A friend recently asked how I was doing. “Pretty good” is my typical response. “Some days are better than others. Some days are overwhelming and some days are manageable.”
And I stop to reflect. What makes my days overwhelming?
I know the overwhelm hits me at different times for different reasons… but I think the majority happens in the space between a long to-do list and an unstructured day. I hesitate to dive too deep into a project or to-do item, because I know I’ll be needed at some point in the hour and “the zone” I’ve entered will be interrupted. I can’t run errands except during specific periods of time in which I can predict with relative certainty no one will need me for the hour or two. Even then, leisurely strolls are unlikely and there’s always this underlying stress of needing to rush to get back home. I sometimes feel like if I move too fast or start something new, I’ll awaken one of the giants in the house and will be called to help with this, that or the other thing. They sense when I’m ready to not be on call, so they all call at once.
Some days I have a blank canvas of open time and I feel like I can take on the world. But then slowly the kids or my husband or my own lack of focus eats away at a few minutes here, a few minutes there, and hours later I’ve accomplished very little. And for some reason, that feels stressful to me. I need to feel productive yet I must remain flexible and those can come into direct conflict at times. It overwhelms me to be pulled out of a task that I’m focused on to help someone with one of their priorities. The world doesn’t run on my schedule and that is highly unfortunate!
So I’m doing myself a favor here and putting together a better strategy so I can get real about my time and my days, and actually feel productive without the overwhelm.
- What are the big projects or goals for the next month / six months/ year that you won’t necessarily work on daily but need to keep in mind and work towards? What needs to go on this weeks short term list to make it happen?
- Set goals for the week. Consider various aspects of life. For me, this means including goals for what I need to accomplish as a mom and manager of the household (planning meals, groceries, etc), as a caregiver, and for my own self care. This also means scheduling outside help to coordinate with the help I will need. Scheduling around appointments or other formal commitments. Seeing the weekly picture helps establish a reasonable expectation of what to add to the list.
- What are my must-dos vs want-to-dos? PRIORITIZE.
- Write down the block of time I want to accomplish each item in. BE REALISTIC about the time commitment plus potential interruptions. Side note: I find being somewhat flexible is helpful, but can also be detrimental if I don’t stay on top of that block of time. For example, if my goal is to plan the week’s meals on Sunday afternoon, it’s not unlike me to wait until 4:30 and then scramble to do it. I’m better off forcing myself into a tighter timeline (1-2pm) from a productivity standpoint.
- How frequently do the tasks need to be done to hit bigger goals? Think fitness… it’s not a once a week thing. Getting exercise into my daily routine is a non-negotiable. Negotiables include when I’ll do it and how long of a work-out it will be. I allow myself two rest days a week; scheduling those in advance helps me stay on track the other days.
- Be specific. The devil is in the details. “Relax” is not specific. “Clean” is not specific. “Organize” is not specific. Lack of specificity leads to aimless attempts and no real achievement.
- And be realistic. Know my own limits and to allow for other demands to come up.
Overall I find writing out the week in advance, the more likely I am to manage tasks and stay on track. What I still struggle with is finding the right balance between being productive and goal-oriented, and being fluid to handle what comes my way and letting go of what I don’t get to. I suppose that’s where the grace comes in, to allow myself room to float between the two without feeling guilty.
What are your tips for staying focused and managing everything on your plate?