Dealing with Being Overwhelmed

We’re coming up on Thanksgiving, and I was looking over my house this weekend and just feeling overwhelmed. In my head, the renovation would be done long before we hit the holidays, and yet we’re still putting the final touches on it here and there. It has felt like I’ve had an unending list of things that need to get done, and no matter what I do, I never make any progress toward being done. That’s definitely not fun, but the worse consequence of that has been that I’ve felt like I can’t ever really take a break. Every time I’m doing something other than working on that list, I’ve felt guilty that I’m not being productive.

I know this isn’t true. I’m well aware of just how important it is for me to take breaks and wind down, but for some reason, I haven’t been able to really believe that this time around. Saturday was especially discouraging, as it was the end of a very long week, and more and more things kept coming. I was really at a loss for what to do.

Then I remembered another time in my life when I was feeling this way: back when I was getting my Masters in English at BYU. At the time, I had so much writing to get done and reading to do, between my thesis and my class assignments and my teaching, that it felt like I’d never be done. At the time, I solved the problem by adding up all the writing and reading I needed to do (by pages), and then divide that by the number of days I had left until those things were due. I don’t remember what the exact breakout was, but it was something like “write 3 pages and read 40 pages,” or something like that. Every day. Which maybe sounds daunting, but it was a relief more than anything. If I wrote and read that much, I was on track. If I was on track, I could take a break and know I wasn’t getting further behind.

It’s the main way I stayed on top of everything back then. And if it worked back then, it will work now.

So what I asked myself was, “What do I really want right now?” And the answer was, “I want to spend my Thanksgiving vacation relaxing and enjoying myself. I’d like the house to be cleaned and ready for winter, so I don’t have to worry about any of it any more.” Once I had that in mind (an actual ultimate goal of all this To Do list), then it was simply a matter of sitting down and figuring exactly what that would look like, and what steps I’d have to take. What needed to happen with the bathroom? What rooms need cleaning? What other chores?

I listed all that, and then wrote down every day between now and Thanksgiving, and I began divvying out tasks on each day. Putting the wood away for an hour or two. Painting the bathroom trim. Cleaning the office. Shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. I kept putting things down until everything was spread out, and I was comfortable with thinking I’d be able to do those things on those days. (I’d also written down general scheduling things I’d already committed to, to make it as doable as possible.)

Sunday, I looped the rest of the family in. They were all on board, thankfully, and so now, it’s just a matter of putting it into practice. I estimated more time than I thought I’d really need for each job, and I built in some buffers just in case I fell behind. My guess is that we’ll get ahead of the plan. Once I had everything scheduled out, suddenly things seemed much more doable, so if nothing else, at least I’m feeling better for the moment. It also got me back into doing things instead of just sitting around feeling overwhelmed. (Sitting around feeling overwhelmed, curiously enough, doesn’t do much for actually getting things done.)

Anyway. That’s where I am right now. Here’s hoping the schedule works . . .

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