveness.

This month’s newsletter is in honour of the much-missed troughs, down time, quiet periods or whatever you like to call them.  For some industries, they occur in summer and at the end of the year/early Jan.  For others, those are the busy periods and there’s a slowing down at different times of the year.

Here are some reasons why we need the troughs:

  • They allow us to pause. We’re people, not machines, and even machines get taken out of action for a check-up every now and then!  Slowing down, resting, taking time out and just doing less in the day gives us a chance to renew and refresh those essential internal resources we need to do our jobs well.  We think better, and more good ideas come when we feel rested and relaxed.
  • They are the perfect times to build in reflection and review. Being results-focused is great and essential for success, but it doesn’t mean we have to fall into a pattern of result – on to the next thing, result – on to the next thing.  By reflecting at the end of a piece of work, project or event, we can discuss what went well, what didn’t and what we would do next time to be even better. The alternative is to stumble on and miss out on the valuable lessons learned from a bit of a wash up.
  • Quieter periods in our work are a great time for progressing those back-burner tasks. You know the ones. We manage without them when we’re in a peak but if we could only get even one done, they take us forward.  These activities are often referred to as the important non-urgent tasks.  No one is pressuring us to get them done, but once completed, they give us a real sense of progress.  It could be engaging in some research, improving/updating a system or process or doing some valuable networking.  You limp along without doing them and then once done, wonder why you didn’t get started years ago.
  • Troughs give us a chance to learn (also a back-burner task). When was the last time you did something for the first time?  When was the last time you were able to add some knowledge, experience or skill to your CV?  Troughs give us a chance to take time out for our own learning, to master something new, to grow personally and professionally.  These new skills may well come into their own during our busy times so making space for learning really does make sense.

It’s time to make a change so peaks and peaks become peaks and troughs again.  Make time for the troughs, see them coming, value them, use them in the ways suggested and you’ll be better able to – not just cope – but thrive in the busy times.