The Burden of Overwhelm: Moving Forward While Always Feeling Behind
Overwhelm. I swear this is the word of our time. We have access to anything and everything, information overload, and to-do lists out the wazoo. As I scrolled through my FaceBook feed the other day, my friend had posted this:
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This morning I realized that I can no longer recall a time in my adult life that I wasn't behind on all the things I needed/wanted to do. I don't remember getting to a point where I felt like I had caught up and could safely do nothing. Even if I get caught up on the immediate needs like housework or work goals, there are always self-improvement or home-improvement projects, things I've been wanting to do with my family, career related study, etc. Every day it feels like I wake up behind in the race.
That's not to say I'm always doing something productive. But at the times I'm doing nothing productive, I'm choosing to do nothing over doing something, whether it's because I'm exhausted or unmotivated or whatever. But I always have to actively decide to be unproductive over all the things I "should" be doing, and that usually comes with guilt.
This is not healthy. Anybody have any books or talks or tips on how to change this mindset?
Of course, immediately he started getting responses. These were not solutions, however, but affirmations that this was not just him, but so many of us that feel the same way. When I look at my life and how I write two things down for every one thing I mark off on my lists, I understand exactly how you can feel like you will never get ahead of it all.
My first response is this - YES. I get it. Secondly, I immediately started compartmentalizing what was said here. We have multiple areas of our lives that have to be assessed:
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It's not about keeping all these things perfectly balanced; it's about navigating the baby steps of what needs to happen today vs. later on. Ultimately, this is not about balancing things perfectly, but looking at how you can add harmony to it all.
Those "life tasks" at the end are all of the housekeeping to-dos, repairs, errands, day-to-day life requirements that eat up a ton of time and energy. Everyone dreams of a personal assistant because this one area alone could easily eat up your whole day, every day.
So how do we keep from just having that feeling of overwhelm all the time?
Six Tips to Eliminate Overwhelm
Here are the biggies for me to ensure you don't feel behind all the time. The first step isn't simply assessing these different areas, but addressing those life tasks that take over every aspect of everything! So let's break it down and make this manageable.
Create Your Priorities - look at what REALLY has to be done. Sometimes, we create a to-do list of so many things, and then we realize that it may not all be necessary. I've stressed out looking at a full day of errands, and the more I break it down, realize that there was only ONE of the many things on my to-do list that really needed to be done that day. Breaking it down into bite-size pieces and asking myself, "is this necessary at this moment?" Really helped.
Okay, there is a time and place for obligation. Sometimes going out of your way for someone you love is worth it to see the happiness on their face, even if it's not your favorite thing. Some obligation is okay. But when obligation takes over, you can twist down into a spiral of people-pleasing that is a bottomless pit. If you start to notice that everything you do all day is based on making someone else happy, it's time to seriously check yourself. You are not in charge of anyone else's happiness - that is their's to own. Spread love, fill some buckets, but ensure you are looking at what is critical for you to move forward beyond just meeting everyone else's needs.
On that same note, don't be the "yes" person. Don't say yes all the time. Be careful what you commit to, and ensure you can really follow through. Just because you can fix that technical glitch or leaky faucet does not mean you need to do it right that instant. You can be a go-to resource that ends up becoming a resource gateway with no life of your own. If you can't show up on time, don't say you can. Don't accept a project if your plate is already full. Don't commit to a deadline that is going to require you to forfeit eating and sleeping to meet it. Give yourself enough wiggle room that you can feel the relief of accomplishment if/when you do finish early. Imagine wowing people with how you went above and beyond vs. barely squeezing it in on time.
Allow for wiggle room. Don't overcommit your day so there is no down time. We all need rest and we need time to create, process, and think. Don't jam pack your day where it's a marathon. That is a sure-fire way to create burnout. Don't live for that one day when you can rest again. Intentionally allow that down time every day so you aren't running on fumes.
On that whole "productive" concept. Let me get one thing straight: Rest IS productive.
Let me repeat that. REST IS PRODUCTIVE. Don't negate your down time. It's critical to your health, both mentally and physically. Give yourself grace to veg.
Every week we have a "chill night" where we intentionally just relax and watch a movie or just lounge on the couch. We also take turns on who's night it is, and focus in on the other person. On our nights, we typically get a massage. That's right - I get a massage from my husband at least twice a week, and he gets one from me. Ah, relaxation, bliss, and connection all in one. And it has helped us so much on so many levels (you know what I mean). How powerful to end the day with utter release and touch.
Schedule the fire out of your day. We've found flex time during the middle of the day is fine, but the morning and the evening have such a huge impact on how our days can get away from us.
The bane of many entrepreneurs is our ability to work anytime we want...which means we are always working and doing "just one more thing." Those "just one more things": checking facebook, answering another email, doing one more edit, etc are all areas where the day can get away from us. Your "one thing" can take you down a four hour bunny trail.
Schedule your work time, and your play time. Do these with the same priority level. My nightly date with Nathan is just as important as my podcast interview. Don't negate the importance of life beyond work. We want to really live, not simply trudge through. Enjoy this life, and make that a critical component of your day.
Bookend Your Day
On that note, bookending our day has been huge. We prep our coffee in the evenings so it's ready to go. Our family agrees on what we are going to have for breakfast so it's no shock in the morning (we have that awesome 2 out of 3 issue, where typically 2 out of 3 love it or hate it). Nathan and I discuss the night before what we need to accomplish the next morning, and make that awesome list everyone is referring to.
My calendar lays out my morning:
I plot out specific days that are super work-focused, because for me, getting the majority of the work finished at the beginning of the week allows for a lot of wiggle room at the end of the week. Two intense work days are best for me, where I am free from kids in the house. I can answer all my emails that have built up over the weekend, complete all my meetings, and go ahead and schedule out the rest of the week. Thursday and Friday flex days are perfect to catch up on work or intentionally take the day to play and explore with my family and not feel like everything is looming over me.
Our favorite: We have reduced our coffee consumption to one (maybe two) splendid cup(s) in the morning. Using this, along with this rockstar frother, give us a perfect vegan cappuccino, complete with almond milk and some maple syrup!
Your Life Is Your Responsibility
Like I've written so many times, we are in charge of our lives. We have the power to create with intention, or live in reaction. My tips above may seem a little over structured or over-the-top, but I've found the more I can plot it out, the better I can allow for flexibility and spontaneity without feeling like it'll all get away from me.
When we are consistent and stick to a schedule, we find we feel way more in control of our lives - living with intention and not just reacting as life passes us by.
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Share below what things help you gather your thoughts, or why you think this won't work for you. Let's dive in! If you are overwhelmed, the first step is to identify what is overwhelming, and then look for those little things you can do to move forward. Share your thoughts in the comments below, and I'll respond to every one.
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