Before we end this year, I wanted to share a profound realization that I think can ease us all into the new year more smoothly while leaving old belief systems in the past, as we say goodbye to 2023.

Like most of us, I’ve been wrapping up appointments with clients before the holidays as well as meetings for my own business. Last week I was on a mastermind call, in fact the last one of the year. One of the other small business owners in the group was talking about how best to structure her waiting list. You see, she had reached a point where she was at full capacity for her client work.

When the coach and the group had crowdsourced some wisdom for her on how to talk to clients about her wait list, I raised my hand.

“I don’t know what my full capacity is! Even when I feel busy, I almost always say yes to upcoming work, because I’m busy now, but have room in the future. If clients need work in the future, Future Jennifer is on the job!”

This manner of taking on and scheduling work can create enormous calendar traffic jams for Future Jennifer. I tell myself it is necessary, because I don’t have an employer who gives me a steady paycheck. Saying yes to work means, for me, saying yes to income and retirement savings and the kids’ tuition, and to new shoes.

Yesterday, though, I was talking to a client about creating a prioritized list of his research projects, with an eye to not taking on too much at once. He talked about saying yes to everything that came his way, because research collaborations are the currency in his field. And if he says no to one opportunity, perhaps they all dry up and he is left feeling metaphorically penniless.

The penny dropped for me then… my client, myself, you and a lot of other people out there, we all see income, professional regard, a fatter CV, or any number of “success” markers as proof that we are doing it right. We are loved, accepted, and worthy. We are successful.

But what if we are successful but miserable? Burned out? Overworked? Lacking in joy and vision for the future? Yuck.

My task right now is to start working with a model calendar, so that I can at least know what I would like my days and weeks to look like. I am returning to a cool income forecasting spreadsheet I used in the first year of my business, because it gives me a good sense of when to press the gas and when to press the brake.

If you find yourself saying yes to every CFP, collaboration, talk, or grant that comes your way, is that working for you, or creating more stress? What would help you know when enough is enough? Some of the strategies my clients use:

  • A year-at-a-glance calendar with all due dates and commitments written in
  • A cut-off point each year for number of reviews they agree to (ditto talks, external service, etc.)
  • An ideal number of submissions each year
  • And so on…

What we find is that, when you put systems in place and track your progress, you slowly develop your awareness of “enough,” or “done,” or “no need to worry and rush.” This, it turns out, is critical in both entrepreneurship and the academy. In neither of these spaces are we going to encounter people who tell us: “You’ve done enough today (this week, this semester, this year, during your career) and you can go take a break now.” So it falls to each of us to determine where we want to draw the line for enough.

I am wishing you and me a winter season when you know you’ve done enough – and have the data to prove it!

And if you live in a cold and snowy place like I do, here is a picture of beautiful Outrémont, Montréal, Québec from riiight before the snow started to fall.

My husband and I are spending a big chunk of his administrative leave in this amazing city and I couldn’t be more delighted. While we enjoy the new year festivities from Montreal, I am wishing you a wonderful start to your new year as well! We’ll keep these conversations going in the new year.