For 14 years, I have worked for organizations that have consistent annual rhythms: our new service year begins every August, we are wrapping up the year in May, and June & July are our months to do special maintenance projects for our ministry.
Our busiest time of year always seems to go from early-August to mid-September. I call these six weeks “Harvest Time”. In farming communities, Harvest Time is the most critical time of year that is marked by a crazy pace of working 12-16 hours every day. When the crops are ripe, you have only a limited time to gather them in before they go bad, so farmers work around the clock during Harvest Time.
It is an unrealistic, unsustainable pace of life, but it has to be done during that one season of the year, or else it throws off the farmer’s whole business, and the people dependent on the farmer for food can starve if he does not harvest the crops well.
When is the start of your organization’s annual cycle? For accountants, it’s tax season. For florists, it’s wedding season. For retail stores, it’s Christmastime. For gyms, it’s January. When is your “Harvest Time”? When is that short-term season where you have to put in a lot overtime hours to make the whole rest of your year a success?
What we must remember about Harvest Time is that it is not sustainable. It has to come to an end. There has to come a point where we go back to a more regular, healthy pace of work that doesn’t burn us out.
And if you are in a position of leadership (a Director, Manager, Team Leader), then you are the trend-setter for those around you. During Harvest Time, our Teams are watching us work – especially the new employees. They are looking at our pace and thinking, “that is what is expected of me, too.” And if we don’t change our pace soon, they will think that working 70 hours per week is what we expect of them all the time.
I want to encourage you to pick a date today, that is in September (or whenever your industry’s particular Harvest Time ends), of when you are going to bring your own working rhythms back down into a healthier place, and then communicate that to your Team:
“Yes, right now is a special time when we all need to put in a lot of extra effort to get things started well. But by September 15 (or choose another date that better suits your Team), I expect us all to be working a more sustainable pace that includes stopping work at a healthy time each day, and taking one day a week to be completely free of work.”