You ever have one of those days?
Most of us have, I’m guessing…which is why there’s almost no need to explain what I mean by “one of those days!” We all have them, from time to time. Truly. Even the most optimistic or orderly person has days where plans have to get tossed out the window, everything seems to take twice as long as it should, or emergencies and crises rear up to notify you that your day has just been flipped upside-down.
Sometimes, though, depending on your frame of mind, that day can emerge more subtly than that. Slowly, your To-Do List grows longer and longer, there are items each day that aren’t getting done. There are more errands, more appointments, more get-togethers. You no longer feel like you’re getting enough done, because every time you look forward, all you can see is the ever-growing pile.
When might this kind of thing happen to a lot of us? Hmm, let me think…Maybe The Holidays? There are school concerts, and family and friends visiting from far away, or maybe you’re packing the family for a trip. There’s the holiday shopping, and holiday parties to attend, not to mention the cookies and treats to bake for the swap. Don’t forget to decorate and wrap.
And, if you wouldn’t mind, could you please sing along with the cheery holiday music, and perform all these tasks in a joyful spirit.
Sure. No Problem.
I have a friend who deals with moments like these with what I call his Ostrich Strategy. When he feels overwhelmed, because he has more to do than he feels he reasonably can, or some unforeseen crisis suddenly appears that completely flummoxes him, he sticks his head in the sand and wishes it all away. I mean, not literally, of course. But, he freezes, feeling there is just too much to do, and no way to do it all.
I have a confession. Two, actually. One is that my friend still tends to stick his head in the sand, although since we’ve talked about it, he tends to move on to other strategies a little more quickly than before. The second confession is—I’ve been known to be an ostrich at times, too.
I mean, it’s understandable. Here you are, clicking along, pretty comfortably, feeling good about how well you are handling your life. Then, all of a sudden; or maybe slowly and insidiously; you find yourself losing ground and unable to keep up. It’s just a fact that when you can’t tread water you feel like you’re sinking.
Or, the crisis drops on you out of nowhere. Things are going great until your car won’t start that one morning. Or, the printer breaks down the night before the presentation. Or, one of the kids is home sick the day you’re supposed to fly out on a business trip. <Fill in your own emergency here>
- The first important point to remember is: This isn’t your fault. You aren’t a bad person, and this isn’t a moral failing. You have become over-inundated with more than you can do. We all have physical and mental limits, and there are times when the requests exceed your abilities. That’s all.
- Let me state it clearly: We all have limits! If someone asked you to read the whole dictionary in 24 hours, even though it might be wonderful for your vocabulary, you just can’t do it. If someone needed you to run a mile in 3 minutes, it’s not gonna happen. Even when the To-Do List has tiny items on it, those items add up, and there’s a limit to how much you can do in a restricted amount of time.
- If you are a conscientious person, you may also be concerned with the quality of what you do accomplish. This is a legitimate concern. Your work represents you. At some point, beyond just what you are able to do, you need to decide for yourself where the line is to still assure yourself that what you do, you do well!
So, the strategy I try to use when I’m tempted to start digging head-sized holes, goes something like this—
- First, reflect on the 3 points I already made. You are not bad; this isn’t your fault; of course you’re overwhelmed, there’s only so much you can do; and you choose to do those things well.
- Learn to say NO! This another thing that does not make you a bad person. Later you can pat yourself on the back for your prudence. Why set yourself up to fail? When someone needs something from you, if you cannot see yourself able to manage it, say no. Explain that you wish you could, if that’s the case. Most times, they will move to another solution. Just remember, you don’t own their problem. You are managing your own. If you can help and want to, then help. But, if you can’t, don’t beat yourself up about it.
- Prioritize and Delegate. Decide what you absolutely have to get done first, and get it done. Finish it. Completely. If you can find someone to do a task that you yourself don’t have to do, ask them. (Here’s an important note—all of us think we have to personally do more than we do. If your back is to the wall, let something go. In fact, practice doing it even when you don’t have to. You’ll gain confidence in others, and they will usually rise to the opportunity).
If you follow these steps, the list should shrink. Pick the top priority, and put blinders on. Head down, little steps, get that first thing done. Then, reevaluate. Take another look at the list. Pick a new number one. Start again.
Finally, I have one more secret for you. You know that impossible list you had? Not only will it shrink because you’re getting one thing done at a time, and you are delegating, and you’re saying no to more tasks. The list will shrink, because things will go undone—GASP!!—and the world won’t end, and the sun will still rise. Other things will get done in some other way by someone else.
You can only do what you can do, and that is absolutely GOOD ENOUGH!
So, Happy Holidays! (OK, let me cross blog post off my list).