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?