I have a bad habit of doing too much. The problem is that I want to do All The Things. Something looks interesting or exciting and I add it to my long list of things to do, which I know I’ll never complete. Then something looks extra interesting and I decide to do it now. Or I notice a thing from my ever-growing list and think, I should really do that now. It seems like a good idea in the moment. But then…. Yeah.
I keep adding new things without taking anything away, and you know what happens? Predictably, I get completely overwhelmed. Of course. It’s so obvious right now, but when I’m in the moment, I don’t realize it’s happening. This time, it got to the point where I realized I didn’t feel like I had time in the middle of the day to read a book or enjoy a spontaneous phone call with a friend. I’m disabled and unable to work full time, but I’m trying to work or be “productive” during as many hours as I can. And sometimes that’s too many hours for my own good. Plus, even my current level is too much, but starting next week I’ll be adding a new, big thing. (It’s so exciting! I’ll tell you all about it after I start.) So last week I decided that enough was enough, and I pulled out a pen and paper and wrote down everything I’ve been doing.
It’s not like I didn’t already know what’s been filling my time, but I need to see it all listed out. I went through the last few weeks and the next few weeks in my calendar. I went through my weekly to-do list. I wrote down the obvious things like paid work and medical appointments. I included my volunteer work and time I’m spending on a book I’m writing. I added in social time with friends. I noted the less-obvious-but-completely-necessary things like cooking, cleaning, daily exercise, and not-daily-but-should-be-daily physical therapy. And then I looked at the list, shook my head, and said out loud, “No wonder I’m so stressed out and overwhelmed.”
The question was, what to do about it? Nothing in that list on its own was burdensome, but it added up to too much. We all have limits on our time and energy. We have limits from our health, jobs, families, and the number of hours in a day, among other things. For me, it’s mainly my health that limits me. I needed to get within my limits.
Everything on my list is important to me, but something’s gotta give. I eventually decided that I care enough about it all that I won’t remove anything, but I will reduce. That volunteer work is too much. So I talked to the other volunteers and one of them is happy to have me hand over several projects to them. That not only reduces the time I’ll spend overall, but also my stress levels and overwhelm, since I’ll have less responsibility there. (I’ll still be volunteering there, but on a lot fewer projects.) Instead of working on my book every week, I’m going to work on it every other week. I hate to cut back on paid work, especially since I have so little of it, but I have to prioritize health appointments and exercise, home stuff (like cooking and laundry), and social time with friends. To make room for those, I’ll be cutting back a little bit on paid work.
I want to do more more more. Always. But my brain is writing checks that my body can’t cash, and that’s no way to live. This past week I’ve been making an effort to take more breaks. I read a little more and worked a little less. That means that some things are getting done more slowly than I’d like. I had to order a supplement that was running low. I also wanted to add a new B vitamin when I placed the order. The week before I had researched several B vitamins online and then called a few companies to ask about their vitamins’ ingredients, and they either said the items contain gluten and/or corn, or they couldn’t tell me. It was stressing me out, and taking way too much time. I was running low on the necessary supplement. So you know what I did? I ordered that supplement and decided the B vitamin has waited this long and it’s ok if it waits a bit longer. Was I happy about it? No. But did I have less stress and a little more time to relax? Yes. And that makes me happier now that it’s done.
I am making a huge effort to not fill every minute. If I have half an hour free before a Zoom call I could try to catch up on email, but usually I just feel overwhelmed and end up scrolling Facebook, which doesn’t help at all. Instead, I am now trying to use that half hour to take a walk, call or text a friend, read a book, or pick up my knitting. Or I check in with my body and realize I’m tired and just need to rest. This is so much better than continuing to do things and not realizing until it’s too late that I overdid it.
The key now will be to keep it up, and to stop trying to squeeze so much stuff into my non-rest time. Just because I am not resting at this minute does not mean I have to “do something.” Ok, maybe at this moment I’m busy typing out a blog post. But you know what I mean. I’ve felt bad about writing on here so much less often, but I knew it was what needed to happen. Then I felt inspired to write on this topic, because it’s one that I’m pretty sure many of you can relate to and I knew I had something to say, and here we are. I had the time and I’m not feeling rushed.
I now have exactly 2.5 hours before I need to do a particular thing later. I have been making a big effort to have fewer items on my to-do list each day, and today I managed it. In those 2.5 hours I don’t have to do anything except take a walk and eat dinner. It would be nice if I could do a few physical therapy exercises, too, but it’s a gorgeous day outside and I might try to sit outside and read a book for a bit. That’s it. Sure, I did lots of things this morning. That happens. I dealt with some paperwork for a medical appointment. I finished filling out a 28 page form for my moderate-income housing and pulled together the accompanying 35 documents (seriously, WTF?!?), which I need to do each year. I took a walk. I spoke to my mom (while I walked – bonus for multitasking!) I ate lunch. I answered some emails and did a little client work and a little volunteer work (just a few minutes of each, but still.) I got advice from a friend. And now I am typing this. Seriously, that is already such a full day! And I feel the need to do more than that?!? That really has to change.
This has been a problem for me for many years. I do too much, cut back, feel like things are going better, add in some new things that strike my interest, and get overwhelmed again. I don’t believe I’ve broken the cycle completely, but if I can be in the “doing better” stage for a little while, I’ll be happy. And for now, that will be enough.
So tell me in the comments, do you struggle with this too? How do you handle it? How do you cut back when you want to do All The Things? I’d love any tips you can share!