Are you feeling swamped by all the possibilities, activities, and responsibilities in your life?
I can relate. I am a #1 on the Enneagram, the Perfectionist or Reformer, which means that it is easy for me to notice things that need improving or tweaking. Walking from my home office to the bathroom, my attention can be drawn to 5-10 things I could do! Which means my to-do list can get really long if I’m not careful.
And I love to learn about self-improvement, culture, and creativity, so any new books, classes & podcasts around growth are super tempting! Without realizing it, I might be reading a stack of books, taking a couple classes, and downloading enough podcasts to keep me busy for hours.
Add in the activities and responsibilities of parenting two active, social kids and running a business and I might as well throw up my hands!
It’s exhausting and embarrassing to write all this! Especially when I understand that mental clutter can be just as overwhelming & debilitating as physical clutter.
I could try to justify it all with the phrase I often hear from busy moms, “But it’s all good things.” These words usually follow the crazy list of everything that they are juggling, like the one I just rattled off.
I understand what these words are trying to say. I, too, try to live in gratitude for all of the good that comes into my life, but there comes a point when too many good things can’t be called good anymore. All those “good things” are coming at a price.
You see the research on clutter, stress, and productivity reaffirms what my heart has been asking me to recognize for a long time. When you keep adding more options & more to-dos then there will be trade-offs. And too often what I push aside, as the next good thing comes in, are the items that feed my soul.
Not just the good stuff, but the real stuff. The stuff that I long to do. That I enjoy. That I know in my heart will help to make me ME.
So how do you put the brakes on when you have fallen in a pattern of adding more and more, and can feel the trade-offs are getting harder to swallow? It’s not easy. This can be a hard pattern to shift – I am working at it every day – but here are some things that I believe will help.
First recognize the discomfort that saying yes has created. It’s that little let down that you felt when you said YES to one more activity, volunteer request, or work projects and NO to time you could spend on your hobby, health, or chance to have more free time. You probably didn’t recognize the trade-off at that point but that little feeling of resistance or disappointment was a little sign that this YES was going to come at a price. The more good stuff that came in, the more the discomfort grew.
Acknowledge this discomfort without putting yourself down about it. There is no shame in looking at the facts. You got overloaded and didn’t know any other way, it happens. There are so many great opportunities out there and it all seems important and relevant, so it isn’t surprising that your calendar and time got filled up.
But now that the discomfort is getting more noticeable, it’s time to step back and get some perspective. Find a quiet place to sit and take a deep breath. Then exhale all of the stress you have carried as you juggled your million things. Let it go.
And then get out a piece of paper (it can be that crumpled receipt or grocery list stuck in the bottom of your purse) and make a list of the things in your life that you enjoy vs. the things that you do because you feel like you should or could. When you take time to look at all of the things you are doing & why, it can highlight the stuff that came in without you realizing it vs. the stuff that you really want to do and intentionally chose.
The next step is to move forward with Melissa Camara Wilkins advice in mind –
As you look at the list, think about letting go of some of the things that entered your life because someone said you should try it or do it or be it. Just because someone else thinks those activities or opportunities are great, doesn’t mean they are right for you.
And if you have a broken record in your own head offering lots of shoulds about how things need to be done or how much work you need to take on, then start talking back to that voice. Let it know that you are doing just fine without all the suggestions!
Finally, get clear on the things that you won’t trade-off. One of the things on the top of my list is sleep – I’m no fun & super unproductive if I don’t get good sleep, so it is easier to say no to any opportunity or project that would put a kink in getting enough sleep. Taking time to recognize all the things that you are not willing to trade-off can make decisions much easier.
Now you get to decide how quickly you want to cut out some of the items on the list that you don’t enjoy or realize that you didn’t really want to start in the first place. Look for ways to give notice, pass them along, decrease the time commitment, or cut them out cold turkey.
Remember going forward that you get to decide what you want to spend time on, not extra voices offering you all those coulds and shoulds.