Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Things To Do

 What do you do when your list of things to do feels overwhelming?
Disclaimer: the above is not reflective of my current To Do List, but rather my Fantasy To Do List. 

Right now, my list feels so very long.  There are things to do in the immediate future: prep for my upcoming events, return phone calls, clean out that crazy overflowing drawer in the bathroom.  There are the omnipresent things to do: laundry, make dinner, laundry, grocery shop, pay bills, laundry.  Then there things to do in the future: refinish my desk, work on and launch SMJ 2.0, plot my next career move, crunch my way to a six-pack, perfect that Chicken and Broccoli Rice recipe (still not ready for prime time, as I found out the hard way last night).  Finally the minutiae of life: keeping mine and lil' J's nails from turning into talons, weeding the clothes he's outgrown out of his drawers, Swiffering up the dog hair (again).  Each item on its own is so pedestrian and simple, they make me feel like an utter cliche. However their cumulative effect is something akin to a dog walker walking too many sizes of dogs at once; the big ones bounding out in front, the small ones running circles around my ankles, and the end result being me sweating and tangled in leashes, wondering what to do next.

Here's what usually happens to me when I become overwhelmed with To Dos:
1) I get a tingly, slightly panicked feeling in my outer extremities, and a tight feeling in my chest.
2) I then feel the need to escape this feeling completely, so I chuck it all and end up doing something like baking banana bread or reading the Style Section of the New York Times.
3) After escaping briefly, I inevitably attack the list, usually getting more done than I thought I could or would on any given day.  Yet, the overwhelmed feeling remains, rarely being swapped for a feeling of completion or relief.

I can see that some of this is healthy (taking a break, baking, creating some work/life balance), and some of it is not (never really allowing myself to celebrate my successes and completions, and instead just moving on to the endless and inevitable Next).  What I am after, as always, is more balance in this equation:  a way to see how manageable and tackle-able even my most formidable lists are, and promise to exhale completely and renew myself for the next day. 

A friend suggested that I attack my stress proactively, planning out my day by the half-hour, making distinct tasks for each period of thirty minutes, and adopting a steely resolve to stay on task for the time period (no reading Babble.com while I'm supposed to be writing a memo, no writing a memo when I ought to be cooking dinner with a glass of wine). I can see the value in this, but worry that more rigidity will only lead to more stress, not less.  Essentially, I want to holistically overhaul my approach to being overwhelmed in a laissez-faire and mellow fashion that doesn't involve further lists, charts and graphs.  This is what I am pondering this fine Tuesday...

In short, there has to be a better way.  Maniacal mamas and systems-oriented sisters (and productive papas and busy bros)... talk to me.  How do you do it? 
I adore your advice and hearing how other people handle the juggling act.  Hit me back!


  1. After having the pleasure of spending a week with SMJ, I can confidently say that she can run blindfolded circles around the systems-oriented sisters, productive papas, and busy bros. SMJ, you get more done in a day than anyone I know!
    I wish I knew the formula to the perfect balance equation, unfortunately I do not. In my non-expert opinion though, I think the component SMJ should focus on is, "never really allowing myself to celebrate my successes and completions, and instead just moving on to the endless and inevitable Next."

  2. this made me think of a great article in this week's new yorker - http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2010/10/11/101011crbo_books_surowiecki?currentPage=all
    you're not alone and i agree with anonymous.

  3. Well, I'm still stuck in 30-minute planning/lists, so I'm sorry to not be able to offer any helpful advice. I did want to say, however, that one of my mama gurus recently wrote me and bemoaned the fact that she just could not keep on top of her household anymore. She was thinking/planning of taking a week off, just to do a major cleaning overhaul and set things straight in her home.

    While this might not be the intended use of vacation time (remember when vacation time meant, say, trip to Disneyland?!), I can see the value in taking this time to get done the things that become neglected in the day-to-day hustle and bustle. Once you have your feet back underneath you, perhaps you can then hit that day-to-day running; or, at least, with a lighter step!

  4. I agree with anonymous, SMJ! And I think Courtney's idea is fabulous - it's called a "staycation", I believe.

    Also, sometimes it's ok to let some of those list items fall to the wayside. Dust bunnies can wait and fingernails can be bitten off sometimes, ya know? Sometimes letting go of the things you think you're "supposed" to be doing is the best way, and working on being ok with that is the answer.

    Also, sometimes I think blasting music or wearing headphones while doing chores not only makes them more fun, but keeps me on task somehow.


  5. The best advice I ever read, some years back, was from someone who suggested making a list of whatever you could think of that needed doing in a day, and then feeling really super proud of yourself if you crossed off even two items. And those two items could be as simple as "brush teeth", and "make bed".

    I can't explain why, but it works for me. Sometimes I even get to cross off ten items or more, but I never feel guilty.