how do people manage jobs with cyclical periods of really long hours?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

About six months ago, I quit my role in a demanding, high-stress field that regularly demanded 60-100-hour work weeks. I made a somewhat lateral career change that resulted in significantly less hours and also significantly less pay. I don’t mind the pay cut since I’ve found my new work is more enjoyable and I’ve cultivated a greater sense of self outside of work.

The issue I’m having is that my new role is cyclical in nature (similar to an accountant who has to work ~50 hours every month-end/quarter-end to close the books). I’m starting to struggle even with these periodic 50-hour weeks and was hoping you or your readers could give some insight before I make another career and lifestyle change.

How do people manage their personal lives while working jobs with higher demands one week out of the month? I’m worried that perhaps my values simply no longer align with roles that demand more than 40 hours a week in any capacity, but I’m wondering how others manage to balance staying engaged with friends, family, and community with fluctuating work schedules.

Am I doing something wrong that I feel like I can’t balance my personal and work life during these weeks? Should I simply accept that I need to make some sacrifices for one week every month? I feel like my perspective on work is skewed from my first job that demanded 12+ hour days and am struggling to figure out where I’m being idealistic with how a career fits into my life vs. what is realistic. I would so appreciate any thoughts you or your readers have before I make another (hopefully not misguided) career move. Thank you!

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 207 comments… read them below }

  1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

    You’re not super human- you won’t be able to “balance” by doing everything that week. If everything else about the job is good and you don’t want to change careers because of that, recognize that that week, you’re going to be work heavy and personal light. That’s not an easy thing to reconcile, I’ll admit, especially because it will feel like you’re dropping balls. But outside of the necessities (getting everyone fed, clothes cleaned, etc) you’re just…not going to be able to do everything you want. It took me a long time to get the hang of “adulting” in so far as getting into a rhythm and balance of work life vs. personal life. There are all sorts of life hacks and suggestions for making it easier- and I’ll let you look into them and try what’s best for you- but really, the change in mindset of, “I’m not going to be able to do all of this and what I get done is fine,” is really what will make the difference.

    1. Beth*

      Agreed that you just don’t handle everything those weeks. If they’re predictable, you can plan for it–for example, if a friend is looking to make dinner plans, you can say “that’s going to be a hell week for me at work, can we do the following monday instead?” Or if you’re part of a sports league, you can plan a sub in advance so you’re not scrambling that week. Acknowledging that you can’t do it all and planning for it can help make the situation feel less chaotic.

      But it’s also okay if you’re at a life stage where work needs to stay within 40 hours! That’s not a pipe dream or an unreasonable expectation. It might require moving roles or even fields. And it might require a pay cut (I’m thinking of how those “we pay 6 digits right out of undergrad but you will routinely work 80+ hour weeks” jobs can be traps as people burn out on the hours but have built their lifestyles around the income level). But there are absolutely jobs out there that pay a livable wage for a 40 hour work week.

      1. Mellie Bellie*

        Yep. This. I’m a self-employed trial lawyer and during the weeks before and during trial, I make sure the dogs’ needs are met – if not by me, by someone – but those with opposable thumbs and/or the ability to use the phone to order what they need are on their own.

        I just don’t schedule things during that time. And since I know going into it that this is a Work Only Period, I try to pre-plan and get help set up: dog walkers, arrange for prepared meals or grocery delivery, gap stop other work obligations, etc.

        And then, when I have time to come up for air, I give myself enough “down” or even “off” time to recharge, get back on track and reconnect with the rest of my life.

        It’s not for everyone though. And that’s okay.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          It’s definitely not for everyone. My dad was a doctor who opened his own practice when I was young – and that only worked for our family because my mother went to part-time work so she could do the lion’s share of the childcare. My sister is an OB-GYN who routinely works nights, and she and her husband are able to envision a life with kids because his job is very 9-5. Not everyone’s family structure can support long hours, though, and that’s not some kind of moral failing on the part of the employee.

        2. Allonge*

          One thing that helps me with the optional stuff is – schedule it for after the busy period when I am still not yet in the busy period. So – yes, friend, I would love to go and watch a movie with you, but the week after Xmas, not the week before. Dental checkup? Sure, for 2nd week of January when accounting system is closed.

          This gives me someething to look forward to (not the dentist, mind), has a good impact on life maintenance / relationships as I am not just saying no and does not require me to say yes or no in the busy period – one less decision to make.

      2. Anax*

        Totally agreed. I’m a coder, and sometimes unexpected busy times come up – something’s broken and it needs to be fixed NOW.

        I’ve found it really helps to allow myself downtime. In theory, I might have a couple of hours between work and bed where I could be doing household chores or something else ‘useful’ – in practice, I usually need that time for extra sleep or just to recharge. Staring blankly into space, playing mindless games on my phone, and watching trashy reality tv are totally acceptable uses of time during hell weeks – even if the dishes are piling up and the dirty clothes have colonized the floor.

        There’s only so much energy to go around, and mine is GONE at the end of a twelve-hour workday. Pushing farther is just going to bring me closer to burnout and weeping with exhaustion in the middle of meetings.

        Definitely learned that one the hard way.

      3. MM*

        Right. I’m an academic. I have a lot of flexibility no matter what, but there are times when it’s nonstop and times when I have a lot of slack. I just anticipate my deadlines and crunch periods and make sure to schedule my friends and family around those, or vice versa (submit something early so I can go on family vacation, etc). I accept that my apartment will descend into chaos occasionally. I don’t have the same work-life balance every week, but if you average it all out over a year or more, it’s pretty reasonable, and I’m fine with that type of fluctuation–I actually prefer it.

        But if what OP wants is something more steady, without that kind of tidal cycle, then they should go for an industry that supports that.

        1. DrD*

          Also an academic, and this is right on. I plan ahead for the crunch times and prepare our lives for them. Schedule extra childcare, eat out a lot more than usual, no appointments that have any flexibility for any of us, for example. Since academia is very flexible, it’s key for me to take advantage of the downtime rather than “leaning in” then.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        Agreed that it’s okay to plan ahead for hell weeks!

        One thing about our society; we specialize in entire economies set up around not feeling “enough.” According to our media, we should be living in three bedroom houses that are also midtown Manhattan lofts, dining out every night while also making our own jelly in a cabin in the woods, wearing designer clothing while weaving cloth at a hand loom, and putting our adorable, gifted kids through private school and college while saving for retirement.

        There is no human being on earth who does all this stuff, or even a tenth of it. No Committee of Approval is waiting with a checklist about where you put your shoes or how often you order takeout. Work/life balance is essential, but it is also personal. Some people burn out without downtime every day, some people do an work Iron Man once a month, some people have two bananapants seasons a year, and so on. What you can handle, what is worth doing, is in the end always going to be up to you.

    2. Chauncy Gardener*

      Came here to say this. I am an accountant and have these periodic busy periods. I don’t make a lot of non-work plans for those days. I prepare dinners and freeze them, so at least we can eat normally. Maybe we’ll plan that my husband gets pizza one night. I just try not to compress myself with personal stuff during that time period.
      Good luck!

      1. But what to call me?*

        Seconding the value of finding food that can be prepared in advance and frozen until the busy times. Being able to pull a good (or at least decent) meal out of the freezer can be a lifesaver when there isn’t time or energy to deal with cooking.

      2. Reluctant Mezzo*

        During tax season, dinner is takeout or the pizza the office buys, or even just a peanut butter sandwich in my purse (probably healthier than the pizza, really), whatever caffeine or analog, and drinking *lots* of water. Laundry? Dishes? Well, the cat gets fed and the litter box changed. If I have more than one day off in a row, some of the house stuff gets done, but no promises.

    3. Samwise*

      Unless you have small children or are caring for a person with substantial needs for care and attention –getting everyone fed, clothes cleaned etc can also be back burnered.

      The week/weekend before the busy week, you/your family pitches in to prep easy meals, does the laundry, deep cleans the cat box, pays bills, etc. During busy week, others in your family can be in charge of setting the table, putting the soup on the stove or in the microwave, dressing the pre-washed salad greens, making their own brownbag lunch (older kids can help younger kids do this or can be assigned to do it), clear the table, wash the dishes, take out the trash, etc. Take-out or delivery, if you can afford it, is always a good choice.

      Decide what personal activities/obligations are non-negotiable. For me, that was always read to/with child, look over homework, spend 30 minutes-hour just hanging with my spouse.

      1. Jarjam*

        Only here to say that I’m reading this on my phone and it puts a line break between cat and box. Reading “prep easy meals, does the laundry, deep cleans the cat” has made me laugh a lot.

    4. ecnaseener*

      I’ve seen it explained well as an expansion of the “juggling a lot of balls” metaphor – every little thing you’re supposed to get done that week is a ball to juggle, and some of those balls are breakable glass while others are plastic. It would be great to keep all balls in the air, but sometimes you have to concentrate on the glass ones. On a week where you have a lot of work-balls, you let some of the plastic personal-balls fall (and vice versa).

      1. Beth*

        My life has glass balls, plastic balls, and bouncy balls. Glass balls can’t be dropped or they’ll shatter–but there aren’t very many of them, it turns out. Plastic balls can be dropped, but once you miss them, they are dropped–you have to bend over and put in effort to pick them up again.

        Bouncy balls, on the other hand…not only will they survive being dropped, but they’ll pop right back up for me to handle tomorrow. The friend texting to see if I want coffee? The museum exhibit I had plans to visit today, but that’s still in town for another month? The laundry sitting in my hamper? If I ignore them too long they might stop bouncing and become a dropped ball. But I’ll get several chances at them before we hit that point. A lot of things in life are bouncy balls, it turns out.

        1. Butt in Seat*

          I love this extension of the metaphor! I have been using the “will it still be there for me to handle tomorrow?” question already, but without the “bouncy ball” image.

        2. Really?*

          Great analogy. You can also reframe it the way I do—I have yet to see the dirty laundry walk away in huff…it, like a lot of stuff, will still be there when you get to it. On the other hand, you do have to arrange to have kids and pets fed — and you can keep more balls in the air if there are multiple jugglers. You may need to ask for help during busy week.

        3. All Het Up About It*

          This is great!

          I’ve also used the ball metaphor to say sometimes, I am purposefully putting down some balls. I’m not dropping them, I’m acknowledging I can’t juggle them at the moment, so I’m purposefully putting them to the side where it is much easier to pick them back up. The key is remembering you do have to pick them back up!

        4. Plastic Ball*

          I think I’m most of my friends’ plastic ball. I am *immediately* dropped if any hint of busy-ness arises. I, on the other hand, have a super easy job with lots of free time so I can keep track of which friends don’t have time for me. I like this metaphor! At least I’m unbreakable, that’s something!

      2. Penny Pingleton*

        Rather than juggling, it helps me to frame it more like bowling. Knock out what you can—it still counts!

    5. Alanna*

      The busy periods in my field aren’t always predictable (I’m in journalism) but they sometimes are, and I find it helpful to think about them in advance in a very structured way. What do I HAVE to do outside work this week to keep myself alive? What will help keep me centered and sane? What can I make easier for myself? What will I let go?

      This is a good time to use a little money to solve a problem, if you have it.

      So I will actually write out a plan for the busy period. One example:
      * Go for a walk outside every day
      * Take 15 minutes every morning to answer texts and check my bank account
      * Keep healthy snacks at my desk
      * Not worry about cooking or laundry
      * Take melatonin immediately if I’m closing my laptop after 11 pm

      For me, the busy periods aren’t just about time logged at the office; they can also sometimes be emotionally intense — and if I’m working too late at night, then my sleep cycle gets messed up, then it’s harder to exercise and eat healthy, and all of a sudden everything’s really bad. So I try to really focus on the basic things I need to feel good (gentle movement, time outside, not feeling totally out of control of my health). And then I LET THE REST GO if it’s not on the list.

    6. Not a butt*

      agreeded. I once heard the advice to essentially pay into your relationships during slow seasons, knowing that you’ll be less avaible during busy ones.

    7. nomorestress*

      Not advice here but just giving you permission to say your values don’t align with that work schedule anymore! I used to be a tax accountant, so Feb-April 15th and Sep-Oct 15th were always crazy. This January I just decided I didn’t want to do it anymore and I’m loving my life and career now.

  2. Helvetica*

    My career is similar to this, although not so clear that overtime is one week a month but there are periods where I definitely work more than 40 hours a week.
    Honestly, I have accepted this as an integral part of my career, since this is a niche career and even if I could switch employers to a certain degree, I would not change the core aspect of this career.
    So, during those periods, I honestly just pull back on my personal commitments. I can do it because I know it is temporary, and it will soon be replaced by another calm period. That helps me maintain my stress level and not feel overburdened. And I never sacrifice my personal life in those periods where I could work more but don’t have to – so I won’t stay longer if there is no urgency or acute need for me to do so. That stops me from making my career my whole life, which would be very easy, since it is also my passion and I enjoy it a lot (the antithesis of yesterday’s question about not liking work at all – I am the person who does!)

    1. ferrina*

      My situation is very similar. I work in an industry that tends to be seasonally busy for 2 months of the year, then sporadically busy for a week 3-4x per year. Busy times are 50-65 hours per week.
      I clear my personal calendar and get freezer meals. I make time blocks for my family, then work in the evenings. My housework isn’t great.

      Then I balance it out during slower times of the year, where I work 30 hr/wk and/or have a lot of flexibility with my hours. I get to go to all my kids’ school events and coach their sport team. That helps it balance out on a wider timescale.

      1. Just here for the scripts*

        Coming here to say this!
        Personal light during heavy cycles
        Personal heavy during light cycles

        My mom ran a boarding kennel for 30+ years and we knew that between 4th of July and the start of school that her answer about anything was “I’ll consider it after Labor Day”

        She and my dad (and our extended family) were a good team—he picked up when she couldn’t during the winter hols and before Labor Day; extended family also pitched in with day activities, pot lucks, etc.—all of which gave us great relationships with these folks that has lasted for 55+ years. It wasn’t seen as a lacking in her part—but definitely showed us how to gracefully let others in to share the load/develop relationships.

        They also outsourced house cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping—something way more expensive and time consuming in the days before Amazon and Uber eats. Don’t get me wrong—we did chores. But the overall household running was not one parent’s job.

        Remember “it takes a village” is for everyone—not just children. In fact, experts say that if one can afford to pay for (some if not all) cleaning and meals, one’s quality of life improves/stress is relieved greatly.

    2. Jennifer*

      I’m in a staff role at a university, which I like because unlike faculty, my work is usually confined to 40 hours/week. However, there are times like the beginning of the year that I’m going to eat/sleep/breath work. During those times, I don’t really try for a work/life balance. Dinner: crock pot or take out; appointments: scheduled for another time.

      Once things have settled down, I can catch up on things. My thinking is my employer doesn’t get to complain I took 2 hours for a dentist appt when I just gave them two weeks of my life.

      I also try to mentally frame it as just part of the job. All jobs have unenjoyable elements; this is mine. The trick is finding something where the positives balance out the negatives for you. That balance is going to look different for different people and at different points in your career.

  3. Ann Onymous*

    I’m in a job that is 40-45 hours/week most of the time, but will go through periods of a few weeks every couple years or so when hours are much longer. I don’t have the secret sauce for getting through those times, but I do want to let you know you’re not alone in struggling with them. I find it useful to remember that a generation or two ago, people in the sort of job I have either had a spouse who didn’t work outside the home, hired domestic help, or both. So the fact that I struggle with these busy times doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me, and there isn’t something wrong with you either.

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      Just adding to the chorus of commiseration. My job has 12+ hour days the last week of the month, and I have an hour commute each way. By the end of the week, I’m a wreck. I actually bought extra vacation time for next year (even though its a lot of money) so that I can take the first Monday of every month off to recuperate and hopefully avoid burnout.

      But the months that I handle the best, are the ones where I manage to embrace the suck. When I first started this job, I’d put so much judgement on myself for not making it to the gym, eating poorly, not spending time with family, etc. Now I just say ‘yep its that time of the month and my only job is to survive’. I spend like $30 getting a full breakfast + snacks at Sbux on my way in each morning, and stock up my desk drawer with protein bars. My husband has also had to reframe his thinking a bit, and now tries to focus on the positives of having a ‘bachelor week’ each month. And, he stepped up a lot in managing the household that week, once I broke down and admitted I needed help.

      Its funny because I used to travel 1-2 weeks a month for work, and never put any kind of harsh expectations on myself about magically cleaning the house from across the country or eating takeout. But long hours make self care just as difficult, and yet I didnt adjust my expectations to match.

      1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

        You have to work 70+ hour weeks (including commuting) 12x per year, but have to buy a recovery day after that? That’s horrifying.

  4. Daisy*

    Generally “the people who show up for community within a shared environment/activity” and “the people who show up for YOU” are two different and often nonoverlapping groups. I find that I need to keep some people from column A (pleasant, low-stakes companionship, but probably not going to have your back in a crisis) and some from column B (getting together might be rare, they might be flaky about regular plans, but will 100% have your back), or it starts to get difficult to balance my emotional and social needs during work swings. One snoozes, the other picks up the slack.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      I do wonder if some of LW’s hobbies are things like D&D, which can be a large weekly commitment where missing a week, especially regularly, can make it hard to keep up and stay engaged. If it’s a social activity with a relatively small group, being open about the challenges can allow other members to strategise and either skip the week as well or plan activities that don’t require LW. If it’s a larger group (like community theatre) LW may need to look at ways they can engage that won’t impact the rest of the group as much if they need to skip a week regularly, and communicate with the group leader. Work on the assumption that they won’t be able to attend in the 50 hour weeks, and if they do happen to feel up to it, take that as a bonus, rather than feeling like they’re letting people down if they don’t.

  5. nopetopus*

    I myself do not have a lot of experience with cyclical work periods, but have friends who do. Those are the weeks they do takeout or meal prep the weekend before, they schedule dog walkers or other caretaking supports, and all their friends know that they aren’t available for anything extra and don’t schedule things during those times.

    I’m someone who needs a steady routine with practically zero changes in schedule because of my health issues, so for me I would never be a fit for that kind of work. I’ve accepted that it limits my options, but it’s better than the alternative.

    1. Bananaphobia*

      I’m one of those people- in academia with predictable busy times in the semester.

      I try to have my laundry caught up, recycling bin empty, and a few meals in the freezer in advance of busy times.

      I also block off my calendar in advance for the extra work, and don’t schedule or accept non-urgent meetings during key times of the year. For extremely busy times (registration days) I also put up an out of office email that explains a slower response time.

      My kids know that we’re never taking a fun March break vacation. When they were younger we often had a grandparent visit to do fun stuff with them and help out during their break/my end of semester.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I’m a teacher also and know that my personal life will virtually vanish for about two weeks each semester when I write report cards. I know I’ll eat a lot of takeout and laundry will pile up and I’ll have to say no to some plans with friends. Now that I have a kid I make a point to find some quality time with her also, but it’ll be lower key – reading a few books together instead of going out on an adventure all Saturday. It helps to remind myself that I get to balance it with the lower-intensity times (hello, summer vacation!) when I can be Fun Mom, Fun Spouse, and Fun Friend again.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          My husband ran into that every spring, when he would run extra night labs so the little darlings could get more time on their Grand Unknown and he could catch up on grading the regular chemistry stuff.

    2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      Yep. Outsource whatever you can. My work doesn’t frequently demand longer hours but I struggle with ADHD and depression. Hiring out things to take the mental load off when I’m having a particularly rough time has been very helpful.

      Hire a cleaner, have your laundry sent out (I live in a small Midwestern city and there were options for this), whatever you can have others do to take things on your plate so you still have time to recharge.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Buy lots of underwear. Just an alarming amount of underwear. It’s a small price to pay to ensure you will never have to worry about having a clean pair.

        1. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

          I’m so glad I’m not the only one who does this. I have an obscene amount of socks and underwear. There is no real need for one person to have this much, except that sometimes, it just legitimately takes me that long to get through the whole laundry cycle (wash/dry usually isn’t too bad, but folded/put away…that one is more of a challenge). I also have at least a two-week supply of workout clothes…or so.

        2. kalli*

          And it’s okay to wear something twice if it isn’t stained, it’s okay to wash your face and hands (and butt, if you have a bidet) and keep going, it’s okay to have a packet of chips instead of a tray bake – you just balance it out over a longer period of time so in total everything gets covered at least in part. Maybe you have two weeks of work clothes and four weeks of underwear but if your busy period is all of December, you have to balance that out with a big wash at the end of November and the start of January, or you still have to do an essentials load or wash something in the shower to get through. But if you have four weeks of business clothes and six weeks of underwear, then you can take a weekend at the end of December before going into recovery/catch-up phase. Once you know your busy periods you can plan and build up your supplies to get over it.

          And it’s ok to fall asleep in the chair as long as your back can take it! And get takeout! It’s not failing to just survive until you can recharge. But you must survive – clean undies, medication, hydration, not the time to see if you really can go without food for three weeks (although my record is seven, please don’t try to beat it!)

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I had five identical pairs of slacks and lots of different shirts. The slacks always got washed, but could hang up and not wrinkle, while I assembled more shirts on them so I could just grab a hanger and go.

    3. weatherglass*

      In addition to what people are saying about scheduling necessary stuff, when I had a job like this I also found it helpful to have leisure options set up and ready to go, to make the bar on doing something I would enjoy if I could a lot lower. I would often wind up with some free time during busy periods, but not the mental energy to make a decision about what to do with it. If I already had a stack of fun books prepped or a Netflix queue of stuff I actively wanted to watch or a game already downloaded to my computer, I was way more likely to do one of those things instead of mindlessly browsing Twitter for an hour or two and then going to bed feeling useless and like I’d wasted the evening.

    4. askalice*

      I work in an industry which is high cyclical (arts/events) and I have a strong preference for it. I actually get bored out of my brain doing 9-5 the whole year. It took me a few years of therapy to understand that I actually work better in an ebb/flow environment. I used to feel bad for not having consistency, now I know my ADHD brain thrives in changing environments and complex logistics – but not 365 days of the year. The slow dreaming time is part of the whole cycle, and is when I develop and improve processes for busy times.
      During peak times, I commit fully to the job, block out my calendar and so forth. There is no wiggle room on the launch day for a festival. Luckily many of my friends are in the same industry and it’s understood in festival season I’ll see you on the other side (if they are not working with me in this round!)
      I meal prep, both frozen things for coming home and healthy lunches for taking with. I stock up on good snacks in my day bag and get very disciplined about my vitamins. I capsule wardrobe, laying out a week’s worth of outfits (and I along the evening outfits onsite with a makeup kit if necessary so I can change there). As much as possible I keep up my exercise routine as being fit and charged up gives me the energy for long days in long weeks. My partner knows that during this time they have to take up the slack with dishes and general housework.
      Post event season, I take holidays, and also do 10-4 (or less!) and generally get really cushy for a few months before going back to normal-ish hours, and prepping for the busy season again.
      I love the feeling coming into busy season, if you are prepped and in control you can garner incredible amounts of energy, push so much over the line, and create transformational events where people literally have life changing experiences.

  6. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    There’s some level of planning you can do in your personal life to level things out. Meal prep and consigning yourself to ordering out more, and getting other chores done outside that time window – laundry, cleaning, finances, etc.

    But the mental side is more important. You have to accept that you’re otherwise booked that week – you can’t go to the movies, you can’t visit with family, you can’t host a dinner party, you can’t go to every one of your kids’ sporting events. If you equate the extra work hours with some other kind of inflexible obligation — dress rehearsals for an amateur play, etc. The difference, of course, is that the extra work hours aren’t fun, whereas the play is.

    1. amoeba*

      I mean, I would actually still try to leave room for one or two fun things, though! So, rather let the laundry pile up a bit or eat frozen meals or takeaway but then also see a film (if that’s something that makes me happy, obviously). So, I’d rather try to keep “life maintenance stuff” at a minimum those weeks than have a great-looking flat and no social life…

      (Of course there are jobs where you don’t have time for any of the above, but with 50 hours it might still be doable, especially if LW has previously worked much longer hours. And yeah, I’d rather go with less housework/care work during these weeks to balance out the extra paid work if at all possible.)

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Oh yeah, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying you have to be a cloistered monk. But the menu of fun stuff you can choose from is restricted, and the number of items you can order from the menu is smaller too.

        1. amoeba*

          No, for sure, I agree! I just wanted add that maybe there are other things you can drop before touching the fun stuff at all. I think “staying on top of your household” etc. is so ingrained in many of us that the thought might not even occur (because you feel guilty meeting friends when you “should” be cleaning or doing laundry…)

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            I do try to ‘weaponize’ eating out as a way to force myself to have a bright spot in my day.
            OK, I don’t have time to cook and eat food. I could 1) eat some gross frozen thing while staring at my unclean house 2) Wait in line to pick up takeout I dont really enjoy and then eat it while staring at my unclean house 3) go out to eat somewhere fabulous.

            It doesnt really take that much more time to go out to a cool restaurant than it does to coordinate takeout, and it brings the dishes level down to 0 and leaves me with some potential leftovers to boot. I keep costs (and time) down by sticking to an appetizer and a salad.

            1. Devious Planner*

              I absolutely do this too! There’s a casual restaurant around the corner from me with a patio. On a recent 2 week stretch of time when I was working 60 hours/week, I really loved going out to dinner there! It forced me to have a 5 minute walk each way, and take 30 minutes for dinner. I went on my own 4-5 times, and read a book (or sometimes did a bit of paperwork!). Altogether, it’s a 45 minute commitment, but it’s relaxing, involves 0 prep or cleaning, and costs maximum $20 including tip (cheaper than delivery!).

          2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            Absolutely! Getting smart about what fun I add in during my busy times has helped a lot, too. Going out to a friend’s birthday party = great move, helped me unwind. Hosting a “small, casual” brunch = lots of unneeded stress because I felt like I had to get the house all cleaned up AND spend time at the brunch until the last guest left. Not doing that again!

      2. ferrina*

        Super depends. Definitely make sure you block some time for things you enjoy. If could be time with friends or just curling up with a book. Don’t block things that are a lot of work (even if you love the work). Your energy and mental bandwidth will look different than it normally does.

        If it’s going on more than 3 weeks, figure out how you can do some kind of social maintenance. Maybe attend one party or something. Even if it’s exhausting, it helps reassure friends that you still love them and are invested in them, even though you haven’t seen them much.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          If it is something that’s a lot of work and can’t be rescheduled, “I’m going to power through and reap the rewards now in the full knowledge that I’ll feel like hammered crap later” is a decision you’re allowed to make in your personal life, not just your work life. It’s not smart to do it often, but I’d say it’s good for the soul not to reserve that kind of sacrifice for the benefit of your employer.

  7. Pat*

    I work in that sort of fluctuating work schedule. And it’s really just about finding a rhythm. When you work this schedule awhile people around you will expect it. You also can set expectations that just that week you’ll be more work focused. But balance that by also lighter weeks doing more of that personal stuff. I have weeks where I’m regularly spending that time with friends and family and doing those sorts of activities on the lighter weeks and on the heavier weeks it’s just work, doing the basics and maybe some netflix and I just don’t socialize that much during that time.

    1. NewJobNewGal*

      Yes, it’s very normal for my friends to say, “Oh, that’s closing week. Can we do something the week after?” And then I say, “Oh, do you want me to walk the dogs for you that week? since you’ll be swamped? And we can do the birthday get together later.”
      So I’d suggest making it clear to friends that you have a busy time with work. They may step up to help.

  8. juniper*

    Echoing what everyone else is saying about pulling back on personal commitments/letting other things slide. I would also say, see if you can find a way to make the non-busy weeks even easier, to compensate. Are there weeks where you could take a half-day on a Friday summer-hours style? Could you log off earlier or log on later? Often those really busy weeks are easier to handle if you can compensate with some much less busy weeks that let you catch up or relax.

  9. chocolate muffins*

    I might think about balance over the long term, like a month or a quarter – some amount of time that includes the long weeks and also more regular weeks. I am a professor so for me, busy times are the beginning and end of a semester. To account for that, I make plans with friends in advance for less busy times, and also put in some time for things that I want to do but won’t have time to do when life gets hectic, like going for walks and reading novels.

    One other suggestion is to make life as easy as possible for yourself when things are busy. I use more normal times to be nice to my future busy self by doing things like cooking a bunch of food and freezing it. I also make sure to get some extra relaxation in when I can so that I can draw from that bucket when life is harder. In other words, instead of draining the bucket first and then feeling miserable before I can fill it up again, I try to pre-fill so that when I have to make large withdrawals, there’s still some left in the bucket. You can also do stuff during busy times like order more take-out, hire someone to clean your house, or whatever else would allow you to offload some tasks that you don’t particularly enjoy doing. Of course this is assuming that your job pays you well enough to do that – if it doesn’t, perhaps a friend or neighbor might be up for helping during those times?

    One final thought is that it is totally fine to do this kind of work and also totally fine to decide not to do it. If you try some things for a while and nothing is working, and you want to make a change, that is a totally normal and acceptable decision.

  10. Eric*

    I think a job with a reasonably predictable 50 hour week once a month isn’t too bad, assuming the pay compensates for the extra time.

    But it isn’t for everyone. People with primary care-giving responsibilities for people probably can’t accommodate, for example.

    What sort of job could you get that wouldn’t have overtime responsibilities? How much of a pay cut would you need to take to move into such as role? Can you look at spending some of that differential in pay to make your life more pleasant during the week of overtime? Hiring out the cleaning and the cooking, for example.

    Can you look into shifting your schedule at all? I’d rather work 4-5 hours on a Sunday evening once a month in exchange for only having to work 9 hour days instead of 10 hour days, for example. Is something like that more practical for you?

    Overall, for my lifestyle, stepping back from friends and community one week a month isn’t a huge ask, but YMMV.

    1. amoeba*

      Either the pay or the hours during the rest of the month! For me it would be a huge difference whether it’s 40 h for three weeks and then 50 for the fourth or 35 for three weeks and then 50. Or 40-40-40-50, but you have flex time and gain more PTO that you can use during the quiet periods to go on vacation.

      The first and last model I might actually consider a good deal (at the same pay), depending on my life period. The second one, not so much – I’d want that overtime paid (either in actual overtime pay or just in a better salary).

  11. marymoocow*

    I work in higher ed. I have insane weeks in the leadup to commencement or the first week of the fall term, but in exchange I have really slow weeks with tons of flexibility too (times when we’re working but the students are on break are my favorite). Does your job cycle between 40 hours and 50+ hours, or sometimes 30 and sometimes 50? Do you get time off when you need it? If you never get a corresponding reduction in hours, I can see why you’re feeing stretched thin.

  12. Thatoneoverthere*

    I don’t think you’re wrong that you are struggling to find balance on the weeks that are over 40 hrs. 40 hrs a week is hard enough as it is. The 40 hr work week was designed with the fact that someone either was single or had a partner to come home to. The partner took care of the house and kids (if applicable), while the other worked to support them and their family.

    Is it possible budget wise that during that busy week you could hire cleaning person? They maybe able to help you keep up on household chores/laundry. Also maybe use one of those meal services like Hello Fresh, etc. I recently used Factor (not affiliated with them, just liked it), and it was prepared meals and they were really good. Or perhaps you could meal prep, during one of the slower weeks at work.

    Another idea if feasible is to take a few days off, following the busy period. Perhaps just relax and recharge or catch up on errands/household chores.

    1. ferrina*

      Echoing all of this, though if your busy period is every month, time off won’t be an option every time.

      If you are normally in-office, you could see if you could work from home for a couple days after the busy period. This will at least help you get caught up on laundry and other household things.

      1. Thatoneoverthere*

        Yes, it could be tough if its every month. I will occasionally take 2 days off after a particular busy period. 1 day I would get caught up on household stuff and the other day I would literally spend in bed watching TV and eating snacks. It was great.

        So maybe every few months, just taking a long weekend might help.

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      Another vote for Factor.
      I’ve also developed a menu that works well for my busy weeks, and I eat the same meals for a week straight. It only takes a few minutes to prep on Sundays:
      -Instant oatmeal with added in hemp, chia, and flax seeds. I add hot water once I get to work. Plus a low fat cottage cheese cup.
      -Some of those salad kits dumped into a lunch tupperware. Im a vegetarian so I add cheese or pair it with a protein shake, husband air fries up some chicken
      -Greek yogurt with granola
      -Store bought egg salad (I LOVE whole foods brand) on a sourdough toast. If im feeling luxe, I air fry some sweet potato tots and broccoli straight from frozen.

  13. l*

    I regularly work 16+ hour days during busy periods, which is normal for my industry and is balanced by having a ton of time off (more than six weeks of annual vacation in my case, and the freelancers I know often take off the whole summer as well as a full month in the winter). If you’re working long hours but don’t have a corresponding balance of time off to recover, that can make the long weeks feel unworkable.

    You aren’t doing anything wrong if you struggle with long weeks, and it may be a signal that you need to change industries if they make you really unhappy. But if an industry switch is not feasible or what you want, I find that it’s really critical to do a lot of forward planning for weeks where you know in advance you’ll be short on time. Make sure you’re fully caught up on all your chores and laundry, ensure you have a full stock of easy meals and snacks, and accept ahead of time that you’ll be doing takeout on really long days. Think about a cleaning service if it fits in with your budget and is in line with your values.

    1. amoeba*

      Yup. Busy weeks with really quiet weeks/shorter hours/more PTO are an entirely different situation than a regular, busy 40 h week with busy weeks on top.

  14. Allison K*

    I’m in an extremely cyclical business, to the point where I started taking an entire month off in the summer so I can truly rest. But what’s helped me the rest of the year is allowing my days off to be real days off – vegging on the couch, taking a nice walk, cooking for fun, etc. Perhaps look at how to make your down time more down? It’s also possible you’re just ready for a job that turns off at the same time all the time! And that’s an option!

  15. starsaphire*

    For me, it always depended on the amount of support I had outside of work.

    I could count on my friends group to know they needed to plan things for the middle of the month, not the end. I could always exchange chores with my partner – so I’d do more when I had more time, and they would do more heavy lifting when I was working more hours.

    If you don’t have that sort of external support, give yourself permission to buy more work clothes so you don’t have to do laundry that week, get takeout or microwave meals so you don’t have to cook/do as many dishes that week, and so on.

    Self care comes in all sorts of guises, and it’s okay to give yourself permission to let some things slide during the busy week, and pick them up later.

  16. SometimesMaybe*

    I think it just comes down to accepting with certain jobs that’s just the way it is. Reframe it in your mind as such. Think of it like the weather where ever you live – if you live where snow and subzero temps are regular certain times of the year, you accept it might take longer to get ready and commute, or if you lived in the tropics you accept rainstorms have a big impact on your social schedule, etc. That is not to say it can’t suck sometimes, but in reality I believe that certain times of the month or year, extra work hours are just the norm for most industries.

  17. Picard*

    I’m one of those accountant people. I just….. deal with it?

    I dunno – its part and parcel of what we do. A few long days once a month dont bother me for the salary I get. If it were a weekly thing or worse, every day thing, thats a different story…

    If you want/need strict time schedule, you may need to reevaluate your career/industry. Also understand that your pay may be impacted… I know some of what Im paid for is those longer days once a month…

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Right, but what does “deal with it” look like? You’re not describing the mechanics of dealing with it. “Just do it” isn’t actually advice.

      1. Picard*

        Deal with it to me looks like – I go to work, do the job and come home? If its a later night, we eat take out or “freezer” food (I usually cook our meals) I might kvetch to my partner about something or someone…? I work out a couple of times a week and Im usually still able to do so…. I visit ill family on the weekends so those tend to be sacrosanct but for someone else it might mean they work regular hours during the week and put their time in on the weekends when its quieter.

        Dealing with it is going to be different for everyone depending on their schedule and their priorities…

  18. I edit everything*

    Acknowledge that that one week a month is a work-focused week, and make up for it in the other weeks. Put family time on your calendar for the week after. Schedule dates with your significant other in advance. Be deliberate about doing the personal and social stuff in the other three weeks of the month. Work from home sometimes, if you can (especially during the busy week, if that’s possible, to get some time back by not having to commute). And when something truly important comes up (child’s debut at Carnegie Hall, life saving surgery, or whatever), then that month work takes a backseat.
    I think it’s largely an awareness and permission-giving thing. It’s OK to have sandwiches for supper. It’s OK if the bathroom doesn’t get cleaned that week. Give yourself permission to let some of the personal chores go.
    You’ve also only been in this job for six months. It might be that as time goes by and you get your routines and processes down, that one week becomes easier and less time-intensive.

  19. anon today*

    My work is pretty steady, except for 2-3 weeks at the end of our quarter. Sometimes those weeks dont require any extra time, and sometimes I need to put in a few hours on the weekends or a few days of working an extra hour or two, on top of very focused productive workdays. Honestly, the very focused workdays drain me more – its ok for a bit but day after day of trying to produce results is exhausting. But I focus on the balance of the quarter as a whole – there is a whole month where my work is much more relaxed, where I can catch up on things I’ve ignored and do far less urgent work. Those times also include some down time, in which I can extend my breaks during the day to do extra house chores, and I usually try to schedule vacation time then. The time off helps too – I know coming out of quarter end I’m going to take a long weekend and do nothing, so I have that to look forward to. But I try to appreciate the slow periods and know that the busy times ‘buy’ me that downtime where I can recharge.

  20. Irish Teacher*

    Teaching isn’t exactly like that but it does have busier times and quieter times and really, I just try to arrange personal stuff so I don’t have as much to do those weeks. The last week and a half have been those actually – open night, parent-teacher meetings, etc.

    You have three weeks a month to engage with friends, the community, etc.

    1. londonedit*

      That’s what my teacher friends do. As a non-teacher, you know your teacher friends are likely to be away anytime there’s a school holiday, and they’re likely to say no to socialising if it’s the first week of term or a week when they’ve got parents’ evenings etc.

  21. Surrounded by Cats*

    I used to work in a business (space launches) that would periodically just take over your schedule. I had two little-ish kids at the time and a husband who worked long hours with very little control over his own work schedule, so when a launch campaign (the days leading up to launch) rolled around, it was sometimes really tough, and tiring, to navigate life + work. One thing I had going for me was that I truly did enjoy the work during those times, schedule stress notwithstanding. I also learned to plan ahead/around those times. Space launches can suddenly move without warning, so planning ahead/around can only go so far, but having some freezer/pantry-staple meal ingredients handy and having grandparents on standby helped a lot.

    I guess what I mean is, it kind of depends on what it is about it that you dislike, and can it be worked around? If you just 100% dislike having to work more than 40 hours in a week, that’s going to require a different solution than if you don’t mind the actual work during those times but find it to be temporarily exhausting or a scramble.

    You’ve been there about six months, right? Maybe give it another couple/few months and see if you can identify what it is about those peak periods that really bothers you. That will help you better discern possible solutions.

    1. Runner up*

      I’ve worked jobs with similarly semi-predictable (until they’re not) busy times for many years, but actually came here to add something similar to the last paragraph: I’d recommend giving the new job a bit more time, for a few reasons. You might be able to better identify what bothers you about the peak periods; you might be able to adopt some of the strategies commenters have suggested; and you *also might get more into the groove of the new job* which, ideally, will make other parts of it easier. I’ve been in my field for 20+ years (so I know what I’m doing) and made a lateral move last year to a very similar role. Although I was able to get up to speed quickly on the substance of the work, it was still a lot harder than I remembered to figure out all of the other parts of a new job – and that was somewhat draining for a while, even while the work itself was pretty darn similar and the workload was actually lighter. I found the combo of (partially unrecognized) burnout from old job + changes with new job harder than anticipated.

  22. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    I suggest you calculate your total monthly hours and decide if the remaining free hours are sufficient for your desired quality of life, or whether you indeed need to change fields/job.

    For the remaining weeks of the months, are you able to work well under 40 hours, to compensate? If so, try leaving all possible chores for those weeks and squeeze all your socialising and fun activities into that time too.
    You may find after a couple of months that it is still too stressful, in which case, since you took a sharp pay cut for this job, I’d recommend you look for something with lower hours.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Don’t feel bad if you still find you can’t cope with a monthly 50-hour week; many people can’t manage that, or even a regular 40 hours at various life stages. You do you.
      Just estimate what you can comfortably cope with and start hunting for a job that fits

  23. Long Week*

    I have one week a month where I have to go into the office, which is a long commute, and also work longer hours and for that one week I try to do as little as possible when I get home. I plan for my meals to be incredibly simple (or takeout/delivery) – I do a little extra cleaning/laundry leading up so that I have as little chores to do as possible. (Sometimes this includes using disposable dishes if I expect a particularly hard week as it saves me from doing the dishes)

    I don’t plan social activities and I aim for doing low key activities that dont require too much brain power – watching popcorn fluff tv/movies, reading light books, etc.

    This is easier for me as I dont have kids and live with my partner now so I can lean on them a bit for some things, but I had a similar strategy when I lived alone and it worked pretty well for me. The hardest part is giving myself permission to be a total slug when I get home if I want to, and do things I wouldnt usually do – like using paper plates, eating pizza twice in one week, skipping a deep clean and just doing surface level clean up, grabbing starbucks instead of making my own coffee, etc.

  24. debbietrash*

    My advice is echoing a lot of what others have said. Be kind to yourself during the busy periods, and setting expectations for yourself that you’ll only have time for “must do”, and even then it may not look how you envisioned (for me this looks like laundry getting folded, but then stays in the basket if I don’t have the bandwidth to put it away). Also setting expectations with others that during the busy period they’ll see less/none of you socially.
    For meals I use a combination of meal prepping/leaning on my partner/throwing money at the problem (takeout), and it seems to work.
    Something I find useful is reminding myself that the busy period isn’t forever. It may happen every month, or happen seasonally, but there will be a time when I can get back to cooking the way I like to, and being more social. I find this to be the most helpful when I get bogged down in my busy periods.

  25. Busy Season*

    My job has one two month period a year that is like this, and also has a two month period another time of the year where I could probably work one day a week and handle the load. For me, I know it’s coming, it’s part of the job cycle, and I like what I do and knowing that it isn’t forever. I also have the privilege of being non-exempt which helps re-frame it because I feel like I am being compensated (I will become exempt kicking and screaming; it seems like the biggest scam in employment). But one week a month is more than what I deal with and I think only you know – is the everything else about your job worth this week of sacrifice or is a perfect 40 hour work week worth the pain of another job change (and possibly even lower compensation – the only jobs I’ve ever worked that held that time sacred were pretty low-paying). One of the things I do is that during my extra hours, I’ll watch something on Netflix to make it feel more relaxed, like a hybrid between work and leisure time. Is that something possible in your job? I also hold weekends sacred – I may have to work long every weekday but I will not work a weekend unless I miss a night of after work work. You may find you prefer the opposite – maybe you want to log off for two hours so you can have dinner with family or friends before logging back in. Maybe a certain weeknight is sacred because your kid/friend/parent has their softball games that night. Carving out “absolutely not” times can help, even if it means extra on the others.

  26. Three Cats in a Trenchcoat*

    I agree with everyone else, when things are busy it helps to prioritize and let non essentials slide – maybe the house is messier, maybe you eat more convenience foods. Having a partner who can take up some of the slack is also really helpful – both my husband and I have had jobs where some periods are busier than others, and so it is kind of “baked in” that the other one will do more things around the house. The more advance warning you have, the easier it is to do some of the prep upfront such as having easy meals on hand / lunches prepped / whatever makes your day to day a little easier. It also helps to know in advance what the nonnegotiables are – for me, keeping some kind of regular physical activity has a huge payoff for my mood, and so finding ways to keep that even when busy is worth it, but it may be the thing to let slide for someone else.

  27. higheredadmin*

    As you get more experience, I would start looking for things/work tasks that you can do in advance in your regular weeks to ease the strain of your hard fourth week. Keeping up on your regular tasks, getting template documents set up where you can just drop in final numbers, reviewing workflows etc. If your office is very used to this one busy week per month and everyone runs around late or pushes deadlines, it is one thing to be running around yourself and another thing to be say quietly catching up on personal things while you wait for other people to get you what you need. In terms of your mental health, be kind to yourself and schedule your life around it. You will be pretty upset if you planned to leave early on the always busy Friday of the month and can’t, so just try to schedule your early leaves and other activity on your regular weeks. It is like running a race and having to sprint for a set period every cycle. You do get used to it! As another person says: when I have time at work or in my personal life I ask what future me would be glad today me did.

  28. Harpie*

    I’m fortunate to have always been in roles/industries that didn’t demand much overtime. That said, I don’t think I would accept a position that did require routine, large amounts of overtime. I know that I would quickly grow to dread “hell week” every month and it would tank my job satisfaction. OP, it sounds like you were burnt out on overtime and you haven’t fully recovered (or, your experience just left a permanent bad taste in your mouth). This seems perfectly normal to me, and there would be nothing wrong with looking for a change.

    If changing jobs is not an option, you probably have no choice but to start scheduling your personal life around these times. Those weeks, your partner handles the cooking or you eat takeout. You ask family and friends to schedule events around it as much as possible. You cancel personal commitments or permanently reschedule them. One thing that is guaranteed to make your burnout worse is to continue to try to do it all.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Yeah, I was wondering if the reason these weeks seem so daunting is because the LW still hasn’t recovered from the last job’s intense demands. Maybe this week even seems like a flashback.

      Then again, I worked at a nonprofit for 15 years where full time was 35 hours – when I had to work 40 for a project it felt like too much, even though in previous jobs those had been my normal hours. It’s not what I was used to, and I didn’t like it. So LW may find that they also don’t like it.

      LW, you are trying out a new industry. Maybe this one also doesn’t work for you. That’s okay. You’ve tried it and you can move on if you need to.

  29. No_woman_an_island*

    I think it’s easier for people to manage the 50 hr+ weeks when they actually get to decrease the other 40 hr weeks. That’s the part that a lot of us forget to/can’t do. If you’re working full 40 hr weeks and then 50+ hr weeks on a regular basis, that’s where the burnout comes in.

    1. Anna K*

      This was exactly what I was coming on here to say! I have unpredictable cyclical work, and the only way I can stand the 12+ hour days is to let myself be *very* relaxed during the not-so-busy times. Even if you can’t take extra time off, take things really slowly during those other times, and give yourself a lot of breaks. Easier said than done, of course, but I’ve gotten to the point where I kind of enjoy the cycle.

  30. Diet Coke Mom*

    I worked 7 on/7 off for years in laboratories. That means 10 hours shift for 7 days in a row and then 7 days off. My husband is also an accountant so we have tax season every year. For us, it was all about planning. What do we need to do, what can we realistically do, and how to balance. I volunteered at my kids’ school on my off weeks, planned other actives around our work, and had to prioritize. You can do a more than I think you realize right now because your last job sounds like torture. Start with one thing you want to do and add it in, then pick another. Don’t try to do it all at once.

  31. Punk*

    Ideally the money makes it worth it. In accounting, you’re dealing with 60-80 hour weeks during busy season because you’re basically working 20-30 hours the rest of the year, and for a good salary.

  32. ReceiptsPlz*

    Oh hey, I’m exactly the example (accountant who always gets busy at month-end/quarter-end)– yep, I just accept that I’ll be in “work brain” all thay week. The main things that helped were:

    1. All my friends know that that’s my busy time, and so we’re usually able to make plans around it
    2. I’ve noticed that (at least for my role at my current job) I also have an exceptionally chill week every month, so it feels like it balances out

    For me, mentally blocking off my “busy week” has been the biggest help– I think knowing when it’s going to happen makes all the difference, it’s made it feel less like a huge imposition and more like the rhythm of my life. Once I got in the groove of it, it’s honestly been pretty easy to adapt my social life accordingly.

    Good luck!

  33. Justine Case*

    Are these weeks on a predictable, known schedule? If so, I think the best plan is to build a sustainable approach around them – plan family and friend events/prioritising other life stuff during those “regular” weeks, and then look for ways to lighten the load during the higher demand weeks. Could you get a cleaner to come once a month and come that week to reduce your housework load? Could you get some help with childcare (if you have kids) to free up some time? Maybe use a meal delivery service that week to avoid needing to grocery shop/cook as much? Batch cook in advance so there’s food ready to go? Talk to your friends and family about this schedule pattern and get them onside with it so they understand why you are not available as much those weeks. Maybe see if there are other ways you can use to keep in touch with them during those time, ways that don’t take as much time or effort e.g. group chats, video chat instead of in-person, sending each other funny memes by email now and then – anything to maintain that feeling of connection when you can’t spend time together. Basically, treat that week as a work-priority week, reduce other commitments, and find ways to reduce the time you spend on other things. Then use the other weeks to prioritise using your non-work time for your other commitments. Find the balance over longer periods of time, not in that one week.

  34. teensyslews*

    A couple of things I’ve done in the past to help:
    – if you have partner and/or kids make sure they know it’s coming in advance and discuss what it’s going to look like. Maybe your partner does all the household stuff that week but you do everything the week before, maybe you set aside special time in the morning/evening for just you and the kids, maybe you bow out of social engagements and need your partner to be OK with that
    – prep or task out whatever you can – meals, laundry, cleaning, etc. If it’s in your money or time budget leading up to it, premade meals, house cleaning services, laundry services etc are helpful
    – depending on your workplace – can you negotiate some time off either officially (best) or unofficially to compensate? So if you work 50 hours one week, maybe the next week you get the Friday off. I found this super helpful for preventing burnout and getting caught up on life stuff

  35. Eng Girl*

    I struggle with something similar! I went from crazy hectic all the time working like nuts, so a much calmer environment, that demands a good amount of OT for me about a week each month. Unfortunately I can’t always completely plan when this is going to come up, but there are a couple of weeks where I know it won’t. What I’m finding helps is if I take my foot off the gas a little bit during those weeks. I make sure to leave on time. I take my whole lunch. I don’t go looking for more work than I’ve got. If I need to schedule an appointment I do it during that week and leave an hour early when no one will miss me.

    I struggle a lot with guilt from not going hard all day everyday at work sometimes, and it’s something I’m sure I won’t get over any time soon, but I also struggle with a build up of resentment when I work a 50 hour week that’s nuts and then it’s followed up with a 40 hour week where I have almost nothing to do. Like it feels like I should be able to flex my schedule to make up for the OT I already put in.

    I’m still working out what all of this looks like at my new job. Is it reasonable to leave at 3 on a light day so I can run a couple of errands before most people are out of work? Do I need to be firmer about having a hard stop at 6 during the long weeks? Should I be just taking work home so I can do it on my own timeline during busy times rather than sitting in my office? It’s all stuff I’ve got to work out, and it’s really hard to drown out the voice in my head that says I’m “not allowed” to do any of these things because they were strictly forbidden at my last place.

    I’d say give yourself some time if you can. Stick it out for a year and see if it’s workable. If it’s not then it may be time to move on.

  36. Deschain*

    I’m a bookkeeper, so my quarter and year end months require a lot of various tax filings. I handle this primarily by doing two things: 1) maintain a very detailed list of every task involved in the process so that I never have to think too hard about what I have to do or if it’s all done, and 2) I prepare ahead of time — I pull payroll reports after the last payroll for the quarter is done, for example. For annual 1099s, I pull the data in late December when most of my clients are on vacation and my workload is low. I hope this helps!

  37. Alpaca Clinician*

    Not exactly the same – I work in academia in a veterinary teaching hospital – but about 40% of the year I have busy weeks and am on-call for emergencies. This is in 2-4 week blocks, and the rest of the time I have no out-of-hours responsibilities and can tailor my work schedule around my teaching and research. For those on-call weeks I let things slide and do the bare minimum to keep things functioning – meal prep or takeout, laundry and other chores wait, and I decline social commitments unless I know I can leave for an emergency if needed. During the “quiet” weeks I catch up on chores, get stuff prepped for the next busy time, and do all the free time hobbies and stuff I couldn’t while busy. Knowing it’s not all the time and that I get a break helps greatly. I remember reading something a while back about when you have a lot of “balls in the air” it helps to remember that not all the balls are as important as each other – some are glass and some are plastic, and if some of the plastic ones (laundry, etc) get dropped while you’re really busy with other things happening in your life, it’s not the end of the world.

  38. The Person from the Resume*

    I suspect you are struggling with the transition from no time for staying engaged with friends, family, and community to having some time.

    I would say that during those busy weeks, the sunday before and the weekend after you not schedule or plan stuff. Sunday evening before be home by 5, prep food, laundry for the week and be in bed by 10 (or whatever is a reasonable but early bedtime for your schedule) to start the week off well-rested. Don’t schedule things and beg off activities after work that week. Leave your Saturday and Sunday light with activites to caught up on rest and household chores that might have been dropped.

    Tell your family, friends, signifigant others about your schedule and how one week a month you won’t be as available as you are the rest of the month. Set that expecation clearly and hole the boundary firm. True friends and loved ones will accept this from you as a way you need to care for yourself while while workingthis job.

  39. Mid30’s Engineer in California*

    I had a job like this – the kicker was the crazy weeks were unpredictable and came totally randomly. Basically just meant freezer meals, more takeout, and you hoped you had already done laundry and weren’t sick. Then on the less crazy weeks, cook dinner and put enough in the freezer for those crazy weeks, do laundry, go to the gym, get life in order.

    Now I’m a parent and there is zero way I could handle that type of schedule (even with a partner who shares the load) soooo I’m so glad I left when my baby was 6 months. Toddlerhood is not conducive to those swings. Motherhood penalty? Probably. Worth it for my sanity? Absolutely

    1. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah I don’t think I could handle a super busy period with a toddler at the same time unless I had another person being the stay at home parent. I’m part time now and it’s hard enough when I have super busy periods or my kid is home sick, especially since my husband works full time fairly long hours.

      1. Looper*

        Regardless of regularity, if you are in a period of “busy-ness” whether it be from work, a time-consuming hobby like being in a theater production, dealing with health stuff, lots of family visits, whatever, it is totally acceptable and encouraged to let a few things slide. I’m curious as to why the LW doesn’t seem to see this as a viable option? Like, yes of course when you’re busy you make choices for your time and some things don’t make the cut, that is how pretty much everyone balances all the things they need and want to do.

      2. MsSolo (UK)*

        Yes. I wonder if the LW is struggling because there are things in their life that are non-negotiable regardless of the week, like school pick up time, but feels they ought to be able to handle it because they made it work when they had much longer hours. Having shifting hours can make it much harder to feel on top of the non-negotiables because you spend three weeks getting into a rhythm and one week falling out of it, and it’s especially hard if you’re dealing with other people in your household who need consistency (like kids knowing who’s picking them up and when, or elderly family members relying on a visit).

        The only advice I have is to mentally treat every week like a 50 hour week in terms of the non-negotiables – have their partner do all school pick ups, use paid services to cover chores – so for three weeks a month they have bonus time they can use as want, instead of one week in the negative and struggling to keep up.

  40. Cheeruson*

    As a member of the Formerly in Public Accounting group, I had an annual friends get-together before busy season started, to remind everyone, as they put it, that I was “going into the hole”. Not to expect me to respond to group texts about getting together or plans to do something or go somewhere. Another annual get-together once I emerged from the hole, where life went back to normal. Sort of like two separate lives. Probably not workable on a monthly basis, but maybe so.

  41. Turquoisecow*

    My job isn’t really cyclical exactly, and for the most part while there are deadlines they’re not super urgent to the point where I (or coworkers) have to scramble to get things done on time, especially once we are seasoned at the job. There’s a lot of data entry involved, and the first time you do something will definitely take you longer, but for most people by the time you’ve done it for a few months it becomes faster because you’re more familiar with the format and the software we use.

    I can deal with the occasional super busy urgent periods, but it helps if I know about it in advance. Nothing worse than planning a few social activities or taking it easy and then finding out Monday afternoon that Boss wants the XYZ project finished this week instead of a month from now, and now I have to rush to finish things on time and maybe skip some of my outside work plans. (Not fun: coming home from work, scarfing down dinner, falling asleep, then waking up to go right back to work!)

    If I know a few weeks or even one week in advance that a big project is coming up and it’ll be “all hands on deck” and possibly longer hours, then I can kind of lower my expectations, so instead of the thinking “oh man I won’t get to do this fun thing because of work that I was really looking forward to,” or “oh now I’m so exhausted I won’t be able to enjoy this family gathering,” I can move or reschedule certain things, do more chores on the weekend that I normally do during the week (grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry), and prepare myself mentally for the week rather than expecting to be able to do things and then being upset or disappointed I can’t.

    A lot of it is mental – if I go into a week thinking “this is going to suck ugh I don’t want to” then it’s harder than if I go in thinking “ok, this is a lot of work but I can do it, here’s how I handled it last time, I’ll do that again or adjust my coping strategies to handle it better this time.”

  42. Anonymouse617*

    I am in a similar position where we have quarterly busy weeks. I do my best to prepare for it in advance. A week before, I stock my freezer with prepped meals or easy-to-cook things. I’ll catch up on laundry and get my dry cleaning done. I let my neighbor know that I may need her topop over and let the dog out once or twice that week. I do as much as I can to make the physical and mental load of normal life as easy as possible for those weeks.

    And then for the little free time I do have those weeks, I treat myself at home. A favorite snack, a new book, face mask or long hot shower. All of these things require little additional effort but help me recharge my batteries.

    Also, does your office offer comp-time or flex scheduling for after those weeks? My office is more understanding in the week after major projects that we may log off at 3 instead of 5 to catch up on life and help us re-balance work/life.

  43. Managed Chaos*

    My work is busier at certain times, and I try to plan ahead for those times. There are other times where we will have something come up that makes it busier, and that I just do my best. But some practical tips for the weeks I can anticipate it:
    1) I make sure I’m caught up on laundry for me and my kids before hand.
    2) I don’t schedule things for the evenings during that week if I can help it, but try to schedule time for the following weekend for some fun.
    3) I buy more convenience foods – i.e. instead of cooking from scratch, a meal kit or two that I can just have ready in a few minutes
    4) I don’t schedule PTO for the week just before a busy week because I don’t want to be playing catch up AND be already busy.

  44. My cat is my supervisor*

    Everyone is mentioning stuff to do in advance so the heavy week goes more easily, but I’d add scheduling some fun social/personal stuff for after the week is over so you have something specific to look forward to. Dinner with a friend, meeting up with someone for a walk, a movie you want to see, etc. The point is not only to get *through* the tough week, but to look beyond it and to have something enjoyable in that post-hell-week future.

    1. LC*

      It sounds counter intuitive but I try to make lunch plans for two days in my busy week. Even if the plan is to buy my lunch from somewhere a little further away instead if packing it

      It gets me out of the office, in the fresh air, get some perspective on the work, and I go back to my desk feeling refreshed and more energised and find I still dont finish any later

      But I usually only take 15 mins to eat my lunch in the office and get back to work even on lighter weeks so somehow the novelty helps the week

  45. Cat Tree*

    *IF* you can afford it, I recommend outsourcing your personal life during those weeks as much as you can. I have long weeks maybe 4 or 5 times a year, but last year it lined up that 3 of those weeks landed within a 6 week window. I also got a terrible cold that lasted 4 of those 6 weeks.

    That experience really changed my perspective. I hired cleaners for my house. I got groceries delivered. I even found a laundry pick-up service for the backlog of stuff that had been piling up.

    I don’t love spending money on things I could do myself. I also felt a weird sense of guilt or shame for getting someone else to clean my house. But it was such a wonderful feeling to come home to a clean house with a full fridge/pantry and a stack of clean clothes waiting for me. It was so good that I still do it occasionally just as a treat to myself.

    Of course many people can’t afford these things regularly. But if you can manage even 1 or 2 things occasionally it’s worth the price. My laundry service is about $35 which isn’t trivial but was a lot less than I expected.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Also, if you can’t afford that type of assistance, are you sure this uber-demanding job is really compensating you appropriately? They need you to work so much that you can’t do your own laundry, but they don’t pay well enough that you can offload the laundry at the going rate, then something might not be adding up.

  46. bamcheeks*

    I simply Would Not. I don’t mean that I To be unhelpful: I just want to add a data point that I can count on the number of times I’ve done >40 hours a week in my 15 year work history, and you are 100% allowed to have that as a hard limit if you want.

    The one thing I would do in your situation is prod that 50 hour week HARD and figure out what it’s made of. Is it the volume of work? The expectation of availability? Feeling guilty because you’re not a team player if you don’t do those hours? Trying to keep up with all the regular stuff as well as the extra stuff that comes that week? What would the consequences be if you simply … didn’t? Is there anyone in the role who leaves at 5 every day and everyone’s like, “no idea how Mark does it, but he just … leaves?” Bascially, before you make any big decisions , make sure you’ve really, REALLY tested the limits of that 50 hour week, and that you can’t brute-force this 50 hour week into a 42 hour week. Maybe you can’t, but sometimes you can and the things that make that seem impossible are not as fixed as you think they are.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I know it varies by field, but I would agree that I could count on one hand the number of times in my career, which I’m about 15 years into, that I’ve worked more than a 45 hour week – usually, when I’ve had to spend all or part of a weekend staffing some stupid event. In part it’s because when that happens to me, I just secretly cut away at the other hours the rest of the week, with or without permission. Maybe I just sort of monitor emails in a desultorily way on some days, or take a long lunch or make an appointment in the afternoon or whatever. I’ll use personal leave if I have to, or comp leave if I can get it.

  47. Sloanicota*

    I would say, be really careful when you take a pay cut, especially a big pay cut, to hold on to the things that made that worthwhile. I’m speaking from experience here, having once gone to part time (! – meaning I lost access to benefits as well as roughly a third of my salary) only to notice about a year later that the hours had creeped back up and the responsibilities hadn’t really decreased. So I was doing almost as much work for half the compensation – that math ain’t mathing. My advice is to track it ruthlessly because you may have been better off in a higher paid equally stressful role.

  48. Heidi*

    I’ve always worked in industries where certain seasons are busier than others. I plan all of my PTO and known familial obligations around the slower seasons. And I openly share that I’m generally not available during these months with partners, friends and family members so they have a heads up. But, generally, if that’s the work I choose, I know I need to just muscle through the busy periods to enjoy the slow ones.

  49. Seeking Second Childhood*

    On a basic minutia level, own enough clothing to go two weeks between laundry. Or if space is tight like a city apartment, find a drop-off service to do a load for you.

  50. Pyanfar*

    One thing I do with the people that work for me that have two heavy weeks during the month is to make their light weeks even lighter, for an average of 40 hours per week (so 2 weeks @30 and 2 weeks @50. Then, they can be personal heavy for two weeks and personal light for the other 2 weeks. This is much harder if you have unmoveable weekly commitments, but works well if you are more flexible.

  51. RetailEscapee*

    I left retail because I knew that October to January would be bonkers no matter how I tried to offset it. I knew they would never change, and that what I could do in my 20s was awful and soul crushing in my 30s.
    I work from home now in a role that’s slightly busier at end of month but I do not work past 5pm ever and I make OT if I choose to work above 40 hours (through my lunch, an hour here or there on a Saturday, etc).
    You either accept the nature of the work or you find a better fit.

  52. Scholarship Provider*

    I feel you! I’ve compared my job’s busy season to an accountant many times so people can understand. I’m basically unavailable for anything July, August and the first week of September. We have a tight turnaround time because we’re waiting for colleges to give financial aid award letters to students, and then only a few weeks later tuition is due at some of our other students’ colleges. It’s a really rough time because we can’t front load the work because we’re waiting on the data. I usually work 60-65 hour weeks during that time (including weekends) and I’m so depleted. It’s a high pressure period and there is a lot of additional emotional labor required because money for college is stressful for everyone involved.
    I’ve meal prepped, and accepted that our family will likely be going out to eat a lot during that time. I got a gym membership at a gym close to my house so I could work off some of the stress energy a few nights a week. I picked the stair master so I could do something that physically exhausted me in a short period of time. I really don’t feel like going to the gym, but I was burning myself out so much that I’m so glad I forced myself to go.

  53. Junior Dev*

    If you can preload some chores into the weeks when you’re not working long hours, or pay someone to take care of them during that time, it may help, as you’ll get to spend what little free time you have relaxing and recovering rather than scrambling to get stuff done.

    Examples of preloading chores:

    Meal prep things that freeze well, freeze them in single serving containers

    Do as much laundry as you can the week before

    Make a grocery order with easy to eat, healthy snacks and have it delivered during the busy week. Maybe some nice treats too if it helps you feel better

    If you can hire a cleaner to come at some point during that time you’ll want to research it and set it up in advance too.

  54. HannahS*

    Resident physician, here. My work hours range from 40-100 hours a week, depending on how busy the days are and how much call I have.

    I have learned that in busy periods, I have to triage. Here are the things I stay on top of: time with my child, sleep, eating, personal hygiene in that order.

    Here is what I let go of: most cleaning, laundry, most home cooking (I’ll make things like scrambled eggs and frozen fries) seeing friends and family, quality time with my partner (except for watching Stark Trek on Thursday because some things are sacrosanct,) other general chores like banking, and frugal choices like bringing lunch to work.

    On an emotional level, I’ve made peace with the fact that my life gets worse during busy periods. It’s a bare-minimum week, and that’s part of my job, the same way some people have crappy commutes, or a few difficult clients, or irritating Blobert in accounting. The emotional piece is actually very important, and it takes time to figure out. I used to try to do “wellness!” on my busy weeks, and it didn’t work; I was stretched too thin. You might need time to adjust to thinking about “balance” meaning week-by-week, instead of day-by-day.

  55. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

    I’ve been able to say to myself, “X is my focus FOR RIGHT NOW. I’m prioritizing this at the expense of Y, just temporarily, because the payoff will be Z.” I write that out when I’m frustrated. I say it to myself in the mirror.

    BUT. But. Prioritizing X over Y only works if Y is a WANT, and not a NEED. “9 hours of sleep a night” will never be included in my Y bank, because without that I’ll jeopardize my quality of life. The things that can never be included in your Y bank might be “a sit-down dinner every night” or “putting my kids to sleep every night” or whatever.

  56. DrSalty*

    I have a job where the workload is variable – some weeks are heavy (50+ hrs) and some weeks are light (30 hrs). I’m ok with it because it balances out. If the balance isn’t working for you and you’d rather have steady 40 hrs all the time, that’s totally understandable.

    In terms of how I manage my life during heavy weeks, I just let some things go. My husband makes dinner. I sign on again after dinner and work late. I make time on the weekends for work. I don’t run errands during the day or take a long lunch. The house doesn’t get cleaned as much. I don’t socialize as much. But tbh I still plan around things that are very important to me unless I really can’t. So like I prioritize weekly trivia night over night at home on the couch, which gets sacrificed for work. Then on the quiet weeks, all that life maintenance stuff gets done and I don’t feel bad about taking more time for myself. It’s all about what works for you, specifically.

    If you have more inflexible responsibilities than me (kids or needy pets or something) and no one to help pick up the slack those weeks, maybe that kind of schedule/system doesn’t work for you. And that’s ok!

  57. Nailed It!*

    I am an accountant and month end is not that huge of a deal in my current role but was extremely taxing in my previous. It is especially frustrating when this is a no go on vacations but your kids fall breaks always align with close. Also made worse because close felt neverending.

    I changed roles partly because of the taxing close. Instead I got a job where it’s taxing every week so not much of a tradeoff.

  58. H.Regalis*

    “Am I doing something wrong that I feel like I can’t balance my personal and work life during these weeks?”

    No, you are not doing anything wrong!

  59. awasky*

    I’m an auditor (for almost a decade now), so am well acquainted with a cyclical busy season. For me, that means that my friends know that there are certain times of year where I don’t make plans or go to regular friend get togethers. It’s possible to hold on to one or two important things (I continue going to choir rehearsals), but everything else gets paused during busy season, then picks up again when things slow down. That also means I tend to absolutely pack my social calendar in the slower times of year. I also have certain strategies during the busy period–like, I always take a staycation before it starts and clean my apartment/do all the little nagging tasks that I’ve been putting off, since I know it will bother me that I can’t do anything about them when it’s busy. But it’s also totally valid to decide that this is not a lifestyle you want! You either figure out your coping strategies around that kind of work, or you find work that doesn’t require it, which is totally okay.

  60. SharkTentacles*

    There are two basic strategies: (1) Cut out optional stuff during your busy week, e.g. recreation, appointments, exercise. (2) Purchase convenience during your busy week, e.g. order or buy premade meals, get a housekeeper to come once a month, drive and pay for express lane + convenient parking.

    Spending a lot of time with friends/family/community 3 weeks out of every month and focusing on your job the other week is excellent work-life balance. This gives you frequent availability to nurture the relationships that feed your soul.

  61. Bend & Snap*

    I think it depends on how often this is coming about and how disruptive it is to your life. I went from regular 65-hour weeks to 40-hour weeks with two super busy months a year. That was sustainable for me. A week out of every month would not have been.

    It’s entirely possible you’re just not wired or willing to regularly work those hours anymore, and that’s okay. You may need to find a role more aligned with working to live instead of living to work.

  62. Lily Potter*

    At risk of sounding glib, you really do just need to, in your words, simply accept that (you) need to make some sacrifices for one week every month.

    If you don’t want to make the sacrifices, move to another industry.

    I give you credit for seeing the big picture and being willing to make changes to make your life what you want it to be.

  63. Scooter*

    I’m in corporate accounting so I’m used to a monthly busy time. While I never expect to get all my overtime hours back in comp time, I always try to get some back, usually as a late start or early out at the end of the month when my work is in a valley rather than a peak. I usually use some of that time to prepare for the busy week and some for leisure time. I would not do this for an organization that didn’t give me that flexibility.

    Someone else mentioned sending out laundry. I use a laundry service during month end processing. It costs about the same as s take out pizza meal for my family and it’s totally worth it.

  64. Boundaries rule*

    I am an accountant. Plan ahead (meals, child care, backup child care, appts), get help (meal prep, housekeeping, childcare, delivery of everything), self care (massages in office, extra days off, workout). Automate wherever possible. Work ahead if you can. Look for ways to be more efficient. Whatever makes your life easier. If you have a partner, it’s really important that they be supportive. But the biggest is…

    Boundaries. There’s a big deadline on Oct 16th, it’s 9:30 am, and I’m on my phone. I’ll work about 10-7, taking breaks and getting a workout in. I’m still waiting on info from clients (deadline was oct 1 to file on time) but at this point they know I’m not going to bend over backwards to file their return on time. Lack of planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on mine.

    Yes, these all fall into the “must be nice to afford this” category. I got tired of being exhausted, burned out, and angry and went out on my own. I make the decisions, including who my clients are and fees (value based, not hourly). Clients pay MORE for me to NOT be stressed and exhausted. They want their projects done right, not fast. They want to be able to reach me, not wait weeks for me to return calls or emails. Self employment may not be an option for you, but it’s something to consider.

  65. JSPA*

    It’s not realistic to expect everything in life to balance every week. Some weeks, work takes more. Other weeks, health stuff happens. Other weeks, it’s family stuff, or a vacation. This is true even for people who don’t work paying jobs–unless you consistently underschedule, you will have some times in life where time is short.

    If they give you enough time off or flexibility, you can try to schedule so your weeks are not 40, 40, 40, 50 (repeat until burnout) but 34, 40, 36, 50 (or close to that, anyway).

    That way, you know you’ll have a touch of respite before and after hump week.

    And in my case, if I’m someplace where I can get my blood values checked as a voluntary “wellness” thing, I do that, if I’m just generally feeling unable to cope with one week of longer days. Turns out that sometimes it’s about the mental baggage and history; sometimes it’s about the philosophy; but sometimes it’s pre-diabetes, low iron, or one of the many other things that are easy enough to spot and correct, if you take a look.

  66. AnonRN*

    My work isn’t cyclical but for a variety of reasons (voluntary OT, certain coverage needs) I’ll have weeks where I work up to 72 hours. More typical is 60 hours (5 12-hour shifts; 12-hour shifts are normal in inpatient healthcare). What helps me is that I don’t work 5 days in a row. They’re usually broken up (2 on, 2 off, 3 on or something like that). I also think of work in terms of “days” not hours. Like, “yes I’m working today but then I am off for 2 days. Then I’m on for 3 but once I get through the first one there’s only 2 left.”

    I don’t know if the nature of your work would allow you do *more* hours over *fewer* days (which might sound exactly like what you don’t want) but having “a whole extra day off!” is almost always worth it to me (even though it means “but I work 12-hours shifts to get that”.)

    Practical details: my spouse does almost all the home maintenance, cooking, and pet care; we don’t have kids. I do a lot of the “housekeeping” (laundry, cleaning) on my days off. I try to go to the gym on days off but not on in between 12 hour shifts. I work a mix of weekends and weekdays so if I need an appointment/errand on a weekday it’s usually easy to do. I think I could do this if I lived alone but I would need to be very diligent about cooking on days off so I’d have meals to eat for my days on. But if it doesn’t work for you (and no adjustments can be made to give you a break mid-week) then it doesn’t work!

  67. OtherAllison*

    I know this isn’t feasible for everyone… And it comes from my place with a lot of privilege. So heeding that warning, I outsource as much of my life as humanly possible whenever I have those hectic weeks. I work for a nonprofit and during the fall, I work our fundraising events every single weekend (I have worked 24 of the last 25 days straight) and during the late winter my department hosts a large event. I will hire a cleaning company to come in once a week, hire someone to mow the lawn/shovel snow, pickup food on my way home or buy premade meals. But I think most importantly, I give myself a lot of grace those weeks. I don’t let myself get down that I am not going to the gym, not eating the healthiest, and maybe I can’t do it all. I will try to pickup some “easy” healthy food like fruits and veggies that require little to no preparation, try to do fifteen pushups in between calls. It took myself a long time to get there, but it puts me in a much better headspace to recognize that I can’t do everything and that something is going to have to come off the plate when my plate is overflowing.

  68. Cyrus*

    OP, you’re describing roughly 50 hours a week one week a month, and 40 hours a week (or maybe even less?) the other 3 weeks, right? If so, I think that should be workable if you go into it with your eyes open and plan and move things around accordingly.

    But that’s very glib. What does it mean?
    * It could mean that your spouse does basically all the parenting that one week and you do a little more the other three, or basically all the parenting the following week and equal parenting the other two, or you do basically all the parenting the other three weeks, depending on details.
    * It could mean that you have one week with no social life and a normal social life the other three, or two weeks with no social life because you also need to recover from the busy week.
    * It also rests on the assumption that the description is complete. If you’re doing all that with a 2-hour round-trip commute, your schedule looks a lot more full than if you’re working from home.

  69. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    If it is intermittent, it is more manageable. I also went from many hours a week consistently and for awhile struggled with the longer weeks because your body still responds as if you are in this all the time and I had some PTSD. I find preparation is key.
    Load up the freezer with pre-prepped meals, lots of ideas online. If your schedule is predictable you can just do a few at a time in the light weeks, if your schedule is unpredictable do a bigger batch on a busy weekend.
    Same with laundry, stay on top of it in the down time and because I am me and am bad about staying on top of it, I keep a box on the shelf with emergency underwear, socks, bra and 2 tops that are ok for work but that I don’t love to be used only for these weeks.
    Make sure you are giving yourself adequate recovery. I am fortunate to have a good boss who understands if the week after prime week is a time to short the hours and take some mental health time.
    Let everything else go.

  70. Hiring Mgr*

    You’ve gotten some great advice and tips on how to better handle this, but I actually think you should listen to your instincts and move into another type of career/role where you only work 40/hrs per week.

    You’ve already drastically cut the number of hours, and you are still really struggling. You might be spot on when you say your values may simply no longer align with a job that requires this type of commitment.

  71. Boof*

    First up – nothing “Wrong” with you if you don’t like working long hours, ever. The question is is that really an option for you, and with your other demands (salary and benefits needs, job specialty/preferences, etc)
    I have a job that is usually long hours, and sometimes really long hours (physician; struggle to get everything done the way I like it in 50hrs/week, average physician works probably around 60hrs/week, inpatient service easily 80 hrs/week – 7 day shifts where it’s easy to work 12hrs/day if it’s busy etc)
    Honestly I hate the inpatient service but it’s a need and there’s a lot of swapping around – some people like the shift work and like doing 1 week on/ 1 week off, some try to do other roles (more inpatient consulting / less primary attending) etc
    Things I try to do, with varying degrees of success
    — prep my family, put it all on a group calendar, so they know my crap week is coming up and make sure “all hands on deck” to take care of kids etc, I will be minimally available that week.
    — try to clear out any other demands as much as possible that week, and ideally a few days after for recovery (since it’s hard to do clinic + inpatient service clinic tends to pile up around inpatient weeks, although ideally I would take the monday off to recoup and catch up on things; unfortunately I’m not very successful at that right now but hopefully when we get more staff on I can be better about not overloading before, during, and after bad week. Goals D:)
    — if your work and life permits it, take a few days vacation after a tough week, and a few days of minimal duties to catch up on administrative stuff that you might have put off while triaging like a champ during the tough week

    1. Boof*

      Also OP, needs change, and that’s ok. When I was single and/or didn’t have kids, 80 hrs a week was workable. With young children, I am pretty much ALWAYS working – as soon as I get home from work, I am taking care of the kids. Sure, I enjoy running around outside with my toddler, hanging out with the older kids, working with them on lessons, making meals together, etc. But when 100% of your time is either working for money or working to make sure other people are doing ok and then trying to squeeze in enough sleep, and can’t find half an hour a day for exercise regularly – well every hour you can get for anything else is SUPER PRECIOUS. So yeah high hours are way more intolerable now then they were when I was a young adult.

  72. LucyGoosy*

    My job can be a little like this, but it’s more of a yearly cycle where some months are very demanding and others are not.

    First, some of it is a mindset shift–for example, when planning trips with my husband, I just automatically go “there’s no way this is happening in April, May, or June, but maybe we can do it in July.” That might also mean, say, making sure I’ve meal prepped for myself during that time, scheduling doctors’ appointments and car maintenance for outside that window, etc. It also may mean intentionally scheduling long breaks for myself when the busy period is done–either a vacation, or a fun project, or time when I can work at a more leisurely pace in my pajamas on the patio, etc.

    Some of it also means intentionally planning processes/projects to be done at the slow times, or front loading a lot of the work during the less busy times. If I know something can ONLY be done during the busy time, I try as much as possible to move the things I can do before to other times of the year.

  73. JAnon*

    Working in marketing, we always have a few weeks like this when it comes to budget and planning for the next year, and then also before large events. Working from home does help, but in those busy times, I order food or buy prepared stuff at the store, remind myself that I can get on top of things once it is done, and just ride the wave of a few weeks. Anything I can do to make home tasks easier, and also asking my husband to do some things that I normally handle. Remembering that it is a season and there will be slower times also helps

  74. Michelle Smith*

    I used to be a trial attorney in a place where cases that were set for trial often didn’t get sent out to a trial judge for a lot of reasons (witness no-shows, lack of available judges that day, etc.). So my schedule was not only significantly longer some weeks than others, but there was zero predictability to it. I might prep for a while and then the case gets pushed off another six weeks or I might be living at the office more or less for several days/weeks. It did a serious number on me and really exacerbated my anxiety disorder and some other health issues. Some things I did OR would do differently now if I was going back to that line of work with the knowledge I have now:

    * Prep and freeze food in advance so I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to feed myself when I’m too busy to think about anything else but work. And keep Soylent on-hand at the office for those times when I’m too anxious/preoccupied to stomach solid food.
    * Focus more on proper sleep rather than relying on caffeine to get me through. That doesn’t mean going cold turkey on caffeinated beverages (tried that – horrible experience). Rather, accepting that I’m just not going to have time to do anything fun/relaxing during that time and just going to bed as soon as I can would have been better than doubling up on caffeine and powering through.
    * Get as much done before the busy period as possible and/or outsource as much as possible. I couldn’t have afforded this back then, but using a service for things like laundry would have been awesome and relieved a ton of stress. An alternative I could have afforded would be to make sure things are as prepped as possible in my personal life before trial started – making sure all the laundry was done, dishes were washed, etc.
    * Along the same lines, relying on conveniences like disposable goods (think paper plates and disposable flatware) would also have reduced the amount of time I needed to spend working on survival/quality of life chores.

  75. TCPA*

    I’ve experienced this before. It’s exhausting! It’s completely okay to want to work a job that is solidly 40 hours (or less!) per week, every week. My current company pays people a regular, full-time salary, but with 36 hours per week as the norm. Half-day Fridays are the default, unless a big deadline is looming (doesn’t happen often). This results in a team that is efficient, happy, and engaged, with healthy work-life balances. This obviously doesn’t work for every field, but perhaps you can seek out a role like that, where the company is clear about wanting people to have healthy work-life balance.

    Regarding advice for getting through the 50+ weeks once per month now, some things that helped me were regular exercise/movement (early-morning hot yoga was my go to), having fun plans for the weekend to look forward to (planned dinners or nights out, sleepovers with friends, mini daytrips, etc.), meal prep, and a meditation practice. Also, can you delegate any of your tasks to someone else, or suggest to your company that they hire a part-time person to help during those weeks? Just some ideas! I wish you the best of luck. And remember – it is 100% okay to want a job that is 40 hours (or less) and that’s it. Balancing work and personal life is HARD, especially when you are working so much. You’re not doing anything wrong – you’re just human :)

  76. churchmouse*

    I’m a clergy person who sometimes has those sorts of weeks, both predictably (Christmas!) and unpredictably (people die sometimes). My general approach is that I purposefully underschedule myself in the weeks leading up to busy times, as well as generally not maxing out my schedule … well, ever. This lets me be able to give more on those weeks were I need to give more! I would say that, on average, I work about 40ish hours a week. Sometimes I work way more. And sometimes I work less. I wonder if there is a way to communicate with your supervisor about this? Because for me, flexibility has been the name of the game in making it work (along with lots of the other strategies others have named here).

  77. iglwif*

    Years ago, my spouse worked in a role that involved taxes. From May through January, he had a standard work week; it started to ramp up in February, and March and April were just … go to work early, eat company-provided dinner, go back to work, taxi chit home because it was 10pm, work most weekends.

    It sucked in a lot of ways but because it was predictable, we could plan around it and make it work. It was understood at home that he was going to be saying no to social engagements in March and April, and that because he wasn’t around to do parenting things, I would be saying yes to fewer things also. It was understood at the office that tax prep did not supersede the celebration of Passover for those it applied to. It was understood that the whole thing sucked but the period of suckage was limited, and people who were hired for that kind of role were fully briefed during the hiring process on what would be involved.

    I think the secret is that when you are working 50+ hours in a week, you are not going to have the time, energy, or mental bandwidth for a lot of the other things you’d like to be doing, so whatever you have to do (and can afford to do) to cope with that, you do it. In our case, that meant that during March and April
    * we got groceries delivered
    * the kid’s bedtime was relaxed so she could sometimes see her dad while she was awake
    * I took over more than my share of household chores, and/or some of the less urgent household chores just didn’t get done, oh well
    * we planned zero unnecessary social things, and he had blanket permission to bail from things organized by other people either to work or to catch up on sleep

    It still sucked! But it sucked less once we figured some of that stuff out.

    (Also: overtime pay! Not sure if this applies to LW’s situation or not, but it definitely sweetened the deal for us at that point in our lives.)

  78. Immortal for a limited time*

    If you’re like me, you just do it until you have the financial security to make a different choice. When I was nearing 50 I saw a job posted for a short-term (2 year) I.T. contract with a gov’t agency that was almost as if it had been written for me. It was only 30 hours per week, but the contractor rate was high enough that I could walk away from my private-sector job that required staying late every night. It turned into a 3-year gig, and then into a permanent, full-time position that pays me well. I miss that 30 hr/week gig, but now I’m never required to work more than 40 hours and I’m vested in the defined-benefit pension and enjoy premium-free health insurance as I approach retirement age. Government jobs have distinct advantages; you might look into one!

  79. TraceMark*

    I don’t have this type of schedule, but for managing my time in general and especially during intense periods, I like the framework described in this book “Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters” by Laura Vanderkam. And if you don’t have time for the book, she laid it out well on the 10% Happier podcast. The episode is called “9 strategies for Managing Your Time.”

  80. Chris*

    I had a job where I led the team doing a once-every-five-years update to a major, federally mandated transportation planning document. Despite my best scheduling there was about a month of crunch time at the end of the project.

    One thing I found helpful during this time was to have a “after crunch time” list where I could put things that I didn’t have time to do during the crunch time. Bring able to put things on the lest helped me get them out of my mind and let go of them.

    The key was when crunch time was over, I didn’t just start doing things on the list. Instead, I went through and considered whether each task was still relevant and in line with my priorities. About half the stuff on the list just got deleted.

  81. Young Business*

    I’m lucky to be able to mostly put myself and my needs first, but I also accept there will be the times when I need to put work first.

    I work in public relations and would work on a monthly product launch. Launch week I’d be either pulling late nights or really early mornings (or both), and basically just focusing on work (survival mode). But the rest of the month was more steady and predictable.

    The tradeoff made sense to me and my partner is understanding that they carry the load when I’m in a super swamped phase, and vice versa.

    I also think about advice I had from a program coordinator in my first year of university. She basically said “you’re going to be juggling many competing priorities where you’ll have to rank how you attend to them, and inevitably there will be a course you’re taking or something that will sometimes fall to the bottom.”

    It’s not super mind-blowing, but at the same time, I think we’re conditioned to constantly convey we’re thriving at every single thing in our lives, and we’re not realistic with how to actually achieve that or if it’s achievable at all. Sometimes we can’t give something our undivided attention, so plan around it, accept it, and figure out a way to attend to it practically.

  82. ABB*

    I’m a CPA. We have busy seasons. Early in my career in my 20s when I was working 60-70 hours a week, before the season started, I would list my personal responsibilities & wants and rank them in order of priority. Those with the highest rank got done. Then of the ones I was going to accomplish, I would schedule for efficiency. For example, I went grocery shopping twice a month instead of once a week. I would spend 30 min on the weekend making a plan so I could use my free time effectively. Also, always prioritize “fun”. Even in the busiest times I would have time for 1.) One thing fun during the week in my social life and 2.) A couple of hours of downtime to chill on my couch. “Fun time” does wonders for your mental health.

    Now I’m in a job with less hours during busy season and I also can work from home a lot. If you can do some of your overtime work hours from home instead of in the office, you can also balance that personal time better by breaking up your day and working early in the morning or later at night (whatever works for you). If you are at home, you can move that laundry over or run the dishwasher and still get work done and not have those chores hanging over you.

    One more thing on meals. Plan ahead. Crock pots and instapots are your friend. As well as premade stuff from the store. Make a lot and freeze for later. Reduce your time cooking and that will help with the balance too.

  83. Jay (no, the other one)*

    I’m a doc (mostly retired now) and so I had a call schedule for thirty years. I also didn’t have a clear-cut end of my day. I managed it all in different ways over the years. Before my daughter was born I got home when I got home and sometimes we ate dinner really late. My husband could always get home in time to feed the dogs. Once the kid was born I changed jobs and went into my. own private practice where I had complete control over the schedule. I had one late day when we all knew I wouldn’t get home and that gave me enough late-day appointments to satisfy my patients. The rest of the week I closed my schedule early enough to make sure I was home by 6:00.

    I never made plans when I was on call. I sing in a choir and I worked my call schedule around rehearsals and performances. And we outsourced everything we could – we had regular housecleaning, we had a babysitter who helped us with pickups and dropoffs, we ate out and did takeout, and my house was never as neat or as organized I would prefer. It was hard, and sometimes I resented it – and I also knew that this was how I wanted to practice medicine and I would have resented it even more if I’d tried to make myself a different kind of doc.

  84. Regular Human Accountant*

    Recently I went from a job where I was bored to tears working only 10-15 hours a week, to a job that is never less than 40 hours, often longer than that, and at least two weekends a month I need to put in several hours just to stay caught up. It has made a significant shift in my household!

    I’m very lucky in that my spouse does a great deal of the household work so when I’m not working I can truly relax. We make sure that we spend time together at some point each day, even if it’s just watching a TV show together, and we always plan something on the weekends–a couple of hours in a coffee shop, walk in a park, or an evening date night.

    We go to the gym every night, even if I have to go back to work afterward (I’m 100% remote, that helps). And the other thing I do to save my sanity is to step away from work for at least half an hour during the day; it’s tempting to work through lunch but I feel calmer when I don’t.

  85. shrambo*

    My job was tied to the academic calendar for several years – think 60+ hour weeks near the end of the term, followed by weeklong gaps of little to no work between terms. Strategies I worked out to survive the busy times were to:
    – any non-work tasks that NEED to get done have to happen first thing in the morning before I start the day’s work. This includes basic staying-alive items (making food, bare minimum of housecleaning), but also some health-maintenance items (exercise, physical therapy). It’s gotta happen first thing in the morning, or I end up just… Working late and never doing it.
    – Reserve half an hour every evening before bed to do something enjoyable, whether that’s reading a book, a phone call with a friend, or taking a walk. Just giving myself one thing to look forward to every day.
    – Prioritize getting at least 8 hours of sleep most nights. This can mean sacrificing the first-thing-in-the-morning tasks, or the half-hour fun time, or – if possible – letting work tasks go undone, or half-done. But fatigue and sleep deprivation impact my productivity more than anything else.
    As for social life… Yeah, never did figure that one out. It wasn’t a schedule that played well with people who had more normal 8-to-5 schedules with regular weekends.

  86. M2*

    My spouse had particular periods (months not a week per month) where they are very busy. He pushes for his team to take comp time and use vacation or leave early come in late before the busy season because he knows it’ll be hard. He also lets people work at their own pace as long as things get done. Maybe figuring out a new way to do the work will help.

    Whatever you can pay to outsource do it. For awhile when I was also super busy we paid for cleaners. Now we clean the house ourselves. Buy a robot vacuum (I don’t think they are as good but it’s better than nothing). We pay for people to cut out lawn. If your laundry doesn’t get done that week oh well… or do laundry when you’re listening to a podcast book or TV or if on a call with a friend or family member. If I have to call someone I’ll call them when I’m folding laundry.

    Meal prep. This is key. We meal prep on Sundays and cut up fruits and vegetables we put in class containers in the fridge. This makes the rest of the week really easy. And if you eat cereal or a microwave meal occasionally who cares!

    If you have kids get a babysitter! We have a neighborhood high schooler that comes over an afternoon on the weekend and my kids think it’s just fun and playing not a sitter. When they come over my spouse and I walk or meet another couple friend and do something fun. In this vein make kids go to bed earlier. I have friends who have 6-7 year olds going to sleep at 9-11! My kids are in bed and asleep by 7:30/7:45. It used to be 7, but that gives my spouse and me time together, time to clean, read a book, watch a show. The more you sleep the more you sleep. Try it!

    If you want to meet friends then meet them at the gym or for a walk or to grab a coffee. It doesn’t have to be an hour. If I’m really busy I’ll meet a friend for a 20 minute walk or grab a coffee with them and chat for 10-15 minutes. I also started going to a new exercise class with two friends who are both busy. We chat a few minutes before class exercise together and chat after. Currently I can only go 2-3x a week but it’s nice connection while doing something I would do anyway.

    Also, if your have kids or friends talk to them! I have a friend who has to go back to the office and the commute is a mess. Her spouse is busy on a particular day so I started picking up her kids and taking them to my house one day a week. They do homework, play, and I feed them dinner. Their parents then come pick them up around 6:45 PM when I start bedtime. I’m doing it that one day for my kids anyway so why not help it I can?

    It’s really about time management. See how often you’re on your phone or watching TV, cut that down and you should have time for other things.

    Make sure you get sleep. That’s key.

  87. Sharkie*

    I work in a similar field where I am working 50- 80 hour weeks for 8 (hopefully 9) months a year. What really helps is that my management is so understanding. We have half day summer fridays, a mandatory week long shut down in the summer, and some flexibility over our schedule. There are some weeks that I am working events and don’t leave the building until 10:30 pm so I can start my day at 11 am the next day. If management wasn’t so flexible, this schedule would not be viable.

    on the flip side my family and friends are also very understanding of my schedule in the busy months. They try to schedule things with me in mind, and understand if I can’t come to everything. Having that support is amazing. I don’t know if I would be able to continue this career if I did not have this support.

  88. Bookworm*

    I’ve also done this, except it was at certain times of the year that lasted weeks to months at a time. At the time I was young and/or inexperienced so I just went with it but as I got older I found it was often worth doing things that might seem “indulgent” otherwise. Get takeout, have your groceries delivered, pay to have things automated. Find shortcuts: meal prep so you don’t have to think about your food for the rest of the week. Buy in bulk. If you find that taking that hot bath at night helps, feel free to do that.

    You also say that you left a higher paying/higher demand job and so I wonder if you’re also just genuinely at the end of this path. For one career I still remember the warning/guidance from a more experienced person in the field who said something to think about was how sustainable this lifestyle/career was for us–it’s not unusual for people to simply burn out and leave entirely and never go back/do something totally different. That wasn’t everyone but lots of people who stayed often transferred into doing something similar by using their connections and experiences. Maybe this isn’t feasible for you at this time but may be something to consider? I know you seem to be thinking about it but I do want to highlight that perhaps you’re already there.

    Good luck!!

  89. Dawn*

    I work in a seasonal industry and, yeah, you let things outside of work slide as much as they need to during the busy period, knowing that the trade-off is that you’ll have more time for them than the average person outside of it.

    During our busy period I often literally can’t get up from my desk all day, but once that period ends – and it will end, the cycle is immutable – I can literally spend most of my workday doing chores and watching TV for the slowest couple of months should I so choose because that is just the nature of our industry and it’s a recognized perk.

    I don’t know how long your busy period actually is, but always remember that the slow times will come again and you’ll have a lot more time than the average person for your personal life when it does, and it should help balance it out.

  90. Cake*

    I work in tax and I feel this. I worked a little over 80 hours last week. In no particular order, here is what keeps me going.

    1. My one hard boundary is that I show up for my kid’s sporting events. My rule is that I do not miss them except possibly immediately before the deadline. I don’t apologize for it at work and I don’t make a big deal out of it, but I do commit to it within reason.

    2. I prioritize social stuff to an extent. I have girls’ night weekly up until the last couple weeks before deadline. Sometimes girls’ night is just going to Costco together, though!

    3. If I hit a wall, I eat a meal, go to bed early, and start fresh the next day. Sometimes that’s all you can do!

    4. I give myself permission to not be a rockstar. Maybe I’ll never perform at the same level as the workaholic who’s single with no kids. Would an extra 1-2% raise a year be worth that to me? Nope. And you know what, I still get stellar reviews and excellent raises and high praise from clients.

    5. I work with AMAZING people. We’re supportive of each other and give each other grace. We pitch in to help, we swap gifs at midnight, we don’t hang anyone out to dry. The level of camaraderie makes it livable.

  91. turtlefrog*

    Let everything go except daily time for walking and/or being in nature. Twenty minutes is fine — doesn’t have to be a giant thing.

  92. DannyG*

    Hospital work has regular busy periods with random crises thrown in. For the routine busy times editing activities outside of work is the best approach. Cooking ahead and freeing helps, too. For the random events a little forward planning helps: I keep a shave kit & several changes in clothing on site. With a little warning (e.g. hurricane or blizzard) bringing in non-perishable snacks makes it go much better.

  93. Je ne sais what*

    I’m in one of those cyclical jobs: higher ed, but not in a teaching position; I do a lot of student-facing programming and advising though, and I’m a year-round employee. I have very busy seasons at the beginning of the semester, with lulls at other times. I would echo a lot of what other folks have said: it’s about planning your month/week/year with those busy times in mind, whether that’s budgeting for extra help that week or planning for takeout, etc.

    I would also really lean into communicating with everyone about what’s happening. I’m getting the feeling from your letter that you aren’t sure about that piece. If your outside of work people don’t have cyclical jobs, I promise they’re not going to judge you for having busy times; it’s so common in my experience to have that sort of job, that even if they don’t, they have other people who do and they understand how that works! I also think you shouldn’t assume that your boss or coworkers are 100% tuned into the cyclical nature of what you do. Name it with them, so that they all understand when you’re swamped. Talk to your boss about what can be rearranged to make it more manageable! If you’re partnered or have anyone else at home with you, talk with them about it too. I’m married to someone who has a very consistent schedule and hardly ever has to work late or extra hours, so we have an understanding that during those busy times, she picks up the slack with chores and childcare. But then during those lulls where I’m working closer to 25-30 hrs/week, I do a lot more at home, and when it’s just normal 40 hrs for both of us, we have a pretty equal split. That being said– I’m in a same-sex relationship, so we’re at an advantage when it comes to the division of labor at home! We’re not fighting the gender roles that so many straight parents do.

    Above all, I would say hang in there this first year; there’s a steep learning curve. Think about what sorts of systems would help you in the future, and consider how to implement those. The goal here should be to work hard the next few months so that all the systems are in place for next year, making it all easier.

  94. Name goes here*

    Maybe this is a bit doom and gloomy but I’m seven years into a cyclical type job — very busy sometimes, very slow during others — and I have to conclude that it’s the worst of both worlds. During slow times, I struggle as I’m not used to not having the stimulation from busy-ness and the structure to my time. I went through a very slow period over the summer, and I was almost having a crisis of ‘not having enough to do’. But I worked through it but having some more one-on-one meetings with my boss, setting a schedule of goals I wanted to meet and starting on a few projects I was really excited about, making more space for taking care of personal stuff…and then BOOM! We entered a busy period which got extra busy as I am helping to cover for someone on leave (that’s expected in my role), so busy period went super nova. In some ways it’s nice — I’m more stimulated and excited by more going on — but it’s also exhausting, and I just got UN-used to be busy, and those passion projects I was excited about? Whelp, gonna struggle to get them done or have to abandon them. Just as I get used to one speed of work, it changes. I think being neurodivergent makes this an extra challenge — a lot of commenters talk about changing the speed of their personal life during busy periods, and as a neurodivergent, I really struggle with that. Creating routines is hard for me anyway (thanks ADHD!) and having a routine that you have to adjust constantly due to different work cycles? Pretty much impossible to maintain. I think the ADHD “it’s either now or not now” mentality especially hurts here, because I find it hard to plan around cycles, even when I know they are coming. When it’s slow, it feels like it will always be slow, and the busy periods inevitably surprise me, even when they shouldn’t. Cyclical jobs require a lot of big-picture planning and adjusting, and my ADHD doesn’t do well with it. I’d frankly decided I’d rather have a job that was at a predictable pace — even if the predictable pace was bad — then a cycle. As it is, I find it hard to rest during slow periods and just as I start to feel like maybe I could do that…BOOM busy again, reset nervous system accordingly.

  95. Kris*

    I’ve worked a cyclical job for about 16 years. I have three big deadlines a year and the month leading up to them often involves long days and weekends. The benefits of my job the other 9 months outweigh the stress of those 3 months. I get through them by setting expectations for myself and others. I am in “exam mode” (thinking back to student days), where the job temporarily takes top priority. I know it won’t last forever and then I’ll shift back to the normal balance.

  96. Lily*

    I work weird shifts (a mix of 8 and 12 h shifts in healthcare) which means a week can be up to 80 hours. The weeks with many hours, some other stuff just doesn’t get done, friends and the girlfriend know I’m working. Cooking and grocery shopping is done before a stressful week, meals are in the freezer.

  97. Coverage Associate*

    In our hobbies with friends, we find that twice a month preserves continuity without it taking over everything else, so know that it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to have personal commitments that aren’t every week.

    I try to do something that is the mental opposite of my job every weekend, even just for 30 minutes. For me, that’s an adult coloring book or legos or an easy recipe or music. This keeps me from being grumpy and feeling like work is my whole life.

  98. Ex-prof*

    My advice is to keep looking for another job. Some people can handle that sort of situation. Others can’t. I happen to be one who can’t and I’ve had to organize my life around that even though it meant making less money.

    1. Name goes here*

      I think that’s where I’m at too! (Higher-ed as well, though not a professor and higher ed is naturally cyclical). Cycles just aren’t for me — it’s great that people can work with them, but I have come to the conclusion that I can’t, really, and that’s a reality even if it’s limiting. Weirdly, I can deal with a short-term job — like the JOB ITSELF only lasts for a few months, fine. But a full-time job that radically fluctuates is the worst of both worlds.

    2. I'll never go back*

      1000% this. I know this doesn’t answer the OP’s question, but I’d suggest that a 50+ hour workweek, even if it only is happening cyclically/sporadically, is just not compatible with happiness for some people. Some can make it work! I couldn’t….

      I’m in medicine and took a 50% paycut in order to leave my 50+ hr/week job and pursue a ~30 hr/week job in industry (pharmaceutical/life sciences industry). I am happy with my life now in a way that I haven’t felt for the last decade I’ve been in medicine. I don’t think there’s any scenario in which I could go back to 50+ hour work weeks (even occasional ones) and maintain my current level of happiness.

      I realize that this is a remarkably privileged position to be in – to be able to choose to take a 50% paycut. But if it’s feasible, I’d recommend the OP think about finding a job that avoids the long hours completely.

  99. Kali*

    Echoing what a lot of other people are saying, and you just can’t balance everything. I work a job where every once in a while (at completely random intervals), things hit the fan, and I can do nothing else for a long stretch of time. I’m privileged enough to have a partner who can pick up some of the slack at home, but a lot of things get left until the busy period is over – the laundry piles up and we live on take-out and some plans might get canceled, etc. If your busy periods are predictable, you have the advantage of preparing for them – make sure the dishes are washed and your family knows that you can’t do a movie and dinner (but perhaps you can do a quick lunch). Plan around your busy times and load up on the stuff you *want* to do when you know you’ll be free. Also, it helps to have some sort of routine – even when your work life is wildly busy. Always have dinner with your family at 7 without any phones present or get up and do yoga before work every day – whatever works for you.

    But if you don’t want to do that, that’s fine. It’s not for everyone. Even if you don’t mind it at first, your feelings can change about that time commitment in the future. That’s allowed! You just may have to look for another job.

    Honestly, reading this letter, you used to work so many hours. You may still be feeling the burn out from that era of your life, and that’s why you’re so unhappy when your hours give a specter of what they used to be.

  100. lab rat*

    I have a job that can get crazy both with and without warning. The without warning part, I still struggle with. When it’s the predictable kind – I get errands/life under control a few days before, meal prep (I find it easier to meal prep than get takeout, personally, but either would work), and take a supplement to help with getting restful sleep. I’ve also found that, maybe paradoxically, cutting too many activities out makes it worse because there’s nothing to look forward to. So I purposely take breaks and/or stay up later to do something relaxing, because otherwise I’ll waste the time at some point anyway getting bitter about not having time. The longer the crazy period is, the more important that is, at least for me. And finally – something that has made a huge difference in recovering from those times – I take the next weekday (or half of it) off for an errand/chore day. If your PTO makes that feasible, I find it helps hugely to just get through all of the tasks that have built up in one go, and using a weekday instead of slamming it into a weekend or evening lets me spend those times on rest or fun, which helps avoid burnout.

  101. Florp*

    Gosh, balance is a tricky subject. If you think about an actual scale, it’s only in balance when the weight on each side is equal, and it will stay that way as long as nothing is added to or taken away from either side. It exists as a static state. As soon as something changes, balance literally ceases to exist, unless a specific second change happens to reinstate balance.

    But you also need to think about the quality of the materials being weighed. A gram of gold weighs the same as a gram of dryer lint. But volume-wise, a gram of gold is smaller and prettier, and a gram of dryer lint is just a useless pile of dust and fur and maybe an accidentally washed kleenex.

    Humans are messy and we don’t have perfect control over everything in our lives and time marches on–nothing about us is static. It’s too much to ask of yourself to have perfect work/life balance at any given moment. The best you can do is have balance over a wider period of time. Busy at work this week? Slack a little next week. Identify the gold–the precious little things that make you feel good either at work or in your personal life–and reward yourself with them after you’ve been inundated with work-related dryer lint. Remind yourself that the busy periods will end.

    And if the bad times start to overlap and merge and become constant, sure, look for a different job. That doesn’t necessarily mean changing careers entirely again, and you may not have to take another pay cut–that’s just predicting your entire future based on your experience with a job change in the past.

  102. Oof and Ouch*

    Im seeing a lot of people giving similar advice about “letting things slide” and asking for support from others in your household. But what about when you can’t let things slide and you lack a support system? For the first 5 years of my career I moved away from my home state. All my friends had some kind of tie to my professional life, so when work was busy they weren’t in a position to help support/pick up the slack even if I would have felt comfortable asking.

    Like I’m not crazy, laundry can usually wait a week, and I’ve never been someone who needs a spotless house, but something’s can’t slide. Food must be purchased/made. At some point you do have to go to the laundromat and do the laundry. Everyday minutia has to get accomplished. Sure you can spend time fitting these things in in the less busy weeks, but I always found that doing that left little to no time to do anything fun/relaxing done.

    It’s also worth noting that for some people (myself included) letting things slide is a dangerous slope, which can end with me lacking the motivation to clean or do house work at all. It starts with “oh I’m so busy, I can’t take the time to vacuum this week” to “oh my god this place is such a mess I’ll never get it clean so what’s the point” (for those of you flagging some spicy sadness, you are not wrong). Routine is important to my mental well being.

    1. Pajamas on Bananas*

      Yes letting things slide is a slippery slope. Instead I have found “five minutes matter” and “good enough to move on” to be helpful.

      Five minutes matter means you do not need to complete a task, you just need to do it for five minutes.

      Good enough to move one means it doesn’t need to be done perfectly, or even correctly. It just needs done. The dishwasher left an invisible film on otherwise clean dishes? Put them away.

  103. Lenora Rose*

    Is there any way to also bank time? To take a deliberate light week or day off (**other than** PTO) the week before or the week after to either prep or recharge? Or is it “I fill 40 hours a week and missed days mean falling behind PLUS I have a 50-60 hour week once a month”?

  104. A Genuine Scientician*

    I teach in higher ed, which definitely has cycles of more and less intense weeks, though most are more than 40 hours. Grading big assignments takes a lot more time than doing them, for example, particular in large class sizes. Creating the final exam is likewise a big undertaking.

    In all honesty, I shift my non-work responsibilities to compensate. I live alone, so I’m not worrying about other people with my chores. The heavy weeks mean I either make a bunch of food and have leftovers, or I grab take out, or I grab stuff at the grocery store that doesn’t need to be cooked (crackers and hummus make a perfectly acceptable meal, IMO). Laundry can build up for a week or two until I have the energy to deal with it, or until I need to feel productive while procrastinating. I plan out social events with my friends based on what my workload is likely to be like — some things I’ll skip on the heavy weeks, and other things I insist on having then as a break.

    I’ve gotten better about keeping one day per week free of work responsibilities outside of rare circumstances (rare meaning 2-3 times / year). But also the heavy work load is just … something I’ve never *not* had, other than when on vacation?

  105. applesauces*

    My industry is like this. Some people try to work extra the whole time (I’ve been told anything less than 60 is just slacking). I said I’ll put in the extra on the crunch weeks (key deadlines & big conferences are a few times a year, with the occasional hellish overlap). However, on my vacation weeks, they should assume I do not exist as far as work is concerned. Then I stick to it.
    The flip side is my family has to accept a firm “that week is not available” when they want to do a vacation during Critical Deadline Week.
    No supervisor has ever questioned my yearly outputs (which is all the grand-bosses care to look at). Boundaries are crucial (plus a willingness to blow off those who try to push over yours).

  106. Van Wilder*

    Answer: figure out which balls you can drop, and drop them.
    My house can be untidy for a week or two. I can do dishes every other day instead of everyday. Laundry frequency can suffer too. My spouse can take on more housework. I lean on take out and fast food.
    I also lean on my network for childcare/ pickups/ drop offs. I feel mom guilt about missing things that I would otherwise bring them to but I remind myself that (a) it’s not forever, (b) they get lots of time with me and know I love them, and (c) I have to work to support them! And this job pays for a lot that they enjoy.

  107. GreenDoor*

    I have a super-cycle month and I’m married with young kids. I would suggest:
    * Plan anything you can in advance and buy/stock ahead. I plan all our meals for that month, stock my freezer and pantry , making meals one less thing I have to think about.
    * Remind your family. We have lots of conversations in September about how busy my October will be – reminders to my kids that they’ll need to pitch in more, and to my husband to give me grace when my share of the chores will be slacking.
    * Reset expectations of friends and family. “I don’t have the capacity to do X but I can do Y” will be your new favorite script.
    * Reset your own expectations. My super cycle month is the same month where all our birthdays are. So you know what? We celebrate our birthdays in the following month. It doesn’t make the celebration any less joyous and it saves me a ton of stress.
    * Outsource when you can. Can you hire a cleaning service for that period? Buy pre-planned meal boxes? Take your laundry to a service? Hire a pet caregiver to walk your dog?
    * Build in relaxation time.

  108. Middle Name Danger*

    For me it’s only doable because my not-busy weeks are under 40 hours. When I have a busy time coming up I can prep meals, make sure my laundry is done, and warn family. (So they can either support or know I’m unavailable.) I actually do better with marathon working followed by rest periods than a continuous 40 hour week.

  109. Devious Planner*

    I also have a job with cycles (high school teacher). Setting aside vacation weeks, I have lighter weeks (40 hours) and heavier weeks. During my heaviest weeks, that might be 60 hour weeks because of some extra stipended work.
    Here’s my strategy for maintaining calm during those times:
    – A strategically timed sick day is great! You can do this before or after the stressful week(s), but I use this to catch up on laundry, clean my apartment, do other work things I’ve set aside for a while, etc.
    – Go out to dinner by yourself. There’s a restaurant near me that I go to for dinner when I’m overwhelmed. It’s cheap and low-key, and allows me to feed myself a good-quality meal for about $20 with absolutely no prep or cleanup (and forces me to go on a 5 minute walk to get there too). If you’ve got a family, this might not work as well, but as a single person this is great.
    – Other food cheats: bags of pre-cut vegetables, salad kits, frozen lasagnas, frozen minced garlic/ginger/basic/etc. I really dislike processed foods, but there’s a whole world out there of minimally processed foods that you can make very quickly and cuts out lots of the tedious prep work.
    – Hire people to help you with a few things. I hire somebody to clean my apartment, and it’s so nice to check off some home-maintenance tasks without having to actually do them.
    – Laundry still gets washed and dried, because it’s a relatively easy thing (for me), but it just doesn’t get folded. I put the dry laundry on the guest bed and just pull things out of the pile as needed each day. Things that need to get hung up get some special treatment, but mostly I’m just living off a laundry pile for a few weeks.
    – Let some things fall! I am taking a grad school class, and I just didn’t do my homework one week. I knew it would impact my grade, but I figured one week wouldn’t sink me, and getting my work tasks done needed to be my first priority.

  110. Seasonal cyclical work*

    For six weeks in the fall, I work 50-60 hour weeks. The rest of the year, I work 32 hour weeks (plus or minus a few hours sometimes depending on projects). I have excellent PTO, but basically can’t use it during the six weeks (I can use sick time).

    The older I get, the harder these six weeks are. This is my 13th year with these super long weeks and I’m in the home stretch-just four days left (and one is a no work day). When I was younger, I just powered through. But now I treat myself more gently and hold a little heavier on my boundaries during these weeks. I don’t take on any additional personal commitments. I won’t plan a dinner with family or friends. I plan ahead to have meals ready to go in my freezer. I take naps any chance I get-including a lunch time Power Nap and one before dinner. I stick to a uniform for work so I don’t have to think about getting dressed and I have one small cleaning task each day so my house doesn’t become an absolute tornado zone, just more of a high powered thunderstorm. I take care of my family, but it’s the basics of eating a meal together at night or watching a movie at home. Not fun interesting activities.

    It’s not easy, I’m counting down the hours this go around…but that sweet sweet freedom the rest of the year. Freedom for a long lunch, ability to get through lots of books I want to read, time for my hobbies. Extra time with my family and the ability to plan trips or take last minute PTO. That’s what keeps me powering through it.

  111. Over It*

    Agree with all the comments about outsourcing/moving chores to less busy times, planning ahead, and rescheduling plans. But I don’t think the mental aspect has been touched on much. Here are things that help me mentally get through especially busy times at work.

    -Reminding myself frequently that things are hard right now, but this situation is temporary. For especially bad stretches when I know there’s a clear end date, I set a countdown timer so I can easily conceptualize how much longer I have to get through this period in my life. (I know this would drive many people nuts, but for me it’s helpful!)
    -Temporarily lowering my standards for myself. I’m a goal oriented person and try to exercise a certain amount, make goals towards my hobbies outside of work, keep my apartment to a certain level of cleanliness, etc. Learning to not beat myself up mentally over skipping a workout or getting takeout for a second time that week has been hard, but with practice I am slowly becoming more forgiving towards myself.
    -Similarly, giving myself permission to do nothing but watch trash TV until I fall asleep on particularly hard days. (Not every night that whole week, but the worst of the worst days). Even if I technically have ten minutes to spare after work to do the dishes or pay that bill, sometimes it’s important to mentally disengage completely. If it can wait one day, let it wait.
    -Taking PTO right after a busy period when possible. Even if it’s just taking the Monday off after a difficult week and having a staycation, or a half day. I know not everyone has good PTO, but highly recommend this if you can swing it.
    -Disengaging from the more traditional aspects of self-care if they don’t serve you. I’ve never gotten the knack of meditating for example; it feels like one more thing on my to-do list that I’m failing to do, versus something that’s actually helpful to my mental and physical health. Let go of things people tell you that you “should” do to be a competent, healthy adult if they’re not actually serving you.
    -Really evaluating whether a job with weeks over 40 hours is sustainable for you, and what the tradeoffs will be if you switch jobs/industries. It’s okay to take a lower paying job with fewer hours if you can still live off the salary. It’s also okay to decide the extra money is more important to you, and you can live with the longer hours, at least for a while. People in your life may have *opinions* about this (people in my life sure do!), but at the end of the day, it’s your life and not theirs.

    1. soundallround*

      I don’t know if this has been commented already, but something we talk about in the theatre industry (the epitome of sudden busy period!) is the emotional drop that can come after a busy time, particularly if the intensive work period has involved a lot of social contact (meetings, long working days with lots of other people all doing highly communicative work) that then vanishes as soon as the work is over. In the UK we tend to call it ‘post-show blues’, and general advice is to book in something nice to look forward to- a day trip, a holiday, time with friends or family to soften the blow a little before being dropped back into (for us) normal levels of ad hoc employment. I don’t know how helpful it will be in your case, but could it be worth planning for the emotional lurch between work/less work as well as the organisational one?

  112. BubbleTea*

    My situation is a bit different because the cyclical nature isn’t of my work, which is reasonably consistent and entirely within my control, but of my health. For about ⅓ of the year, weighted more heavily in winter, I’m not well enough to function in life and still work. I have to pick the most essential things and drop everything else. The unpredictability of it is frustrating, but I’m gradually learning not to cause a boom and bust cycle by trying to catch up during the better times – I have to put systems in place to provide margin all the time.

  113. TorsionFree*

    For me the trick is to work less than 40 hours some weeks, to make up for the more than 40 hour weeks. So I schedule weekday doctor/dentist visits, go to the gym during the day once or twice a week, things like that — so that when a week comes around where I have to work more than 40 hours, I’m not pre-burnt-out.

  114. Addison DeWitt*

    My attorney wife had crazy hours in tax season. She dealt with by working crazy hours while I planned the vacation that started on April 16.

    Eventually she dealt with it by having our kids, and changing jobs.

  115. SilliestGoose*

    I work in non-profit event management, so there are definitely times when I’m absolutely slammed and working 50 hours a week and other times when I’m working my normal 35 hours. For me, there is lead up to these much busier times, so I’m able to plan ahead so I’m not so overwhelmed. Here is what’s worked for me (caveat: I am unmarried and do not have kids):

    -During non-busy weeks, making extra food and freezing it so that I can have quick dinners (soup season is made for this). Also, making food that is easy/I’ve already made before. Busy times are not the times to try new recipes!
    -Coordinating a grocery delivery if I know I won’t have time to go to the store.
    -I have pets so asking a friend to come feed them if I know I won’t be able to get home, and then taking that friend out for a drink as a thank you when my hours are more normal.
    -Flexing my time as much as possible (so, if I worked really late one night sleeping in a bit and then coming in later the following day; even an extra half hour of sleep can help. This works for me and my job, but of course YMMV).
    -I’m lucky that I have a boyfriend who will help pick up some slack for me (we don’t live together) such as planning our date nights so it’s one less thing I have to contend with that week.
    -Honestly, saying no to things! It’s so hard, especially when being social is a large part of who you are and how you operate, but it’s important to have recovery and recharge time. Your circle definitely understands when you have to put yourself first.
    -Using my personal and vacation time when I can, and sometimes right after a busy week. Also part of resting and recharging.

    For me, I definitely just had to accept that I work a job that is sometimes really chaotic and sometimes not, and just kind of leaning into that and understanding that some things will naturally fall by the wayside (i.e. it’s okay if the kitchen only gets a quick wipe down rather than a full clean) and that’s okay! And then, when I do have the opportunity to maintain a more steady work/life balance, I really lean into that so that I can relish that time as much as possible.

  116. Over it*

    I relate to OP being over long hours, even though they undoubted could handle them. I also have found myself disinterested anything that feels over and above, even though I like my job. I agree with commenters, and just came to add that often the dread of extra hours is worse than the hours themselves. Once you get in the routine it will begin to feel normal.

  117. Joielle*

    For me, the thing that makes the biggest difference is how much I have the ability to manage the busy schedule vs how much I’m at the mercy of some other power. Specifically – I used to work at a state legislature, as nonpartisan staff. I loved the work, but I ended up leaving that job because of all the times where I would show up to work at 8 am, think I was going to be able to leave at 5:30 pm for a 6:30 dinner reservation, but at 4:45 something would get dropped on my desk that I’d need to stay until 8 to finish because the deadline was the next morning. Never being able to plan my own life was the thing I couldn’t handle.

    In my current job, I do legislative work, but if I need to leave for a dinner reservation, either I’ll have a coworker on deck to address anything urgent, or people will just have to wait until the morning for my response if it’s less urgent. Even though I’m still working around the same number of hours during busy legislative times, the ability to make plans and shift my own workload around makes it manageable.

    And I second everyone’s advice that during the busy season, nothing gets done that isn’t essential. My spouse takes over almost all the cooking and cleaning and pet management, my workout routine gets reduced, I hire a laundry service, etc. (Also I don’t have kids, which is another thing that makes it all possible.) Do anything you can to make the logistics easier, so what little free time you have can be spent on fun things.

  118. K*

    I think this really comes down to what you personally want and are willing to tolerate. I know I couldn’t manage balancing personal life with that many hours in a week, and it would exhaust me for the rest of the month. But if you feel that you can deal with it for that one week, and are willing to accept this sacrifice one week a month because the rest of the job aspects make it worth it, then that’s up to you. Only you can really know this.

  119. Hedgehog O'Brien*

    I work in an industry that is somewhat cyclical – we have 2-3 extremely busy periods during the year, at roughly the same time every year, and a couple of lighter periods. I wouldn’t say it’s gotten easier – in fact, it’s gotten harder now that we have two school age kids – but there’s enough about my job that I really, really like that I’m willing to take the good with the bad.

    Honestly, we get through it as a family by being extremely planful. I sit down with my husband before our busy periods and go through our calendars so that we know when all of my weekend and evening work commitments will be. I meal plan every week, and during the busy weeks I purposefully plan easier meals or takeout, and he chips in to take on some of my tasks around the house during those times as well. We keep a shared Google calendar with all of my work commitments, his work commitments, our personal commitments and the kids stuff and indicate clearly on the calendar who is taking what, who is watching the kids on which night (whether it’s us, a grandparent, or a babysitter, etc). Otherwise the wheels would fall off completely. And then I make sure to find time when I can take it a little easier, and pull back from work to take care of things around the house (I work from home 2-3 days a week). And taking advantage of the lighter times to do personal things and spend time with family. I’ve been in this industry for 10 years, so it just feels normal at this point, although there are definitely weeks where I’m like, why am I still doing this, haha.

  120. Mothman*

    My advice is to listen to your gut. When I realized I couldn’t do it anymore, I stopped doing it. My heart shattered, as I loved what I did, but I was becoming mentally and physically unwell because of it.

    If your gut says this life is not for you anymore, it’s right! Therapy helped me parse through those feelings, too, so I knew my decision was the right one.

  121. leslie knope*

    A lot of good advice already in the comments! I’ll chime in — I’m in the political industry, where it’s not uncommon to work 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week in the lead up to an election, balanced (usually) with lighter periods after election days. A couple concrete things that I find helpful:
    – Proactively communicate with the people in your life about what they can expect from upcoming busy periods. Being able to say “it’s September, so I’m about to disappear for the next 6 weeks, and I’ll see you on the other side” helps me not feel guilty when I’m bad at answering texts or making plans.
    – Don’t be afraid to use things like home cleaning services and meal delivery services, even if you usually wouldn’t use them during less busy periods of your life. If it makes sense in your budget, paying someone to clean your space can be a true lifesaver in terms of lessened mental load.
    – If possible, try to take a true break after your busy period. For a while, I thought that going from super busy to low-key (30ish hours/week) counted as taking a break. But over time, my brain was just never able to leave that high-stress mode, because I still had all the same triggers that caused stress in busy times (emails, slack messages, deadlines etc). Highly recommend building in true, phone-off breaks where you can completely reset.

  122. Jane*

    The 40-hour workweek was structured around the worker (read: man) having all their home, familial, and personal care taken care of by an unpaid, non-working partner (read: woman). I don’t think modern 40-hour weeks are humane, let alone anything beyond that. And no, the answer isn’t going back to women not working; it’s using the technology available to us to cut back on most everyone’s hours while still maintaining production levels (hello, 4-day workweek!). It’s absolutely normal to not be able to juggle it all on those high-workload weeks, and there is NOTHING wrong with seeking employment that maxes out at 40 hours a week.

  123. Laura*

    LW, unless you had an illegal time turner, I strongly suspect that there is nothing that would allow you to keep your work and your private life in its usual balance when work suddenly demands a double ration of the time-cake. There is only so much time, so something has to give. Work, or sleep, or sanity, or the things you do in your free time.

    I have done these “horrible weeks”, and I hibernated my out-of-work life. I cancelled what could be cancelled, skipped housework, lived on take-out. I compensated the mental stress by walking home after work (it was a 30 to 45 minute walk, and the busses rarely ran after 8 p.m. anyway) to cool down. At home, I re-read favourite books or watched old TV series, and that was it.

    In my 40s I did that as paid overtime for two years, with one or two such weeks in a month, and there was no chance for comp time (three people doing the work of five), but I still took it easier in the calm weeks.

    These days I’m part-time, the horrible weeks still happen, but I get comp time and use it. Otherwise, the coping strategy is similar. Actually this is how I like it, and I would not prefer a more even workload and less comp-time days off.

    It helped that I always knew ahead when this was coming, and that I’m single and don’t have kids, so there is very little care work and associated mental load.

  124. Quinalla*

    I have work that isn’t regularly cyclical, but it’s definitely variable, some weeks I can do a relaxed 40 (where I could probably get the work done in 36 if I wasn’t taking my time) and other weeks where it’s 45-50 and occasionally 55+. I don’t know when it is coming which is what makes it the hardest for me. What I do is (a) communicate with folks in my life it will affect – for me husband & kids mostly and (b) delegate what I can to husband/kids that I would normally do (c) let things that can wait for slow time wait – I’m not doing any deep cleaning or organization projects at home those weeks and (d) cut my personal time. I do draw the line at cutting sleep or exercise anymore, I cut other things like TV/gaming time, reading time, etc. but I don’t cut those or I end up with a migraine.

    I think if you know when the hardest weeks will be, you could plan ahead which I would love to be able to do. It still isn’t fun to deal with so I’m not saying you have it easy, but being able to plan ahead you could try and front load appointments, errands, chores on your lighter weeks so you can focus on work on the heavy week.

  125. YRH*

    I’m more familiar with busy seasons than monthly busy weeks, but is there any to work a little less during the non busy weeks? I have friends that are accountants that have they’re happier in roles where they work 6 day weeks 6 months and 4 day weeks 6 months. Other friends have had jobs where they had to work insane hours during the state legislative session, but were able to bank a ton of extra vacation time and take a month or two off in the summer.

  126. Just Thinkin' Here*

    So typically jobs that require heavy hours in certain periods have a way of compensating either a written comp time policy or generous vacation the rest of the year. This can happen for the whole firm (tax prep companies, March/April) or in certain departments (tax department in a fortune 500, October). I’ve seen both. In those cases they got comp time earned to use during other parts of the year or, if they were overtime eligible, collected overtime pay with flexibility to use vacation time soon after the mad rush.

    I have work that is quarterly in nature. I try to avoid taking time off as much as possible during those 3 weeks but then have flexibility to take vacation as needed at other times. If excess hours are needed we can carry comp time, which is capped but at least it’s recognition of the excess hours.

    If you aren’t getting any of these – then either you need a new employer, more vacation time, or a significant raise/overtime.

Comments are closed.