I’m going to get serious here for a sec. Have you ever gotten so far behind that you’re literally rendered immobile by the sheer size of your overloaded to-do list? That’s me lately. I’m telling you, you could hand me three free hours with which to be productive, and I’d still accomplish nothing more than reading every single nasty comment below a gossip article about a celebrity I couldn’t care less about, the whole time lambasting myself up and down for not doing anything productive but not being able to do anything about it. This particular song has been on repeat for me for a long time, now, and I know for sure I’m not the only one experiencing acute mental paralysis because of it.
So, what the heck?! We’re bright and ambitious people with go-getter attitudes and mildly- to moderately-awesome organizational skills. How does this happen to us?
For me, it’s been a combo of stressors and time sucks. Here are three of them:
- Our family was finally preapproved for a mortgage after a loooong uphill battle to improve our credit. I now spend way too much time on home listing sites. Like, really, how many of those home listings on Zillow are going to change between 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM?
- I got all volunteery and stuff, recently. I took on a board position this year with my local MMRWA chapter and volunteered to be the social media gal for an awesome small-town museum with no web presence.
- I’ve been dealing with anxiety issues. Freaking out a lot about everything from never finding a house to what if there’s a zombie apocalypse and a meteor collision on the same day to whether I have ovarian cancer because I’m often nauseated and my lower back hurts. (FYI, I don’t. Diagnosis: prolonged stress and slouching in my office chair.)
I’m obviously not the end-all be-all expert in stress coping or catchup skills, since I’ve been dealing with persistent immobilization for months, but I’ve been gathering an arsenal of tactics to dig myself out. And they’ve actually been working. Hopefully, if you’re struggling with some of the same issues, you’ll find something here that might help you, too:
- Make a master to-do list. Take a half-hour (or three hours) and write down everything you have to do. I mean everything. From dishes and laundry to everyday tasks at work like checking your voicemail returning emails, to weekly commitments like Boy Scout meetings, birthday parties, volunteer work and writing that 120K page novel. Looks terrifying, right? It’s okay. Take a deep breath and go on to the next bullet point.
- Weed out your master list. Take a good look at what all you have to do. All of us, but women especially, tend to overestimate our capabilities and available time. If you’ve got kids that are old enough to handle it, make them do the dishes and mop the floor. Sure it might not be to your exacting standards, but does it really have to be? If so, ask yourself why. (Hint: it might be perfectionism. Ask me how I know.) Also, volunteering is awesome and necessary, but do you do too much of it? Scale back a little, if necessary. Look at each item on that to-do list and determine if it can be delegated, minimized or deleted all together.
- Eat that whale one bite at a time. It’s the only way to eat a whole whale, after all. Just ask Melinda Mae. In this case, the whale is your to-do list and boy, is it a whopper. You’re about to make it just a bit longer, but it’s okay. Take the bigger items on your list and break each one into bite-sized pieces. 120K-word book, for example? Decide realistically when you want to be done with it. Divide how many days that is from now by how many words you have left to write. That number goes on your to-do list as a daily task.
- Employ the 15 minute rule. Now you actually have to do all the things. Say that cleaning your fridge is on your list of tasks and, being the same brand of procrastinator I am, you just have to get it done before you sit down to write your daily word goal of 1,117 words. Whether it’s because you think it’ll take too long or you don’t have enough time to tackle it, you’ve been putting it off. Set a timer for 15 minutes (or 10 or 5) and work ’till it dings. Don’t yank everything out – just focus on one shelf. If you still have minutes on the timer after that, focus on the butter bin. And then the produce drawer. You’ll be surprised at what you can do when you don’t overwhelm yourself. Same goes for that book: set a timer. Do 25 words. Still have minutes, write 50 more…
And here’s the toughest bullet point for me to add:
- Medication? What about when you write that mile-long to-do list and are just crippled by the overwhelmed feeling that sweeps over you at the sight of it? And you feel the same way day after day after day. You take a teeny bite off of those thousands of words left on your manuscript but, after, you tell yourself that those 25 words sucked and you shouldn’t bother to finish that story anyway. You don’t do your dishes because the zombie apocalypse might happen tomorrow and then who cares about clean forks when you’re using them as a self-defense weapon. Some worry and negativity and procrastination and stress in your life is normal. Some is not. Talk to your doctor if there’s even a chance it’s not. It’s early days for me, yet, but I’m on an anti-anxiety med after years of telling myself I’m a happy person who doesn’t need “drugs” and the difference I feel so far is startling.
So, heavy post here, I know. But, for a lot of us, life is heavy. It’s also wonderful and stressful and demanding and and rewarding and way too much fun to spend in the Pit of Despair, procrastinating and beating ourselves up over things we haven’t done instead of looking for the nearest escalator going up, so we can get the hell out of this hole we’ve found ourselves in.
And, hey: none of those tactics up there are my very own, original ideas. They’re just an amalgamation of helpful info that I’ve learned and they’re what is currently working for me. I’m just sharing in hopes that they’ll help someone else, too.
Wanna get serious with me? The comment section is all yours. 🙂