No matter how determined you are to remain positive, everyone has times when we find ourselves burning the candle at both ends, running late for everything, and still feeling like we aren’t getting it all done. This past week was just such a week for me. It seemed a good time to share with you some of the steps I take toward restoring equilibrium, whenever I realize that I’m about to hit the wall.
First, assume crash position. OK, not really (though curling into fetal position can be tempting).
1. I remind myself that I always have a choice.
If I am too busy, I remind myself that it is because I chose to take on extra activities. I also have the choice at any time to say no — to new things and also to the things I’ve already taken on. Whether it always feels like it or not, we do have options. Even if it’s not “extra” activities but work itself that is pushing me to the wall, I do not have to work this job. I can leave and find another. Therefore, I am choosing to stay at this job if I do.
Yes, every choice has consequences, some more challenging to deal with than others. Saying no to something I said I would do requires humility, while changing jobs may require tightening my belt for a while or cancelling a planned vacation. But often for me, just remembering that I could choose at any time to change things — activities, occupation, address, the state or country I live in — is enough to relieve that feeling that I am somehow stuck.
2. I get in touch with someone who loves me, who will remind me of those choices I have, and who will assure me that the world won’t end if I make a few of them.
Getting an enormous to-do list out of my head and having some caring feedback gets me to breathing regularly again almost immediately. Good friends remind you of what is most important in life. They help you make objective decisions of what to cut back on when you are too in the thick of things to see clearly. And, if they’re doing their job (mine do!), they convince you not only that it’s acceptable to make some room for yourself and to relax, but that it’s exactly the thing you ought to do. Then, they check up on you to make sure you did it, offering support when you feel like a heel for bowing out.
3. I make room for a “just me” kind of treat.
Creating a little head space to enjoy some time alone can do wonders to back you up from that wall, even giving you the added umph to push through the things you’ve chosen to keep on the plate. For me, this might be a night drive to the ocean, or a solo dinner and movie. (Presently, it is likely going to take the form of a massage for which I was given a gift certificate, and about which I am very excited!)
I find it helpful to scribble down a list of what I still have on my plate, before I embark on my “treat.” This helps me to get it out of my head and not carry it with me during my down time. If that feeling of being overwhelmed creeps into my mind, I just remember that it’s all written down back home. I won’t forget anything. It’s not going anywhere. And I don’t need to do anything about those things until I pick up that list again later.
I know young mothers, and guys who work two jobs. For you, this may sound impossible at first. I can only assure you that it isn’t impossible. It will just require making some choices. Swap kid-sitting with a friend, with the idea that they, too, can make space for some refill time. Use one of those personal days that is part of your employment benefits, but which you never use and wind up wasting, simply because your boss frowns when you mention needing some time off. Once you realize the power you actual have to make different choices (and the benefits of doing so), you’ll get better at it and it won’t seem so terrifying.
4. Assess during my head-clearing time away what it was that got me into the jam in the first place, and then adjust accordingly.
You know what they say about falling into the same hole twice. One of the best decisions I’ve made, during a stretch some years ago when I was out straight for months, was to not take on anything new and of consequence without three days consideration. I actually tell people that this is my policy: “I leave myself three days to consider how new things will fit into my schedule. Can I get back to you in three days?” If people need an immediate answer, then my answer is an automatic “no.” When I stick to this, I am a far happier person. When I don’t — well, I quickly find myself remembering how smart I was when I instituted it in the first place.
Stop. Take a breath. Make some different choices.
Leave crashing to the dummies.