Grains of Sand. (Wednesday’s Wisdom)

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Have you ever been in that place where you had more to do than could be done in a day, a week or even a month? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by your “to do” list you simply wanted to run away from it all –the husband, the kids, the job, the demands — and not look back? Have you had those times when you can no longer see the trees for the forest?

At one time or another, I imagine we all have. Our lists stretch beyond our perspective and balance is lost.

About a month ago, I listened to my sister rattle off all the things she needed and wanted to get done. None of her “to do’s” was more important than the others; they were all top priority. None could be delegated or deleted. And at some point, she had mentally morphed her long list into one massive “to-do.” Of course, I knew that everything she wanted and needed to get done wasn’t a top priority, but during that call, that was her truth. It was clear she was overwhelmed. It was clear her perspective was skewed.  It was clear she would rather run away or hide under the covers. Above all, it was clear she had no idea where or how to start breaking things down, so I suggested she start with a grain of sand.

“A grain of sand” metaphorically means to focus on just one thing, not the entire beach; separate the trees from the forest. We talked about listing every one of her “to do’s” and then prioritizing them. We talked about releasing those things that didn’t really need to be done, or at least not done in the immediate future. And then, I advised her to select one grain, just one, to start with. Every now and then, perspective is regained when we narrow our view and lose sight of the bigger picture for just a little bit.

About a week later, I replayed those same words to my reflection in the mirror. Falling behind on my “regular to do” list while I was sick coupled with the rapidly growing number of things that must be done before C’s fast approaching graduation in May and the plethora of “spring tasks” had left me sleepless at night and harboring secret desires to slip out the back door and ditch all my responsibilities. I had become paralyzed by a list that grew longer by the day and deadlines and due dates that loomed ever closer. Guilt crept in and further clouded my perspective. And still, my list grew.  It was the perfect storm. Or so it appeared, until I narrowed my focus.

In an uncharacteristic move, I set aside my beloved day planner in favor of a standard yellow legal pad. At the top of the page I wrote the words, “Grains of Sand” and three subtitles: personal, girls, and household. Then, I began to list. I listed big things and small things. If it popped into my head, it went on my list. One page quickly became two as I poured  out my mental burdens. When my purge was complete, I reviewed my list and began assigning target completion dates to each task, which correlated to their priority. I took a deep breath and felt a wave of hope.

Then I set to work…on closing my books, my Facebook, email, limiting my phone calls, coffee dates, and even allowing my blog to sit idle for the last two weeks. Distractions, I had to admit, had been my escape and unless I put myself on a “distraction diet”, my list would continue to grow, along with my stress level. Though I’ve checked emails, I haven’t replied unless there was something urgent to address. And, while I confess I’ve dabbled with Facebook here and there, my pages have been left relatively dormant. I haven’t read the blogs I so enjoy, and even my new Kindle has gone virtually untouched since it arrived last week. Additionally, last week’s spring break allowed me to let go of teaching, and given the fact that C had her wisdom teeth out last Tuesday, my “taxi” remained parked in the driveway most of the week. With my distractions managed, C resting comfortably in the recliner, TV remote in hand, and her sister situated on the couch nearby, it was time to start the heavy lifting.

In the last two weeks, I’ve worked my list and regained perspective. With my master list readily accessible, I begin my days by choosing one or two items per “category” to focus on.  I’ve checked off some large and many small projects. I’ve decluttered, purged, and completely reorganized rooms. I’ve calculated academic hours and transcripts, caught up on grading, and begun planning a graduation. I’ve spent time researching and outlining the presentation I’ll give in two weeks at our local library and taxes, bills, and the start of a budget have been tackled. And in the process, my evenings have become more restful and my days brighter. Though still long, my list is not as long as it was two weeks ago, and that feels pretty darn good. With only one grain of sand at a time, I’m building a new, more beautiful and relaxing beach for myself and my family. Seems I won’t need to run away after all. Umbrella drink, anyone?

How do you regain perspective when your list of “to do’s” overwhelms? Do you slip away to cyber-land, under the covers, or out the back door? Or, do you reach for pencil and paper?

21 thoughts on “Grains of Sand. (Wednesday’s Wisdom)”

  1. One grain of sand at a time–ah, much needed perspective. Thank you my friend. When I get overextended, sigh, I start by bringing the word “No” out of the attic. And then I try to use that word not so much in a sentence but as a sentence. Sigh. And yes, I try to knock out the really big items and set all the other crap on a backburner. And when I want to escape, I go for a run and once that calms the mental chatter, I roll up my sleeves. But I am not a pen and paper type of gal. Lists scare me. LOL.


  2. I slip away to cyber-land or a book or something until my avoidance about drives me crazy–then I tackle. I really enjoyed this post today…gave me something positive to think about.


    1. Thank you, Bliss. I, too, get to the point where “I tackle” once my avoidance has driven me crazy. Usually, I can manage to stay ahead with the help of my trusty planner, however, the busyness of this season (graduation, taxes, and garden planting) all seemed to form a perfect storm. Breaking it all down into something that sounded more appealing than a “to-do” list has helped me re-frame all that needs to get done, too.


  3. I am soooooo excited to be going on vacation. We will be off the grid 100%, so no blog, bono Facebook, no twitter, no mail — real or virtual. And no WIP. I’m taking a break to plug into my family. Planning for my son’s bar mitzvah which is now 12 weeks away has been a tremendous energy drain for me. And, like your sister, there are days where everything feels Priority 1. I can’t wait to be forced to leave it all alone. 😉

    Great post!


    1. I am soooo happy for you! I think it is essential we all unplug every now and then. Not just a little–100% so that we can connect, really connect, not just over the screen of the laptop, or as we slide our fingers across our smart phones. I will bet that the remaining bar mitzvah planning will go a lot easier after your R & R time. At least that’s what I’m hoping for for you. I know I felt more rested just staring at the picture on your blog announcing your vacation. Now, go order another umbrella drink just for me. 🙂


  4. I, too, get overwhelmed when the list gets too cumbersome. Although I’ve never gone on a full-blown “Distraction Diet” I do admire your fortitude for doing so. Mostly, I’m glad you’re back. Because I missed you. 😉


  5. Would you like to come tackle my list for a bit? … or at least help me write it so it’s not all in my head? 😉

    I’m wondering what you’re doing with all those grains of sand that you’re picking off your list .. are there enough for a little zen garden yet?


    1. Ooooh, I like the idea of a little zen garden so that when I forget how well this has worked, I can pick up a little rake to remind me how to tackle my big list. 🙂 However, odds are good one of the cats would use it as a litter box, and then I’d have to add cleaning it to my list.

      If I were there, I’d help you with your list, or at least pass my yellow legal pad. 🙂


  6. I think any woman with family, work, and the like can relate to this a million times over. I am a big list writer…one of my recent Tuesday Tidbits & Tips was about using a dry erase board to keep track of my to-do’s so that I can easily erase them as I knock them off of my list. I love it and rely on it heavily to prioritize my days. However, I also become overwhelmed, and you want to know what I really believe pushes me over the top? Placing too high of a priority on keeping up with the Jone’s so-to-speak, aka: Facebook, blogging, emailing, card-sending, calling, etc, etc.

    Trying to keep up with “everyone” ends up taking mucho time away from what I need to do for my own sustinence as well as taking care of my daughter. So, indeed, I FB only a minute bit (and it’s also why I haven’t connected my blog to a FB page), email more than phone call to keep myself from feeling overly obligated, and stick to what needs to be done each day only, instead of getting too much into the future (of course, I know what’s coming since it’s on my calendar). And, when I really can’t handle it at times? I cry my head off…and oh…the next day I feel so much better! LOL! Thanks for sharing this, TM. Oh, and I love the grain of sand metaphor (’cause I love metaphors!).


    1. “…and you want to know what I really believe pushes me over the top? Placing too high of a priority on keeping up with the Jone’s so-to-speak, aka: Facebook, blogging, emailing, card-sending, calling, etc, etc.”

      AMEN! I find the same thing is true for me! And, I also find a good cry is amazingly cleansing. I’ve tried to teach my girls the same.

      So glad you liked the grain of sand metaphor (’cause I love ’em, too!) and I figured once I’m done with my list, I deserve to spend some time on the beach. 🙂


  7. I’m so happy to hear that you were able to unplug and cross off some items on that list! That must be an awesome feeling. (I am a big fan of getting the head clutter down on a list, too. Always makes me feel better. And crossing things off? Almost as good as cheesecake.)

    I definitely feel overwhelmed by the number of to-dos (there have been family obligations every weekend for the last two months). The consistent thing that gets me down is housekeeping (it’s that or keep up with blogs/blogging, since both take 1-2 hours a day; I can’t handle both! And I only like doing one, so guess what usually wins? LOL). Luckily I’m having a friend over (who hasn’t seen the house yet) next Sat. which means I HAVE to clean well! I’m almost willing to get a second job so I can hire someone. I hate it that much (but love having it clean even more).


    1. OK, almost as good as cheesecake…not! Almost as good as ice cream, maybe, cheesecake, not even close!

      Booked weekends are the silver bullet that can cause me to slip behind on my list of to-dos. And, invariably, something ends up slipping through the cracks. However, like you, when I do slip, it is a blessing to have guests booked for a visit to force me to do a clean-up. When the house gets messy beyond my comfort level, I often start thinking about how much I can’t stand my house, couch, etc. and want to throw everything out. Funny how when I clean up, I like my own stuff again. 🙂


  8. I read in tears! My mother-in-law always told me “How do you eat a big elephant? One bite at a time.” You perfectly captured our feelings of doing it all! Thank you for the reminder!


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