A little overwhelm goes a long way

I was listening to this really fantastic podcast about getting organized and it got me thinking. How much am I really trying to do?

They said that no one should have more than 7-8 projects at any given time. A project might be redesigning this web site (something I’ve thought about, but….) or knitting a scarf. That’s different than tasks, which are the small bits that make up a project, like finding a new web site theme, reading about how to transfer the site to a fancier host, finding a knitting pattern, or buying yarn.

Ok, that sounds fine. But 7-8 projects is a lot. I figured I should have less, maybe half that. April said that most people have dozens, or even hundreds, of projects on their to do lists, but most can’t handle more than 7 or 8 at a time. I knew I had a lot of projects on my to do list, but I figured wasn’t trying to do that many at once.

Or so I thought. Oh boy. I had at least a dozen. I decided to put a bunch off until later. I made a list of 8 projects, then listed out my tasks.

That was over a month ago and everything was going great. Until this week. I admit I was struggling to juggle all of those projects before, but now it just feels completely impossible. 8 is too many, but it’s hard to put any of them aside when they’re all things I either really need or really want to do.

Should I stop working on the projects that might earn me some money? That isn’t really an option. I could skip the favor that I promised I’d do for a friend. But I’m 90% done and I promised her 10 months ago. I’d really love to finish already! Or should I skip buying pants? I only have 1 pair that fits, and that might be ok in some climates, but not here in Boston.

But then I have a bigger project. I’m moving. This is a great news. I’ll be in a lovely apartment in a nice town. I’ll have all sorts of amenities and I’ll get a dog. The thing is, first I have to change my address in a million different places, sell a bunch of furniture, hire movers, get boxes, and pack! It’s overwhelming. It’s the equivalent of 3 projects.

And that’s probably why I haven’t worked on that favor I promised to help my friend with and I haven’t bought pants (though in fairness, I tried shopping for pants twice and couldn’t find anything either time, so I did try,) and I haven’t done a thing for 3 of my other projects in the last couple of weeks, either. I’m struggling to keep my head above water here.

And yet, I don’t have a full time job. My health isn’t great but it’s fairly stable right now. I don’t have a significant other or kids or even a pet to take up my time. That isn’t to say I don’t have good reason to feel a bit overwhelmed, but maybe it isn’t as difficult as it seems. Maybe I need to take a step back and reexamine things.

I have a lot going on. Appointments are taking up time and energy. But in between those, I need to find a way to fit in some of the projects I’ve prioritized. They’re on my priority list for a reason, so I need to find a way to do them. Because I know I’ll be happier when I do. And less overwhelmed and anxious.

This overwhelm and anxiety is not good for my health and I know it. It even causes me to get less done! Talk about being counterproductive.

Still, I need to be realistic. And that’s why, until I’ve moved and unpacked, I’m removing a couple of projects from my list. 8 is too many, especially if preparing to move is one of them.

But I still plan to buy pants.

What about you? Do you get overwhelmed by what seem like a reasonable number of projects and tasks? How do you handle it? How do you choose what to set aside and what to focus on? Please comment so we can give each other ideas!

Update 2 days later: After giving this more thought and considering the lovely comments by Lorna J. and Ms. Mango, I made a couple decisions. First, I’m categorizing my projects as big, medium, and small. Big is moving. Small is putting a disability-rights bumper sticker on my car. Next, I’m keeping the small ones, but I’m doing them asap and getting them off my plate. I’m moving a couple of the bigger and medium ones off my list. They’ll have to wait until later.

That leaves me with something that feels a bit more reasonable. I did one little thing today: I put the bumper sticker on my car. So little. So easy. But that sticker has been sitting on my table for months! I’m relieved to have that done! I just needed the push. Another small one is an errand that will be done tomorrow. A very large project that I’ve been working on for a while should be done by Sunday (2 more days!) at the latest. And once these things are all done, I’m not adding anything else to my list until after I move.

That will leave me with just 3 projects: moving, buying pants (unfortunately that can’t wait, but I’m going to try and do it tomorrow along with the other errand), and working on a project that I care a lot about. I’ll still have smaller things: knitting and physical therapy and cooking and other daily stuff. But the “projects” list will finally be reasonable! Thanks for the support and encouragement!

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6 Responses to A little overwhelm goes a long way

  1. Lorna J says:

    Well I would do everything you need to do in order to move successfully. Focus fully on that. I think it’s more than three projects anyway. Oh and see if you can get your trousers. Eight projects is quite a large number, try four and then you can always increase. I can’t cope with lots of projects now so tend to focus on one or two things until they are finished.
    I am so excited and pleased you’ve found somewhere to move to. Hugs xx

  2. Ms. Mango says:

    I get extremely overwhelmed when I feel like I have too much to (and it happens far too often). The thing is like most people, I do it to myself by piling on a lot of projects at the same time and slowly getting them all done or in most cases leaving them half done for insane amounts of time. I have found that I cope better both physically and mentally by picking less projects at once and focusing more or all of my attention on one or two from start to finish and then moving on than switching between a few. This is especially important for mandatory projects like a move, family function if we’re hosting, surgery prep etc. I usually have that one big thing I have to do and one side FUN thing to blow off steam that usually requires very little brain power and only takes a short amount of time like baking a single batch of drop cookies or reading a magazine. It’s important to not just focus on a to do list and have enjoyable time in between too, even if its busy, it can really help with the stress. I think the biggest things I’ve had to accept as I’ve gotten more ill is that being a perfectionist is no longer a viable option and I can’t always do everything myself.I still have trouble asking for help but I have gotten better at accepting things don’t have to be perfect to be finished (though things like finding a pair of pants that fit right, there’s no settling there).

    • chronicrants says:

      Thanks Ms. Mango! You make a lot of sense here. And I think not having enough social time with friends has definitely made it harder lately. Sure, that gives me less time to work on things, but it makes me happier and more productive when I do. I decided on some changes, and I updated the post with them 🙂

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