Peak season is here, my friends. For you shippers out there, this means orders and shipments are coming your way fast and furious. The pace and volume this time of year brings means it is actually a great chance to examine the status of our current teams and processes. By pushing our capacity to the limit, it gives us the opportunity to see how far our business can go. Unfortunately, though, for most shippers, peak season usually serves as a wakeup call that our systems need some work. No one wants to leave their customers unfulfilled (delivery pun intended), nor their team in a burnt-out heap come January, desperately searching job postings to find relief from the mayhem.

It’s a common refrain that the key to success during peak season is buckling down, working longer hours, and riding the lightning. But please, don’t fall into this trap. Hustle culture has created and popularized the myth that victory comes from driving yourself and your team harder, all the time. But the real world shows us that it is in fact a myth. There’s only so much you can push people, and there’s not enough time in the day to overcome poor processes.

Luckily, there’s a better way. It’s called working smarter, and it comes with the added benefit of smiles, downtime, and rejuvenated creativity, even during peak season.

A major way that leaders find themselves overwhelmed during peak season is by the deluge of incoming information and messages. Orders and inventory are flying in, you’re CC’ed on every communication from your entire team, your bosses are asking for real-time updates on KPIs and annual goals… it’s a lot. Trying to keep up with all this by sifting through cluttered inboxes, complicated folder systems, and multiple apps or SaaS solutions is a recipe for disaster.

Over the course of my two decades in logistics, I’ve developed a system for managing this constant, high-volume influx. I’ve personally used this system to manage 500+ emails a day, and seen my teams thrive when they’ve incorporated it into their own workflows. It’s simple to implement, but I won’t lie to you and say it’s easy. This system is only effective when you put in consistent effort. If you’re ready and willing to do that, though, it can be an absolute game-changer for you and your team.

Let’s get to it, starting with a high-level overview of the four steps.

1. Commit to Consistency

The first lesson in managing your professional inputs is to put things in the same place every time. When you come home, do you put your keys in a different spot each time? If so, I feel for you, because I imagine you’re late to things a lot.

Whatever tool works best for you (and there are a ton out there), commit to using that tool to track all your messages and tasks. If that’s your inbox, productivity app, paper calendar, heck, even post-it notes, stick with that. Using multiple tools and trying to bounce back and forth will only lead to dropped balls in the end.

And remember: YOU are the best tool you’ve got. The physical or digital tool you choose doesn’t matter if you don’t use it properly. Focus on how you use it and using it consistently, as opposed to worrying about picking the best one.

2. Prioritize Prioritizing

Not all communications are equal, and not all notifications demand the same response. These days, logistics leaders have many different types of messages coming their way, but ultimately, each one is either asynchronous or in real-time. A blinking light or a ping that you received a message is obviously much different than someone standing in your doorway or asking you questions on a virtual meeting.

Understanding the different ways your boss, department, vendors, and customers communicate with you is crucial to prioritizing the messages and responding in an appropriate order.

3. Set It Down

Once you’ve sorted and prioritized your inputs, the key to surviving and thriving in peak season is to set balls down, instead of dropping them. For this reason, I personally use Zero Inbox as my message and task management system and recommend all my teams do the same. But Zero Inbox is just one example of how to get the job done. The concepts are the important part, and you can incorporate those concepts into your individual systems however they make sense.

On a tactical level, what Zero Inbox allows you to do is to stay up to date on incoming messages, while setting balls down (creating tasks), then taking care of them at the appropriate time. With the added stress of peak season, being able to know exactly where you’re at and what’s next is huge to staying on top of things and continuing to move forward.

4. Be Honest with Yourself

This is the hard part, for two reasons. The first is that it’s tempting to look at what other people in the industry are doing and follow suit. If it works for them, it might work for you too, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Copying someone else’s system doesn’t work if you’re not going to use the system appropriately. So be honest with yourself. Are you really going to create and update workflows in Asana, or are you going to continue to use your leather-bound paper notebook, because it feels amazing when you pick it up? Either one can work; it’s just about what works for you.

The second part is even harder. No one can do everything. Let me say that again, because Hustle Culture has indoctrinated us to believe otherwise. No one can do everything. Surviving and thriving during peak season is all about understanding this limit and knowing which balls you’re intentionally setting down. That’s the only way to avoid dropping them completely.

Like I said, managing your inputs better is simple, but it’s not easy. While it does take consistent effort, this system allows you to confidently keep track of your messages and comfortably walk away when you need to, knowing you’re on top of it. Gaining the bandwidth to survive peak season, to move your department forward, and still sleep at night… that’s the dream, right?

Jess Windham has been in logistics for 17 years and worked every side of the industry: carriers, shippers, technology providers … everywhere. Now, as CEO of Solving Work, she is focusing on the people behind the packages. Stress and burnout are becoming common place in the logistics industry, as well as just about every other professional domain. Jess is on a mission to address these issues head on by focusing on people-first training and process improvement, starting at the top. She wants to give leaders the skills they need so their teams can be successful, but more importantly, fulfilled at work.

This article originally was published in the November/December, 2023 issue.