Preface: I’m sharing this blog post, originally posted 13 May 2016 on my old blog site, because it speaks aptly to where I find myself now. Trying to ‘do it all,’ I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and fatigued. This weekend, I let myself rest, and it did my body and mind good.
Maybe “doing it all” won’t kill, but it can definitely maim the spirit, bring you down.
That’s what happened to me.
I just didn’t know it until this morning, waking up to grey skies and damp streets, and feeling a bit humdrum about the day ahead. But by the time I ventured out to drop off my dry cleaning and to grab an early morning coffee Atlas Espresso Bar, the rain had stopped. The blue skies were mainly clear, the sun was shining, the air was warm. The weather had changed so quickly, and my mood along with it.
Ever since my computer crashed last month, I’ve been working to fix my daily routine. In a word: find my focus. I’ve cut out the distractions while I write, i.e., turn the TV off. I’m getting up earlier, around 5:00 am each day, to focus on my most important creative projects when I feel the freshest. I’ve adjusted my attitude, not letting myself be beaten down by my inner critic who was constantly asking me, “What’s the point?” I can say, with a sense of pride, that I’ve been successful at maintaining these “new” work habits for the past month. My productivity has soared. I’ve taken action (hired an editor, set to work on a new website, began learning more about social media, written a strategic plan) hoping to move more confidently in the direction of my dreams. I should feel more confident about my creative journey, right?
Why doesn’t it feel like enough? Why is it that I still feel a sense of disappointment?
Because I’m still trying to do it all.
I’ve been equating increased productivity with success without really taking the time to see if I’m working on the projects that do in fact matter the most. I haven’t really understood that there are trade-offs, and time dedicated to one project/activity cannot be used for another. If I’m going to spend three to five hours in the kitchen every afternoon preparing a homemade meal, then I have to realize – and accept – that maybe it’s going to take a little longer for me to write the first draft of a novel, complete the rewrite of a manuscript, or finish building my website. It’s been that lack of understanding, ignorance even, about the importance and necessity of trade-offs that’s made me feel overwhelmed, like I’m stalled. Oliver Burkeman says it nicely: “[…] we make enormous efforts to ignore the reality of trade-offs – and, as a consequence, deny ourselves the best chance of a maximally fulfilling creative career” (“Stop Trying to ‘Do It All’”). I’ve been trying to rush, rush, rush ahead, letting myself be swept up in the hustle and bustle of life, and to what end?
I’ve been equating increased productivity with success without really taking the time to see if I’m working on the projects that do in fact matter the most.
I remind myself today that it’s not a competition. Thanks to my strategic plan, I know where I want to go and by when I want to get there. I’ll be better served, and so will my writing career, if I focus on a short list of tasks to accomplish each day. I’ll bring the top of my game to each task, hopefully see the progress I’m making, and not feel overwhelmed. I see it now as the best way to weather the storm that is doubt and fear.
Already I’m feeling less overwhelmed, the restlessness beginning to ebb. It really is a matter of perspective. Sometimes, trying to push through the doubt and fear, it’s hard to see clearly the track that has been laid, how far along I’ve actually come. That’s why we can only take life one day at a time and, as artists, show up each day to do what really excites us. Let our passion fuel us, help us to love the moment in which we find ourselves, and give our very best to our work.
That, to me, is happiness.
Postscript: In February 2017, I discovered the bullet journal system. While I have modified its approach to suit my needs, it has made a huge difference in how I approach my daily tasks. I no longer feel overwhelmed, and by focusing each day on no more than three (3) top priorities, I can actually see the progress I’m making. It’s not just that my productivity has increased, but that I also feel a sense of forward momentum.
Are you trying to do it all? What strategies do you have in place to help you stay focused on the tasks that matter? And if you end up overwhelmed, what do you do to shake that feeling?
Let me know in the comments section below.
Matt Doyle Media says
Oh, I certainly feel overwhelmed a lot with writing. Between 2-3 blog psots per week, writing two drafts at once, editing 3-4 more, plus planning others … I tend to fill my plate up. I found that better planning helped me. For example, I had msot of my May blog posts written and set up by the end of the first week of April. After that, concentrating on the two manuscripts every night for a set period of time gets them done, then when I need to step away from them, I can dive into the editing. In some ways, having a lot on the go suites me though. I like knowing that I have plenty going on and that i’m working towards finishing them.
Thanks so much for sharing, Matt!
Like yourself, having a lot on the go suites me. It is sometimes challenging as I have to balance my writing with my day job, but there’s no greater joy when I’ve finished something.
I like (an am a bit envious) at how you manage to plan and write your blog posts in advance. I’m getting better at that, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
Hope your week is going well!
Matt Doyle Media says
I wasn’t always so great with the blog posts. My first part year blogging, I was lucky to get one post out a week and that wasn’t written too far in advance. Year two I started trying to do two a week most weeks and got a little better at it. What I ended up doing this year was to put a post up at the end of last year basically saying that I was taking January off in terms of blogging. That gave me the chane to concentrate on both the fiction and on getting February’s posts ready to go. Since then, I’ve just been really strict with myself.
Challenging is fun, or I think so anyway. It would feel strange not challenging myself in one way or another I think. Therein lies the seeds of growth, after all!
At one point, I was god with blogging. I put out a post each week (that was good for me based on all that I was juggling). Last fall I declared “the end of blogging.” The idea was for me to give up blogging; I wasn’t enjoying it and, with some of the challenges of my job, I let it go to focus on my writing. I had decided to self-publish and wanted to focus on that. I think the break of a few months helped; I’m not posting as often as before, but I hope my content is more engaging.
I’m constantly challenging myself as well, and because of that growing as a writer and a person.
Hope you have a great weekend!