I’m going to throw out a ridiculous question here and ask if you’ve ever struggled with having too many things to do and not enough time to do it?
That’s how things are these days, a month’s worth of ideas packed into an afternoon’s schedule only to be half-completed through at frantic speed or trudged through with that nagging feeling that we’re just getting further behind.
Toss some unpredictable life stress in there like a displeased client, project deadlines missed by others, a pissed partner that seems to come out of nowhere, tax season, or your children just being children and those items at the bottom of the list get carried over as the first thoughts to enter the mind when you wake at 3:30am.
Or maybe that’s just me.
My mind does a funny thing with items I need to get done. And by funny, I mean annoying, habitual and exhausting. My mind will remind me of the same darned action repeatedly throughout the day. It’s like a constant loop.
I watch those thoughts, all that stuff my mind tells me I need to do, as passing words with urgency attached.
I can certainly get on top of this by employing time management systems and google calendar, by project planning in Asana and regularly ensuring that all these systems are accurate and up do-date and what’s in my mind is captured in a system.
They can help to organize the ideas, the actions, the appointments. But what remains is that for anyone who’s up to a lot, for anyone who’s carrying a load of responsibility, the systems may bring relief – like those backpacks that distribute the weight to your hips instead of your shoulders. But the fact remains, if you’ve got a case of beer in there, you’re still carrying a case of beer on your back.
(Yes, I did just compare managing a full life with hauling a case of beer.)
When there isn’t a lot of space ‘out there’, when life gets all crammed in, no matter how skillfully it’s managed, it can feel like there’s no space ‘in here’.
At the beginning of the year I was discussing this with a dear friend whose schedule was so packed, it made mine look like I was on holidays. He was so full, that just hearing about it made me want to take a nap.
He said he was just focused on finding inner space, since there was no real outer space. I can locate that inner spaciousness right now, just by leaning back in my chair and breathing into the depth of my belly.
Over the past few months I have been focusing on cultivating inner space such that I can move through all of the beautiful responsibilities I hold with more grace than when I’m striving to catch up or get ahead. Here’s what’s been working.
Meditate. Feel. Breathe. Tune in. Whatever you want to call it, an hour of this in the morning when your life is packed and I’d call you heroic and deeply committed. Twenty minutes is a truly supportive practice and more consistently realistic for me. Five minutes will do the trick. The world within can be fast paced on the upper layers of chatter and mental loops. This time asks us to drop in. My experience of time always alters when I do this.
Doing the Most Important Thing First
Often the thing that will make the greatest difference to our overall well-being is the thing that’s easiest to drop when the schedule gets hot. For me it’s writing and getting outside. If I don’t write, I rot. I work from home. It’s very possible to spend a whole day inside, working. Getting out for a run, a bike ride or plopping myself in front of the ocean reminds me of how vast this whole thing is, how much time I actually have and how insignificant most of what I stress about really is. My mind tells me I don’t have time for this some days. But I know through my bones to my soul that doing these most important things first sets the tone for the whole day.
Choosing What Not To Do
There are things that I have to do next Thursday that my monkey mind will remind me about at 3 this afternoon. There’s no reason to be thinking about such things and I can usually catch myself and stop it. But what about all those things on today’s list that I want to get done, that I know won’t all get done (because I’ve been witnessing this beast for a while.) Creating inner space means to scan through that list and rather than add and cram and see just how much I can get on there and complete for the day, I look for what can be dropped. What can I consciously choose to leave out? When I know what I’m NOT doing, it gives me more inner space to focus on what I AM doing and do that thing well.
Do it at the last minute
Don’t judge just yet. If I’m brutally honest with myself, most things are going to get done at the last possible minute. Is it because I’m procrastinating? No. It’s because when there’s so much to get done, you’re always on deadline. Here’s the thing… If I try to work on something far in advance, there’s typically not enough creative tension to complete it. I may get a lot done and having space to drop in is great. But when the schedule is crammed, part of what helps me be soulfully productive is putting items in my calendar at the latest moment that I can get it done and get it done well. It eliminates choice for me, it takes away the possibility that there’s something more important that I should be doing right now. Whatever I’m working on is what needs doing.
Do the thing that sucks
Getting your docs to the accountant. Filing your paperwork. Comparing and reconciling budget vs. actual. Cleaning the fridge. Booking a Pap. Backing up your computer. Making that phone call. You know the thing that has no deadline but that eats and eats and eats away at you? Do that thing. I try to tackle at least one of these a week. Sometimes I get on a role and have a day of doing the sucky stuff that nags. It creates space in the psyche.
You probably know where you need to say no. To more commitments? To messing around on Facebook all day? To late nights with friends? To food that makes you feel like crap? To distractions? To requests to change your agenda for others? When we’re full, and in particular when our inner world feels crammed, there’s usually a bunch of ‘yes’ that needs to be taken to the dump.