Most of the time, we feel behind — too many things to do in too little time. We’re stressed, overwhelmed, busy, procrastinating, distracted. This is never a fun feeling, and yet most of us feel it most of the time.
So what can we do?. These are a number of things we can do.
- Make a list. Then focus on one thing at a time
- Work mindfully with your procrastination and distraction. Practice with your fear, discomfort, uncertainty, and feeling of overwhelm.
- Work with your attachment to doing everything. Let go.
- Manage your energy. Learn to relax and replenish.
- Create flexible structure. Adjust over time.
- Let go of self-judgment.
So let’s dive into them.
#1 – Make a List
The first part of this is simple: make a list.
Task List: A list doesn’t have to be fancy — you don’t need a special todo system. Just a text document or a notebook for now.
For now, simply make a list of everything you need to do. Now make a second list of the top 3 Most Important Tasks on your list. This is the part you’re going to focus on for today. You’ll still try to do the smaller things on the list when you have time, but focus on those big tasks.
Focus on One Thing: Of your top 3 most important tasks, there’s really only one that you can give focus to right now. Pick one, any one. They’re all important. If one is more important than the others, pick that.
Here’s the rule: you can only do one thing at a time.
Then give your full focus to that, as much as you’re able before moving to the other.
#2 – Work Mindfully with Procrastination, Distraction, & Difficulties
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a task (or your whole list), and your pattern is to turn to distractions.
You might practice like this:
- Pause, instead of turning to your distractions. Turn your attention inward, to your body’s sensations.
- Keep your attention on whatever you notice — maybe it feels like a tightness in your chest, or throat. Maybe it’s a radiating heat in your torso, or a dark pit in your stomach. Stay with this feeling, instead of running from it.
- Notice the urge to run away from this feeling. You want to go to your messages, clean something, check email, look at social media.
- Bring curiosity and gentleness to your noticing. We normally don’t want these feelings in us, even though we can’t control them, so we usually try to push them away, ignore them.
- Give yourself compassion. I don’t mean kind or encouraging words (those are helpful too), but the feeling of compassion in your heart — the same feeling you’d have if your loved one were in pain. Generate this feeling of compassion for your difficulty. It’s a powerful thing.
In this way, we change our relationship with our fear, uncertainty, discomfort, feeling of overwhelm or stress, urge to procrastinate or exit.
#3 – Let Go of Attachment to Doing Everything
This is a biggie. In many cases, the stress of not having everything done comes from our own mind, not from an external reality.
But in most cases, there’s no terrible consequence for being “behind” on our tasks. I put “behind” in quotes because we’re often only behind in comparison to what we’d like to be, a schedule we’ve made up in our minds. For example, looking at my task list, I can see that almost all of the deadlines are things I’ve set myself. Many people I’ve worked with are like this — we set up a timeline in our minds of what we’d like to get done, but it’s only in our minds.
So the practice here is to let go of the attachment to getting everything done.
It’s like looking at a photo-shopped model in a magazine and fantasizing that we’ll look like that — it’s not real. So letting go of that fantasy would be helpful.
Here’s how to let go:
- See how the expectation of getting everything done is hurting you. See that you’re stressing out, feeling overwhelmed, procrastinating because of all of that, being harsh on yourself, feeling disappointed.
- Seeing that you’re hurting yourself, create an intention to stop hurting yourself. Stop holding onto the ideals that are hurting you.
- Instead, turn to reality, and find appreciation for reality just as it is.
- You are alive! You have a body, eyes, ears, hands. You probably have a home, and maybe someone who cares about you (or more than one). You might have your health. You might be doing something meaningful. Whatever the reality, appreciate it for what it is — a freaking miracle!
From this place of appreciation, take action. Do the next step because it will help you and others, as a loving act. You don’t have to do it to meet an ideal, but from a place of love.
#4 – Manage Your Energy, Relax & Replenish
The first thing to look at is sleep — are you getting enough? Most people don’t. I have trouble with this myself.
Fix your sleep first — that usually means getting to bed at a reasonable time, which means setting an alarm to shut down your devices before that time, and doing some kind of sleep routine to get yourself unwound and into bed.
Next, make sure you’re taking breaks. Throughout the day, get away from all devices every 30 minutes or so.
The next thing is often the most ignored: give yourself time to replenish. That means get away from the devices for an hour or more a day, and for most of the day once a week. This is time when you’re not working, but maybe out in nature, or spending time socializing with people.
Take a bath, drink some tea, read a paper book, do something with your hands. Let your mind have a break, so that it can replenish.
If you manage your energy levels like this, you might be more resilient and less likely to procrastinate or get overly stressed by being behind.
#5 – Create Flexible Structure, Adjust
- A simple structure might be something like:
- Wake at 6:30 am, meditate, read, make my todo list
- Write (or work on most important task)
- Email & messaging for 30 minutes
- Shower, eat
- Next most important task, followed by quick check of email/messages, and a break. Repeat.
- Later: walk or workout, meditate, tea and journal, family time, bed
This is just an example. But the idea is that you have structure, so you know when you’ll get important things done that you might push back otherwise (things like meditation, working out and going for a walk).
#6 – Let Go of Self-Judgment
You won’t do any of the above things perfectly. In fact, there’s no expectation of “perfect” because it’s not a real thing. We’ll try to do as much as we can, but it won’t be exactly the same as we intended. That’s normal and expected and completely OK.
However, the harmful thing comes when we add self-judgment on top of all of that. We judge ourselves, criticize ourselves, feel disappointed in ourselves, are harsh on ourselves.
The practice is to always be kind, loving, friendly, compassionate with ourselves. Whatever we do, there’s no shame or guilt. There’s just kindness. Are you behind? Be compassionate to your stressed out self.
Be a good friend to yourself, not a harsh critic. Practice this every single day, many times throughout the day. Put a reminder where you won’t forget it.
That’s not simple, but they’re things we can get better at with practice, and continue to come back to, over and over.