Ah, the dreaded to-do list.
I created them all the time. On post-its, little scraps of paper, or sometimes in my planner (depending on which one I was using this week).
You can spend an awful lot of time creating lists and yet, nothing seems to get done. Or at least that's the way it feels.
When the to-do list is long or filled with unpleasant tasks, it's easy to feel a sense of overwhelm. You feel stuck. There's no way it will all get done. You could waste a lot of time worrying; or, you can regroup and create a new game plan.
Consider the following 5 practices to help you regain a sense of control and be more productive.
1. Breathing. No, this doesn't require any deep breaths or other breathing exercises. It is simply paying attention to the natural rhythm of your own breathing.
When we feel overwhelmed, it is often accompanied by anxiety. This leads to more shallow, rapid breaths. It's almost like we're holding our breath, literally afraid to exhale. Tuning in to the rhythm of your breathing connects your mind with your body and launches a calming process within your body.
Try it now: simply notice the place where you can feel your breath the most - maybe as the air enters and exits your nostrils, or as it moves across your slightly parted lips; you may feel it best at the back of the throat or just sense the movement of your chest or rise and fall of your belly with each breath.
Now, pause for a moment to notice how you feel. Are you feeling calmer? More relaxed? Breathing slower? It's just that easy. You just have to remember to breathe. Practice noticing your breath the next time you're feeling overwhelmed and watch what happens.
2. Making Decisions. When you're hanging out in the land of overwhelm, it's hard to know what to do next. And that can make it hard to know what to do when you reach a choice-point.
When you avoid or delay making decisions it stalls your progress and keeps you stuck. I remind the busy professional women that I work with that indecision is actually a decision. You are giving up your control to someone else (anyone else).
It is common to hesitate making decisions for fear of making a mistake, or disappointing someone. But, once you become more familiar with making decisions, you will feel more comfortable with the process.
Start with small decisions that are low risk. What are you going to have for dinner? What time are you going to go to bed tonight (yes, it's important to have a scheduled bed time; more on that in a future blog post)?
Even when you feel you need more information to make a decision, decide when you're going to make the decision (I learned this from my amazing coach, Christine Kane - thanks Christine!).
3. Taking imperfect action. This is another one I can thank Christine for (one of the many benefits of having a coach).
For those of us who consider ourselves perfectionists, it can serve to paralyze us. We either spend an excessive (and unnecessary) amount of time on a task or we delay starting it or completing it because we're waiting for it to be perfect.
Once you decide what needs to get done, breathe, and take action. It doesn't have to be perfect. Most of life is an iterative process. And, the side benefit is when you take imperfect action, you learn and grow while moving forward towards meeting your goal.
4. Celebrating your successes. Especially the little things...these often get completely overlooked.
I know for me, I would sometimes spend so much time focused on all that had to get done, that I couldn't see how much I'd actually accomplished.
I'll let you in on a little secret. Okay, are you ready? You can't get everything done. And, everything that is on your list, probably doesn't need to be there (again, that's for a future post).
Take a few moments at the end of each day, to write down what you accomplished. Include things that involved making time to take care of yourself (exercising, preparing a healthy meal, taking a warm bath). Now, celebrate by giving yourself a pat on the back. Say, "I'm proud that I accomplished "x" today.
Making this practice a regular part of your daily routine will help to boost your confidence and fuel your energy to take action on what needs to get done.
5. Correcting course. This one has been one of the hardest for me, personally. I would often find myself stuck because I was unwilling to admit that the plan I created is no longer working and needs to be changed.
There are times when I'm in the car using Waze to navigate to my destination when I'll hear a little sound followed by a swirling circle as the program indicates it's "recalculating". Our lives are the same way.
There will be times when we make a poor decision or head down the wrong road. But fortunately we have the capacity to recalculate - reassess where you are - determine your destination (it may be a new one) - and re-chart your course.
Practicing the 5 strategies above will serve you well when you're feeling stuck. Consider ways to trigger your memory to use these tools when you most need them. Print them out and post them on the refrigerator. Or, set a reminder to pop-up with one or more of the practices listed.
I hope you find them helpful you pivot as you get unstuck and move forward (while breathing a little easier). Let me know how the practices help you and what tips you have for remembering to use them.
Leave a comment below.
Uplifting Women in Medicine