Feeling overwhelmed? How to stop being so busy

Feeling overwhelmed? How to stop being so busy

I want to tell you a story about time.

Some years ago we were sitting at a table in a restaurant waiting for our friend to arrive. He was late. Very late. This was in the time before mobile phones and we had no way of getting in contact with him to find out what had happened. We began to wonder whether he was in some sort of accident or had inexplicably become lost getting to the restaurant.

As time went on, we couldn’t decide what we should do. Would we wait just a little bit longer before ordering? Would we leave and try to find out where he was? Would we just go ahead and eat because we had already waited a long time and were getting very hungry? None of these options was really much good. The evening was a flop whichever way we went. In the end we ordered, ate quickly and then left. What a mess!

So what was the problem?

Things only got worse when we found out why it was he hadn’t come. It turned out that he had overbooked himself. He had committed himself to not one but two other things at the time he was meant to be meeting us. He had agreed to stay late at work and he had promised his neighbour he would help him install a new dishwasher, all at the same time as he had agreed to come out to dinner. In the end he disappointed not only us but his neighbour as well.

I’d like to tell you that this was a one off event but unfortunately it wasn’t. This was a regular occurrence with this particular friend. He simply did not know how to manage his time. He would see all of these great opportunities and be unable to realise that it was not possible to do them all. He would begin with good intentions, wanting to make the most of all of these possibilities. He tried to do everything and make everyone happy but in the end he would make no-one happy.

No matter how hard we tried, we could not convince him that it was better to risk disappointing us at the beginning of this whole process than at the end. When we asked him to join us for the meal he should have told us he couldn’t make it because he was already busy. We would have been slightly disappointed but it certainly would not have been the end of the world.

Now our friend was not an unusual person. Perhaps he took things to the extreme but we are all capable of making similar mistakes. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of over-scheduling our time. We try to do far more than any person could possibly fit into their day and then berate ourselves when we didn’t get it all done.

Surely I have time to do just one more thing?

Be honest now. You have been guilty of doing this. You have found yourself trying to squeeze in just one more thing and then suffered the consequences. I know that I certainly have. The opportunities don’t even have to be anything particularly exciting. The things I need to do and the things I want to do are always competing with each other in my day. It’s easy to look at my lists and become overwhelmed because I can’t do it all.

What is the solution to being so busy?

This is when it is important to stop, take a step back and look at the situation objectively. I find that when I am starting to feel overwhelmed, the best place to start is to write down everything. I am not creating a to-do list, I am simply recording everything so that I don’t forget any one thing. Sometimes this is enough. Simply writing things down gives me clarity, I am able to identify the important items and do those.

Taking it a step further.

Other times I need to be a little more specific. I make two lists. On one, I write all of the things I could be doing, on the other, I write all of the things I have to do. When you do this you will find that the ‘could be doing’ list will be quite long. There are all of the housework tasks, the left over from the work day tasks, the family tasks and often left until the bottom of the list are the self care tasks.

Then we can consider the ‘have to’ tasks. When doing this, I am very particular about only writing down the things that must be done today and that cannot be left for another time. For example, it will be necessary to sort out the evening meal but the world will not stop turning if I don’t wash the kitchen floor. It might need doing and if there is time it could go next on my list but if there is not, that’s simply something that can be left off for now.

Making better decisions.

We need to get better at doing the things that need to be done and leaving everything else. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by burning the candle at both ends and almost killing ourselves trying to do everything. We know that we can only keep up that sort of pace for a short time before we burn out and end up unable to do anything at all.

We have more opportunities now than ever before, therefore we need to be more deliberate in how we use our time than ever before. I like to use my planner to identify the ‘have to do’ tasks and then schedule them into my day. By doing this at the beginning of the day I can easily see how much I can realistically get done. If I don’t like the outcome, I am able to adjust a few things before I start so that the important work is achieved and I can finish the day feeling accomplished.

If you are struggling to find the time to fit everything into your day then the timewrangling workbook might be just what you need. Learn how to optimise the time in your day and never again feel like you have failed because there are still things on your to do list.

The biggest lesson to learn is that we can do it all but not all at the same time. Click To Tweet