The start of the academic year is my busiest time of year. You can relate, I’m sure—whatever your life looks like, we all know the feeling of being so busy that life feels like a car hurtling down the freeway at 100 mph: under control, but barely.

Good productivity hygiene—planning out the week and planning out each day—only helps so much. Even productivity nerds get overwhelmed. Below are the two ideas I keep in mind when my inbox is overflowing, people are beating a path to my door, and multiple deadlines are quickly approaching.

  1. There is enough time. The trouble with being super busy isn’t the amount of work, which is almost always doable. It’s the busy-ness itself. As I wrote this time last year, it’s easy to allow our mind to wander away from the task at hand and start worrying about how busy we are. Spending time worrying, of course, leaves us with even less time to do the work we’re so worried about. Keep your head down and focus relentlessly on the task at hand. There is enough time.
  2. You must do the most important thing first. When we’re hyper-busy, doing the most important thing first is even more important than usual. We can ordinarily get away with spending 90 minutes answering email first thing in the morning, but when that’s the only unbroken block of time we have all day, it must be spent on our most important work (or we’ll be staying late). Answering emails can be done piecemeal throughout the day, but you can’t submit a $100,000 grant proposal a few minutes at a time. Time is like dental floss: to do anything valuable with it, you need a minimum quantity.

In addition to these tips, consider a little self-talk. I often remind myself, “It will all get done. It always gets done.” Being busy doesn’t have to be overly stressful, and by having a plan in place, we can transform panic into exhilaration.