Some days there is nothing pressing on my to-do list or on my mind, and it feels like I’ve escaped the rat race once and for all. These days I’m free to do as much or as little as I feel like, as the whim takes me. They are good days, and yes, they do happen more often now that I’m on the road.
And then sometimes I come back from a weekend of such days and I realize there is actually a lot of things that need to get done, how could I have let it pile up like this, and I’m back in that familiar place most adult Americans find themselves in of having too much to do with too little time.
Overwhelm. It had me bouncing from super excited to super anxious as I was preparing to get on the road, yet still juggling the chores of day to day stationary living.
By now I’ve pretty much got the answer (at least for me) to overwhelm down, as long as I slow down enough to remember it. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, my first reaction is to avoid what’s making me feel that way. That’s a bad way to approach it, because the longer you wait the more things will need to get done. I could probably write a looong post about this topic, but if your days are already feeling rushed and too busy, then let’s keep this short and simple for the sake of time.
1) Stop what you’re doing, and take five minutes to calm down, ten if you need. And yes, I mean stop doing everything, including rehearsing in your head what you need to do when the five minutes is up. No matter how much you have to get done, you’re not doing yourself any favors by chasing your thoughts in circles about just how important all of this stuff is. I usually try to think about nothing, to just focus on being present right where I am at that moment, but if that doesn’t work for you, think about something pleasant and completely unrelated to your to-do list that helps you relax. A favorite movie or book, a past holiday, something like that.
2) Take a look at everything you need to get done. If you don’t have it all down in a list in one place, do that now, to make it more concrete and manageable. If you think of more things later, remember to add them to this list as soon as you can. It’s harder to forget about things when they’re all together in one spot. Once you have them down on the list, you can release from your mind, and stop letting all of the “need to’s” bog you down. No need to worry that you’re forgetting something, it’s on the list.
3) Now that you have some room to think in your own head again, look at your list, and pick the thing that needs to get done first. That’s all, you can forget about the rest. Just focus on what needs doing now. Note: All tasks have two basic values, whether you consciously assign them or not. One is how important the task is, the more important a task is, the sooner you should get it done. The other value is when is that task due. The sooner the due date, the sooner you should get it done – unless it has a low enough importance that it can be safely ignored.
A lot of people have trouble getting the things they really want to get done completed because they focus exclusively on the due dates of tasks and not how important that task really is. Often the tasks that contribute the most to quality of life are things that you decide to do (instead of say, your boss, or society in general), and there is no intrinsic due date on them. If you make yourself put due dates on tasks that don’t have one, watch and see how more of the things that are important to you start getting done.
4) As you finish a task, go back to your list and choose the next one that needs doing. Do this until you run out of time to work on things, then set aside the list until you next have time to deal with it. While you’re not working on the list, don’t worry about it, there’s no point in worrying about something you can’t work on right now. It’ll be there waiting when you’re ready.
That really about sums it up. For me the hardest part is not worrying when I’m busy with other things and can’t work on my to-do list. It works best if I can block out a piece of time to work on the list next in advance, then when my brain goes: “You need to do this!” I can tell myself “I can’t right now, but I will at 2 pm tomorrow”. Having a solid answer for when it’ll get done helps a lot.
I hope this helps those of you out there who also sometimes feel overwhelmed at the number of things on your plate. Enjoy the rest of your week!
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