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.

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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?

Six Doors to a Simpler Life

Who doesn’t love a good origin story? It helps you see where someone’s values are and what motivates them.

You can read my simple-living origin story here, but here’s a quick recap for new readers:

After I graduated college, I was drowning in 22 years worth of clutter. I was chronically stressed and depressed. I moved four times that year, and the final move nearly broke me. I remember carrying 50-gallon trashbags full of clothes that I never wore downstairs to the moving truck and holding back tears under the literal and figurative weight of it all.

So when I began my life in a new city, I started to get rid of anything I didn’t need (which was no small feat). It started with clothes and slowly expanded into my other possessions and other areas of my life. So basically, my origin story is based on stuff, and lots of it.

But that’s not the only entry point into minimalism, so if you’ve been struggling with the “stuff” part of it all, there might be another way to start simplifying. What’s most important is that you do what feels right!

Other fascinating origin stories

There are others who have shared their origin stories. Some are similar to mine and some are very, very different.

Courtney Carver started with her diet after a medical diagnosis, then proceeded to simplify the rest of her belongings and her lifestyle. Joshua Becker started with his stuff after spending more time than he wanted to cleaning out his garage. Joshua Fields Millburn wasn’t a minimalist until life-changing events sparked him to approach the emotional weight of the stuff around him. Ryan Nicodemus, alongside Joshua Fields Millburn, decided to switch his pursuit of the American Dream to the pursuit of an intentional, good life.

The six doors to a simpler life.

Photo credit: Andrew Beeston

The Six Doors to Simplifying

I’ll go into each in more depth below, but here are the six entry points into simplifying and minimalism that I’ve observed throughout the years:

  1. Clutter
  2. Money
  3. Diet
  4. Schedule
  5. Relationships
  6. Digital distractions

Let’s dive in!

Clutter

This one is the most evident, and is the most obvious place to start. You can identify this as a problem when you start running out of places to put stuff, find yourself cleaning too often, or spend an inordinate amount of time on finding the perfect storage solution.

Starting with clutter is a great way to get the ball rolling and you will soon see the effects of simplifying your stuff in your life. A clear space is a clear mind.

However, it’s not always a comfortable place for everyone to start based on emotional ties to stuff or time or health constraints.

Money

I think we’re all trying to simplify this with varying degrees of success. This category is hard. Unexpected things pop up that make this area of our lives difficult to control completely.

However, starting here will give you more time for other areas of your life (because time is money and money is time). It can be as drastic as you want – you can aim for early retirement like Mr. Money Mustache or you can just cut out most extraneous expenses and get debt-free a little sooner.

Diet

There’s a pattern here – most of these entry points deal heavily with emotion, and this one is no exception. Your food choices are highly personal and the are the most directly connected to your actual human life.

Food determines our energy levels, our immunity and our overall health. This is one area that you can actually add to instead of taking away from – start by adding in an extra serving of veggies or an apple snack to remind your body what these nutrients can do for you. This is the change that you can make right now, while the other changes will take a little more time.

Schedule

Even though this one seems so impossible, trust me: there’s always room. Simplifying anything in your life means that you have to learn to say “no” to things, and what better way to get practice in?

We’re bombarded by invitations, requests and meaningless to-do’s, so start small. What is one thing that you can say no to today? Saying no to things that don’t add value to your life means that you can say yes to more things like spending time with loved ones, going on walks and taking care of yourself.

Relationships

This one is difficult – are there relationships in your life that do not bring joy or value? Are you surrounding yourself with people who motivate you or are you surrounded by people who bring you down?

Breaking off romantic relationships and friendships is complicated, but sometimes both need to be done.But by saying “no” to certain relationships, your truly meaningful relationships will have the space they deserve to flourish.

Digital distractions

If you have an internet connection, you probably have this problem. Notifications, requests and updates are constantly pinging on our desktops and our phones. Even though it takes up little physical space, these distractions take up a massive amount of emotional and mental space.

This category includes social media, files like word documents and photographs, email, and our cloud-based calendars. Start by removing push notifications from your phone as much as possible, then explore each space individually after that.

How to find which one is right for you

Take a moment to think about where most of your stress lies.

If you’re stressed about being busy, then look into your schedule. If there’s too much buzz in your mind and on your phone, start with digital distractions. Always frustrated about the clutter on your desk? Start with stuff.

If you can’t think of it right away, observe yourself for a couple of days. When and where do your stress levels spike, and when are they the lowest?

They’re all connected

If you’re worried that you just have to choose one, fear not. Once you start simplifying and streamlining one part of your life, you’ll start to see how it can be applied to other areas.

I felt like it was no stretch to change my eating habits after my closet was manageable. I began to value my time more after those two changes, so I then switched my focus to my digital life – particularly cutting down on Facebook.

Whatever you choose, know that your path to simplifying is entirely your own. Read others’ stories and take what you feel is relevant to yourself from them. If you try to copy someone exactly, you’ll end up in an unsustainable, frustrating and ultimately, complicated lifestyle.

Where did you start simplifying, or where do you think you’ll focus next?

Finding the Time

I’ve found myself “running out of time” to write a post for weeks (that have started to turn into months). But to be honest with you and with myself, I have plenty of time as a work-from-home woman without kids in a city where I have only a small handful of friends.

So, what’s the problem?

I’ve been in a major rut (or a minor depression) lately. But I haven’t been homesick or lonely. I’m not undercaffeinated. I get regular sunshine and my husband and rabbit are as handsome and awesome as ever. But still, I’m about as mentally stuck as a person can get.

Evening Coffee

Today’s post is an effort to combat that mental brick wall that I’ve built for myself and do something that, although I always push it to the bottom of my to-do list, actually makes me feel valuable and interesting: write it all down for lovely strangers on the internet. Leading me to the point:

How do you “find the time” when you’re stuck?

I know I’ve written about being stuck and the mind games that go along with it. But sometimes, you find yourself stuck and even though you know exactly what it takes to get unstuck, you’re stuck not doing those things. It’s a sticky mess.

So here I am, telling myself as much as I am telling you: if there’s something you’re trying to find the time for, you’ll never accomplish it. You have to make the time for it.

Make the Time

For me, that means forcing myself to do things I love (because when you’re stuck, these are sometimes that last things you really feel like doing) – writing, exercising, crocheting. It means writing anything for an hour. It doesn’t have to be good or correct or even halfway publishable, what matters is that I’m doing the thing I’ve been meaning to do.

Excuses and something worse than that

A lot of the delay comes from excuses that we so cleverly invent for ourselves. Mine? I woke up too late. I have to work. I haven’t had enough coffee. I’ve had too much coffee. The dishes aren’t clean. There’s always something.

What’s worse than excuses, though, are things I’ve heard many friends experience and I think it’s worth talking about. I call them, for lack of a better word, demons. The voices that tell us we’re not good enough, or that whatever we’re doing is not good work. Mine say things like: You’re not interesting. This isn’t valuable. You’re haircut is stupid. You’ll never do a handstand.

Yikes.

Making progress

So, how do you go from finding the time to making the time, and then actually bringing yourself to make progress? I believe I’m still in the “making the time” phase, but I’ve started doing some things to help myself visualize progress. Here’s what I have to share:

  1. Write out your ideal average day. Consider work, chores, meals, exercise and so on. Write it down. Acknowledge how it would make you feel. Be reasonable. Mine even includes the top three things that should be clean by the end of each day: the bed made, dishes put away, and flat surfaces free of clutter.
  2. Make gradual changes. Change or add things to your day slowly. Don’t try to have the ideal average day right now. Sustainable change comes in small increments.
  3. Be gentle on yourself. Above all, allow for mistakes. Forgive yourself quietly and peacefully and move forward. As I write this, a little something is welling up in my throat, because I am notoriously bad at being gentle on myself. These words come from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata and I remind myself of them often.

I know far too many people, myself included, who don’t allow themselves the time for doing the things they love. So, here it is again: learn to make time for these things.

Identify your excuses and your demons and acknowledge them when they’re in your way. Then, carve out space in your schedule and in your mind/heart/soul to do what moves you the most.

I’m back 🙂

Overscheduling (Or, Why I Flake)

Today, I get an F. A big, horrible red F. F for flaky.

Lately, it seems as if I’ve asked for rain checks or reschedules more than I’ve actually gone through with my plans. I’ve enthusiastically accepted invitations a week ago that I now have to turn down for one reason or another. It kills me. And I know it’s not helping me form any solid relationships.

What’s going on?

A huge misconception of time.

I’m a chronic overscheduler, a misinterpreter of how much time I really need to get things done. I have a feeling that many of my young, vibrant, social cohorts are the same way – we gladly RSVP for things well beyond our comprehension at the time. For me, that is often any time after 12 hours from now.

Any TimeOn top of work and more work, I have great (and sometimes overwhelming) aspirations: writing, exercising, crocheting, sewing, reading, playing music…the list goes on and on. I also have a fiance that I live with and that I usually get to see only briefly – although I’m so grateful to at least see him every day, since we’ve had our fair share of long distance.

But that list of excuses still doesn’t explain why I’m consistently letting down people I care about. It turns out, I’m just not good at saying no, at setting limits. But since everything around us has become on-demand, it’s easier than ever to pause and come back for it all later rather than passing on it the first time around.

I’ve had enough. It’s time to fix this weird, broken clock that I’ve been operating from for the past couple of years.Stop

My proposed cure(s) for flakiness

This isn’t one-size-fits all. It’s my starting point, so I’m sure it will evolve with time. I want to hear your tips, too!

  • Anything that is scheduled during the work week should be a no – until it can be reasonably defended as a yes. Or, maybe we all just need to be more aware that there’s really only 4 or 5 hours in the evening in which we have to eat, work, clean and the like. Not much time for gallivanting around town.
  • Don’t immediately tell someone “I’ll be there!” – take an hour or a day or two to confirm your plans and to evaluate your workload. Saves them the disappointment, saves you the embarassment.
  • Know priorities. Create a numbered list if you have to, and check your time against it – do you have room in your time budget for a quick coffee with a friend, or are there real and terrible consequences to delaying other tasks?
  • Schedule me-time, or downtime or naptime or whatever name you prefer – don’t book your days straight without having a little time to sit and stare at a wall or listen to classical music sans phone or conversation. That does so much more good than you think it might.
  • And finally, my largest struggle – single tasking. Personal schedules often look more like something a small army should handle, and so no matter how hard we work, the work is never done. I’ve started to resign myself to one big “to-do” per day after work. Not five. Not eight. One. At work, I’ve been in the helpful habit of listing a few little tasks to work on as well as one or two focuses for the day.

And to close, don’t sacrifice sleep. If you’re truly overbooked and your calendar is bursting at the seams, the last thing you need is to do it all while running on a few winks and a leaky caffeine battery.