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Posts Tagged ‘overwhelm’

  1. From “To-Do” to “Done”

    May 26, 2019 by Diane

    A writer friend wrote a poem a day during Poetry Month in April. He said, “I get an idea for a poem, write it in the evening, polish it the next morning, and then,” he brushed off his hands, “done!”

    Oh, how I envied him, getting to done.

    My problem is, I’m always doing. I’m rarely done.

    I rewrite the first page of my novel endlessly.

    I check out five books from the library, and before reading any, I check out five more. The towering stack taunts me.

    I flit from one project to another at work, and if it wasn’t for external deadlines, I’d continue to flit and polish and perfect and whatever it is I do to avoid getting things done, while my To-Do list grows longer than Rip Van Winkle’s beard.

    I need to get to DONE!

    Squirrelly thoughts

    Part of my brain thinks along these lines…

    If I finish (fill in the blank), then what? There might not be another novel in me. The book I want at the library might not be available, so I better check out everything. If I don’t do (fill in the blank) perfectly, I’ve failed.

    This is poverty mentality. It’s scarcity thinking. It’s a trap.

    Another part of my brain reminds me…

    Half-baked is better than burned.

    There will always be another book to read.

    A job that’s good enough and off your plate is preferable to a job that wears you down in your quest for perfection, which, as the saying goes, does not exist.

    And no, you don’t need to take on more than your plate can carry. The eyes-are-bigger-than-the-stomach syndrome results in nothing more than heartburn. No joy in that.

    Why can’t I get things done???

    I could just throw away my To-Do list. Done!

    But then I’d turn into a sloth who watches Wheel of Fortune into the wee hours, if such a feat is possible.

    It seems to me, three things are holding me back from getting to Done. See if any of these resonate with you:

    1. Lack of Time

    I mean, come on! I’ve got THINGS TO DO. Look at the list! How can I possibly get them all done?

    Well, I can’t. At least, not all at once.

    If I decided to run a marathon, and the most I’d ever run was from the couch to the refrigerator during a commercial, would I lace up my Skechers and line up at the starting block with well-seasoned athletes? Probably not. Besides, I don’t even run from the couch to the fridge, because I live in a miniature playhouse and can just reach over.

    But I can run for one minute. And if I add a minute a day, by the end of the month, provided it’s not February, I’m running 30 minutes a day. Or thirty-one, if it’s January.

    What if I applied that same logic to the dreaded To-Do list?

    Let’s say I start at 10 minutes a day. I can get a surprising amount done in 10 minutes.

    That stack of magazines? I’ll plow through them, ripping out articles I want to read, tossing the rest in the recycle bin. Done!

    I’ll read two of those articles. Done!

    I’ll edit one page of my novel. Done!

    I’ll weed out a file cabinet. Vacuum. Make salads for lunch. Draft a blog post. Done, done, done, done!

    Add a minute a day, and by the end of the month, I’m spending 30 minutes on tasks. Think of how much I can accomplish in 30 minutes! Makes the head spin, doesn’t it?

    There’s just one catch: Anyone who’s read my ramblings for any length of time knows I’m commitment-phobic. I’d sooner watch Wheel of Fortune than commit to 30 minutes on a task, because if I commit to 30 minutes of anything other than TV, I might actually get something DONE. God forbid.

    Scary thought.

    Plus, I have the squirrelly belief that I can do everything all at once to perfection.

    Talk about high expectations. No wonder I’m burned out. No wonder I can’t get started. Which brings me to hurdle number two (and three, but let’s not skip ahead):

    2. Overwhelm

    When I print out my To-Do list at work, it’s as long as one of those receipts from CVS pharmacy. My eyes glaze over. My stomach tightens into a hard ball. I have the urge to surf the net, spiral down the email rabbit hole, or cram something sugary in my mouth.

    I’ve discovered I can accomplish three tasks a day. Not fifty. Not five. Three. If I complete three tasks and have time left over, I tackle another. Three items on a To-Do list leaves plenty of white space. Room to breathe. And for an introvert like myself with limited energy to spare, breathing room is good.

    Many days, I accomplish more than three tasks. But tricking myself into focusing on three helps me overcome the feeling of overwhelm.

    What if my boss expects me to accomplish more? Well, if I work X number of hours a day, and there’s just one of me, and I need to eat and go to the bathroom X number of times during those X number of hours, the math might not add up. In which case I’ll say: “This isn’t sustainable. If you want me to be accurate, and finish the jobs you’ve assigned, something needs to go.”

    Yeah, in a perfect world.

    Some bosses are open to that kind of honesty. Luckily, mine is. If you’re not so lucky, all I can say is: pace yourself. Remember, doing more than is humanly possible isn’t sustainable in the long run. And no job is worth dying over. At the very least, don’t overload your plate on your off hours. While many organizations expect an employee to be plugged into the system 24/7, it’s my firm belief that we worker-bees need to educate the powers-that-be about what’s realistic, and what’s in the realm of: “in your dreams, bucko.”

    But I digress.

    Which three things do I choose to tackle on a given day?

    Whichever three would keep me up at night if I didn’t accomplish them. Not everything on the list is numero uno. Some are fives. Or sevens. I start with the most important, and work my way up. This applies to my task lists at work and at home.

    Sometimes, that number one item is so important, I can’t muster the energy to start. Like submitting my short story to a literary magazine. Or rewriting my novel.

    Which brings me to point three:

    3. Resistance

    In his book “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles,” Steven Pressfield writes:

    “Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.”

    Yeah. That bugger, Resistance, disguises itself as perfectionism, procrastination, laziness, fear, and whatever it is that keeps us from acting on those projects that feed our souls.

    For me, the disguise is perfectionism.

    In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard’s famous command was: “Engage.” He meant, begin. Go forth. Picard never added, “But only if you’re positive you’ll make zero mistakes.”

    No, settled in his captain’s chair, legs comfortably crossed, he commanded, “Engage.” It was outer space, fer crying out loud! He didn’t know where the ship was headed, or what lay ahead, or how he’d deal with whatever crisis occurred—and there was always a crisis. Didn’t matter. With a casual flick of his finger, Picard was ready to brave the unknown.

    Occasionally, someone on board would request, “Permission to speak freely,” which, if granted, gave the officer a free pass to say whatever was on his mind without being punished.

    What if I applied Star Trek logic to those Things I Want To Accomplish that makes Resistance sneer? With those nifty words, “Engage,” and “Permission to fail,” and “Granted,” I might actually get to “Done.”

    Wow. What a concept.

    So, for those of you who have hung in reading this 1,466-word post, my formula for getting from To-Do to Done is:

    Make your task list manageable and realistic
    Choose the three most important tasks to work on
    Do the work in a set interval of time
    Give yourself permission to fail
    When you’re done, let it be. It’s as good as it’s going to get.

    Which, in my book, is Done.


  2. Inquiry: Don’t Believe Everything You Think

    March 10, 2019 by Diane

    Three weeks into the LIFE XT program. If you want to follow along from the beginning, start here.

    The first week, I meditated daily as instructed. Ditto for the second week. The third? Not so much. I skipped several days, choosing instead to nestle under the covers on those cold winter mornings.

    As instructed, I added exercise in the second week. Three sessions of aerobic, one session non-aerobic.

    The instructions for week three are:

    Question one stressful thought each day immediately before or after meditation.

    This is called “Inquiry.” The idea is to evaluate whether there’s any truth to the stressful thought, become aware of how crummy that thought makes your feel, and consider replacing it with a healthier thought.

    Since I had already mastered dysfunctional thinking, this week would be a breeze.

    Or so I thought.

    On my afternoon aerobic walk, I became aware of a voice in my head calling me stupid. And not just stupid. It called me stupid-stupid. Which is stupidity, doubled.

    What’s that all about?

    Ah, yes. The missing paragraph.

    In my last post, some editorial wackiness deleted a paragraph about The Sweet Shop (which is now intact, so feel free to zip over and read it). Therefore, my reference to The Sweet Shop made zero sense. At least, that’s what I believed. Further, I believed that anyone reading the post with the missing paragraph would think: What’s the deal with The Sweet Shop? It makes no sense. And probably go to sleep dwelling on the stupidity of that blog post and my writing abilities in general.

    Stressful thought.

    I ran it through the Inquiry process:

    Is the thought true?

    Uh…no.

    What happens when you believe that thought?

    I lose five inches of height.

    What would you be without the thought?

    Taller.

    What healthier thought could you think instead?

    Nobody noticed.

    Nobody noticed!

    Which, upon further reflection, could qualify as a stressful thought, if nobody noticed because nobody follows my blog. But I chose not to go there, tempting as it may have been.

    As the week progressed, I became aware of other stressful thoughts.

    I’m overwhelmed!

    I don’t have enough time!

    I can’t get everything done I want to get done, and I don’t even know what I want to get done!

    And so on, circling around to some variation of:

    I’m a failure.

    Which, I know, isn’t true. But isn’t it interesting, the tricks the mind plays on us?

    And why is that? Can’t the mind think of better ways to keep us on our toes? Like, with riddles? I’d much rather inquire about why the chicken crossed the road than whether there’s any validity to the thought that I’m overwhelmed. Which, by the way, is true. I am overwhelmed.

    I ran it through the Inquiry process:

    What happens when you believe that thought?

    I feel more overwhelmed.

    What would you be without the thought?

    Less overwhelmed?

    What healthier thought could you think instead?

    I have the choice of how to spend my time.

    I could spend it like a tornado, accomplishing as many things on my to-do list as possible in one hour and then rewarding myself with a period of relaxation. Or I could spend it de-cluttering my physical and mental space so I had a better idea of what needed doing, and whether or not I wanted to do it in the first place. I could sit on the beach gazing at the ocean for hours and feel how time is endless (even though it’s far too cold to sit outside anywhere). Or I could set a deadline to complete ONE THING, then do that ONE THING to the best of my ability and consider it DONE.

    That was the key. Getting to DONE. Because my perfectionism wouldn’t allow me to let go.

    Another stressful thought.

    Those pesky thoughts kept popping up, like that game, Whac-A-Mole, where a mole pops up randomly from a hole and you whack it with a mallet.

    By the end of the week, I was using the Inquiry process to inquire about Inquiry, which made my head pulse. Yes, it’s useful to question my dysfunctional thoughts, view them through another lens and release them. But it’s also useful to remind myself that the reason I’m having stressful thoughts is because I’m stressed. It’s a symptom of being out of balance. The weather is cold, the wind is blowing, I have many tasks I’m paid to accomplish at work, I have many projects I wish to accomplish at home. These things unsettle my constitution. I need to resettle. Get to bed earlier. Wear a hat, scarf and gloves when walking in the cold. Eat warm, soothing foods. Be diligent in meditating. Massage my feet and palms with warm oil before sleep. Allow myself time to do nothing every day. These things bring my body and mind back into balance.

    And those stressful thoughts? As long as I’m aware of becoming unbalanced, and make corrections, those thoughts won’t need to pop up to alert me to the fact, like some random mole in a Japanese arcade game.


  3. Tips for Introverts Who Feel Lost and Overwhelmed

    June 4, 2017 by Diane

    Dear Digby,

    I’m not sure which direction to go in my life, so I’m dabbling in a bit of everything and feeling overwhelmed! I’m an introvert with limited amounts of energy, so I need a clear sign. What can I do to determine what would be the best use of my time and energy?

    Pooped

    Dear Pooped:

    I hear you, and I sympathize. I, too, am an introvert with limited energy. I take on too much, and wonder why I’m spent at the end of the day, unable to do anything more than watch reruns of The Bachelor in my imagination. When I skip my coveted downtime on Sundays—hanging in the park like some beached whale, reading a novel and eating chocolate, my anxiety ramps up. I start the work week on limited reserves, adding more stress, exacerbating my symptoms. Then I scan the environment, both internal and external, for the cause of my anxiety, magnifying it.

    My advice: allow yourself downtime every day—even a half hour!—and for at least half a day on the weekend. During that downtime, do relaxing activities: doodle, color, read, listen to music, meditate, take a walk, spend time in nature, play, hang out with one or two close friends. Too many people in your orbit will drain you. It’s okay to be a lazy-bones. In fact, you need it, to recharge.

    Now, for a clear sign as to where your limited stores of energy would be most beneficial for your success, ask yourself these questions:

    What does success look like to me?

    Success means different things to different people. Everyone knows that. But not everyone knows what success means for themselves. Is success writing a novel and submitting it for publication? Getting hired by a specific company? Starting your own business? Recording your own music? Is success devoting time to a spiritual path? Teaching, coaching, or motivating others? What gets your juices flowing in a good way?

    What, specifically, am I doing? 

    If success is still a vague concept to you, imagine yourself doing things that make you feel accomplished. Are you writing? If so, what are you writing? A blog? A newsletter? A screenplay? Are you designing a web page or brochure? Visualize the activities that bring fulfillment to you.

    What are the steps I need to take to make that happen?

    Once you have a solid idea of what success means to you, jot down all the steps to reach that goal. List them in reverse. Start with the final step, then ask yourself: in order for that to happen, what do I need to do? And before that, what? And before that, what? And keep asking until you get to the very first step you need to take. For example, your list might look something like this:

    Receive a call from my agent that a publisher accepted my book

    Submit edited manuscript to my agent

    Edit manuscript

    Revise manuscript

    Get an agent

    Contact possible agents

    Research possible agents

    Get a copy of Guide to Literary Agents

    …and so on, to your very first step:

    Write an outline for my novel.

    Now that you know that first teensy-weensy step, it’s time to do it. Yeah, get up off the lawn, you beached whale. Ask yourself:

    What time of day am I most productive?

    For me, it’s 10 am – noon. Fat lot of good that does if my goal is a creative project, since four days a week I’m working my day job during that time. But that leaves three days a week that I can be productive doing my own projects. Are you a morning person? Or are you sharper after dinner? Surely you can find two hours, or one hour, or fifteen minutes of productive time in your day. Block that time out on your schedule.

    What time of day am I the least productive?

    For me, it’s afternoons. Right around 3:00, when I should be getting a nap and cookies instead of working. Maybe for you, mornings are snooze-ville. Schedule non-brain draining activities during that time. Answer emails. Return phone calls. Watch webinars. Do chores. Exercise. Or do the tasks on your list that don’t require a lot of brain power, like reading e-newsletters or books related to your field.

    Give your project a trial run

    Devote three weeks to see how it feels to work toward your goal. Twenty-one days, that’s all. Every day, check your energy barometer. Do you feel juiced up with excitement, or crispy from adrenaline surges? What is your body telling you? As introverts we’re super in touch with our bodies, so all we need to do is trust our instincts.

    By giving yourself a fair shot, trying something out for 21 days, you’ll find your answer. Either it’s the right direction to take, or it’s the Wrong Way. If it’s wrong, then let it go and focus on something else. Maybe during those 21 days you discovered a side road that looked promising. Go explore that now for 21 days.

    But I just want a clear sign. Now, not 21 days from now!

    Okay, calm down. Ask yourself this:

    What do I want?

    If you don’t know, pick something. Anything. Then find a comfortable place by yourself, turn off all devices, put up the “gone fishing” sign, close your eyes, mentally relax your muscles, and visualize yourself doing that one thing. How does your body feel? Sit with it for awhile.

    If you’re torn between possibilities, do the visualization for each one, checking in with your body’s signals at the end of each exercise. Jot down any buts you come up with:

    But I can’t do that because_________

    But I need _______ before I can do ________.

    But I don’t have the chops.

    But I’m not ready.

    But it’s impossible.

    Through the day, be aware of solutions that present themselves in whispery thoughts, or from something you read, or something someone told you. Or ask a friend what they would do to overcome these temporary obstacles.

    Still not clear?

    Pretend you know the answer. A friend recommended this to me recently. Say, “If I knew the answer, it would be ______.”

    How does that feel?

    Bottom line:

    You have your answers. Sometimes you won’t like the answers, but you’ll know, deep down, what’s true. Sometimes the answers are buried under all the chatter in your brain, or lost in the swirl of activities you use as distractions. Sometimes you need others to help nudge them out. But if you settle down, and trust those flashes of instinct, you’ll find your way.

    And when you do, enjoy the journey. With plenty of rest stops along the way. Now, where’s my beach blanket?

    Takeaways this week:

    For more tips on finding your ideal productivity time, check out Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done, by Josh Davis.

    To learn productivity tips from a guy who spent a year experimenting on the subject, read The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy, by Chris Bailey.