08/15/2014 03:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Simple Things You Need to Do Now for a Productive Fall

Reinhold Foeger via Getty Images


"Can you help me find just 10 more minutes in my day?" I was meeting a friend for a glass of wine, and this was the first question out of her mouth. No hello, no perusing the wine list and easing into this conversation. This was urgent.

I was not really surprised these were the first words out of my friend's mouth. She works for a large consulting firm, she has a 4-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter and is very active in our community. I can absolutely understand why she needs those 10 more minutes.

How often have you thought to yourself, "If I could just find even 10 more minutes in my day maybe, just maybe, I can stave off the tidal wave of busyness that is about to engulf me." I know that feeling. And clearly, my friend knows that feeling, as well.

Over the course of that evening, we continued to talk, and I could feel her anxiety rise as she talked about the looming end of August, the upcoming school year and the busyness that comes with the change in seasons. If she needs more time now, and it's only mid-August, what will she need come September, let alone during the holidays?

I remember how she approached the arrival of fall last year. She raced into September at a full out sprint cramming her calendar full. By Halloween, she was literally on the verge of collapse, and she still had more "hill" to run into the end of the year. She fell headfirst into fall.

What can you do now to prepare for your fall? Here are five simple things that productive people do every August to avoid the pre-Halloween fall meltdown.

1. Get clear.
"It is hard to see if your windshield is dirty." This is a lesson I learned from one of my favorite teachers, Sonia Choquette. As we go into a new season, take time to now to get clear and examine what is clouding your vision.

To do that, ask yourself the following questions:
- What has contributed to your frantic fall in the past?
- What is driving your busyness?
- Is it shaped by your need to feel important, worthy, and valuable and the abiding fear that the "real me" falls short?
- Is it fueled by the imperative that you stay at the office to be seen even if your most meaningful work is already finished?
- Is it technically-driven busyness, where your tools, systems, strategies and techniques for understanding, organizing and managing work have simply failed to keep up with changing demands?
- Or is your busyness a combination of these?

Awareness is the first step to take back control. The second step is to acknowledge it. The last step is to remove that dirt. Get clear and remove any unwanted, unnecessary dirt before the cooler, fall days arrive so you can fully enjoy the new season. .

2. Cull your to-do list.
As our responsibilities continue to expand at work, we add tasks and projects to our to-do lists. But we never take anything off of that to do list. This adding, adding and adding reaches a tipping point every September as we are presented with new projects and new personal commitments. Take a hard, critical look at your current to-do list.

Ask yourself if the projects and tasks on your list are still relevant, are directly tied to the organization's strategic goals and have a significant return on time investment. Then, ask yourself if they provide meaning and joy. As you answer these questions, there are probably a few tasks and projects lurking on your list that need to be removed. No one is going to miss them, especially not you. Remember, every time you say yes, you say no to something else. Are you consciously and intentionally saying yes and no?

3. Pace yourself
I learned pacing from my college cross country coach, Jim Phemister. He taught me the subtle nuances of pacing during challenging workouts and high stakes races. Little did I know then that those pacing lessons were not just so I could run a faster race; they were also so I could succeed in life. He told me, "Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to pace yourself so you can finish the race. If you go hard at the beginning, you might not have the reserves to make it through the long climb in the middle." So often, we approach our lives running at a full out sprint. This is just not sustainable, as my friend knows only too well. If you rush into fall, you are destined for a crash. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady will win the race called life. So, take a breath, slow down a bit and focus on the big picture -- a sane, productive and happy fall.

4. Remember you are running hills.
Fall is a busy time of year. School starts back, volunteer commitments reactivate after a summer hiatus, and there are projects, sales goals and revenue targets that must be met by the end of the year. You are not on a flat, easy road. You are running hills. The key to running hills -- and thriving in a new season -- is to always look two to three steps in front of you rather than at the top of the hill. For me personally, this practice enables me to stay focused in the present moment and maintain my pace during the hard work of climbing hills. So when the going gets tough this fall, stay in the present moment. Take the next step that is presented to you, and do not get too fixated on the end goal, because that will only make the run longer and harder.

5. Put the F.A.L.L. back into fall - Identify the Fun Activities Loved by the Less-busy you.

Think back to when you were a child. What did you love about the fall? What got you excited? Did you love jumping in piles of leaves? Carving pumpkins and getting dressed up in a costume? What excited you and brought you joy? Remember these moments. As we get older, fun tends to get relegated to the background of our lives. Fun is an essential part of being alive. I am looking forward to making leaf decorations with my daughter, football games with my husband and finding the silliest costume for the annual neighborhood Halloween party. Identify the fun activities loved by the less busy you and put the FALL back into your fall.

Productive people recognize the seasonal shifts in their energy and commitments. They prepare for the uptick in activity each August by getting clear, culling their to do lists, adjusting their pace and staying aware of the fact this season can be more challenging.

And, the most productive people I know, have the most fun! Enjoy your fall!

What You Can Do Now to Set Yourself Up Well for a Productive Fall:
A. On a post-it note or in a note app on your mobile device, take two minutes to write down three of your favorite fall memories from when you were a kid. Then, ask yourself: When was the last time I did that? Why's it been so long?

B. Write down a commitment to yourself to do at least one of those things by the end of November 2014.

C. Now, look at your to-do list for today. What's one small "thing" can you remove or delegate from your list? (Remember, you're running hills, so think present moment -- think about today.) What is one thing you can remove from your list today?