When You Can’t Do It All

Here’s my new mantra:

If you can’t do it all, do a little.

It’s the most simple remedy for overwhelm I’ve discovered yet. I’m a person who falls into the cycle of want big things -> make big plans -> start -> no immediate results -> discouragement -> burnout.

It’s a damaging cycle that I see a lot of peers experiencing. And each time you start on a new big idea, it’s with a little less enthusiasm than the one before.

That’s why I’ve adopted this mantra.


Photograph 059 by Ashley Schweitzer found on minimography.com

What is “doing it all”?

“Doing it all” is completing a project. It’s reaching a certain goal or life milestone, or mastering a new hobby. It’s completing every task on your to-do list.

In short, it’s reaching any point of completion.

So when you can’t do it all, that means you’re left with a feeling of incompleteness – perhaps of failure. This is where my self-kindness crusade begins.

Because I know that when I can’t “do it all” I often revert to doing nothing at all.

What is “doing a little”?

I’m so excited about this perspective: take one step to get closer to your goal. Or even a half-step.

Can’t clean the whole apartment? Just put the clean towels away. Just vacuum the hay that the rabbits have managed to spread out over most of your rug.

This approach has actually helped me become more productive. I’ll piece things together in moments between other activities, and soon I find myself riding the momentum into the evening: clean apartment, rabbits fed, tea made, lunch packed.

A little kindness goes a long way

I’ve raved about the importance of self-kindness and awareness before, but I simply can’t stress it enough. I’ve spent too many years expecting too much from myself, so I’m making up for it now with self compassion whenever I can.

By telling yourself in the most overwhelming hours that it’s okay to do just a little instead of doing it all, you’re giving yourself permission to be kind to yourself.

And by focusing on progress instead of completion, we’ll feel more accomplished along the way instead of just at the end of the hectic journey.

Where to start

My challenge to you: take a moment to think about what you want right now. I actually sat down and wrote out a long list of things (physical, mental, emotional) I wanted right now.

If you want to be a blogger but find the idea so overwhelming that you still haven’t started, just do this: grab any piece of paper, any writing utensil, and jot down three posts you’d like to write. Do the same thing if you want to read more – list three books you’d like to read.

There. You are one step closer to your goal.

I know it sounds simplistic, but this practice has really helped me make some progress on projects or hobbies that have felt stagnant.

I’ve written blog post titles instead of full posts, ran 1/3 of a mile instead of 2, put just one cup in the dishwasher instead of all the dishes in the sink. And eventually, by taking little, kind steps, all of my tasks were complete.

What is the one thing you can do today to make progress on the goals that are overwhelming you?


12 thoughts on “When You Can’t Do It All

  1. This is salsa something I have adopted recently. It is starting with cooking and eating healthier, introducing one meal in at a time and moving forward using baby steps. Decluttering is my next area.

    • That’s a great place to start! It’s so much easier to make little changes than do a full overhaul, and it’s way more sustainable in the long run. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I love this idea of small steps and self compassion. It is easy to say things to ourselves that we would NEVER say to a friend. I am in the middle of a large sewing project and last night after dinner I decided to do just one step on it. It felt good to go to bed feeling further along and today I am excited to do more. Small, small things matter. A few months ago I decide to never go to bed with any dishes unwashed or in the sink. I make a final check before bedtime and love waking up to a clean kitchen. The effort then flows over to other things and like you noted, it easy and even pleasurable to straighten a few more things.

    • “It is easy to say things to ourselves that we would NEVER say to a friend.” — right?! I would have no friends if I spoke to people the way I speak internally to myself some days.

      The dishes idea is so great. A clean kitchen inspires me to eat healthy & stay hydrated, because I don’t want to spend time in there when it’s dirty. My husband and I are working up to cleaning the whole kitchen before bed, and I’m happy to say we’re getting closer! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Along these lines my mantra is “do something”. For a variety of reasons, I have a hard time focusing and being motivated to get things done. Between work, a couple college courses, wanting to cook dinner instead of take-out, and wanting to spend time with my husband….there is just too much to do. So when I look at my (mental) list of things each day, I usually remind myself that as long as I’m doing *something* I am *still* making progress!
    I may not have cooked dinner from scratch and gotten ahead on a research paper…but I didn’t order take-out and I did get a source list going for said paper. Baby steps, baby steps….
    One thing I did today was go grocery shopping before lunch. That was the biggest thing of my day! And now I have an entire afternoon to do….something!

    • Love it! That’s awesome, Meyli – and so full of self compassion! Isn’t it funny how something like grocery shopping can be such an obstacle some days? But once it’s done & everything is put away, it feels so freeing. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I’m guilty of expecting too much from myself and getting frustrated when I don’t get everything done. Like Meyli said, baby steps. I try to break things up into little tasks and if I do 3 out of 5 tasks then ok its not finished but I’m over half way there.

    I’m working on self kindness and self care but it doesn’t come naturally, I find myself thinking things like “Well done idiot, you screwed that up!” I’m heading over to read your article on self kindness now, hopefully it’ll help me out =)

    Take care,
    Hayley x

    • Oh Hayley, I’m just the same! Learning to be your own teammate (instead of enemy) is a long process that I’m still working on. Complimenting yourself for, say doing those 3 things, is a great place to start.

      “Well done, you did those things!”

      Hope it helps, and know that you are not alone on this journey. Keep up the self care!

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