Did your mother ever say that to you? “Do as I say…not as I do?” Mine did. It usually happened when we were sitting down to dinner and my mom would be having a tiny nibble of cake before we sat down. I definitely wanted cake, not scalloped potatoes and ham. Gag. Still to this day I hate scalloped potatoes!
Why am I pulling out this cliche? Because, sadly, it’s become true in my work and my personal life. I am a time management, effectiveness and efficiency and productivity guru! I talk about it with clients. I blog about it. I work with clients to help them get out of the overwhelm and back to a work/life blend that works for them. I talk about the importance of saying, “no.” I speak at conferences, for God’s sake, on time management and how to live a balanced life.
My life is out of balance. My work is out of balance. I am working weekends. I am working past 5 pm — this may not seem a huge deal, but I wake up at 5 am and start working by 6:15 am. I am wiped out by 5 pm. It’s all I can do to form a coherent sentence, let alone write a creative blog post or design a web page or a productivity course.
What happened to me?
Life. Plain and simple. Here’s a rundown. I became a Gigi (grandmother, but I don’t love that term). My grandson has consumed me — heart and soul. I never thought I would be like my mom and be the designated babysitter, but right before he was born (actually I’d gone with my daughter to one of her final ultrasounds and saw his face and his tiny foot and I knew… I had to be the one who cared for him).
Little Atlas Edwin (who will be six-months-old on Sunday) stole my heart before I ever held him. I knew I couldn’t bear the thought of him being in a daycare surrounded by strangers. I knew, like my mother before me, that I wanted my grandbaby to be only in the care of family.
Because I run my own business I have flexibility to watch him. With my daughter and son-in-law’s work schedule I usually only watch Atlas one day or maybe two days a week. It’s ideal for him and for his loving parents that he doesn’t have to be without them for many hours of the week.
During this time, or perhaps right before Atlas was born, my sister asked if I’d like to help out in her office part-time, maybe a eight or ten hours a week. At that point I was so lonely in my home office. I am an introvert and do love my own company, but I was getting to the point of being a hermit. If I had to leave the house it became a massive undertaking. I knew myself well enough to know that was a danger sign so I grabbed the lifeline of going to an office one or two days a week. I love being there — with my sister and doing the work that I do. I also love seeing and talking with other people.
Going to an office also means I need to get “fully dressed” rather than just dressing from the waist up in “work clothes” so I can do a video chat with clients. As long as I don’t stand up, they don’t know I am wearing flannel poodle pajama bottoms.
I’ve picked up new clients. I am in the midst of launching a new website. I am editing my blogging book. I am writing three short stories to put into an anthology for the Cat Writer’s Association Book Sale in St. Louis in May. I want to crochet. I want to watch television, read a book, walk Henrietta, pet the cats, bake a cake, and on and on.
My life was spiraling. Now if a client came to me and told me all of that I could come up with a plan for them. We’d talk about the “#30-Minute Solopreneur” method I’ve developed. They would be back on track. Why couldn’t I see that for myself?
Finally, last week Yvonne (my partner in cime in this endeavor) reached out and we hopped on a Zoom call. I dominated the conversation with my struggles and how I felt I was drowning. Yvonne turned the tables. She gave me brilliant insight into the launch of my site. She talked me off the ledge of overwhelm.
By the time we were done talking I felt like I could breathe. I felt like the mountain I’d been trying to scale had been made smaller, or that I had been given the mountain-climbing skills that were right in front of my face, but that I didn’t reach over to pick up. Plus, I didn’t have to go over the mountain, I could go around it!
Since my talk with Yvonne, I took three hours away from all digital distractions. I wrote down EVERYTHING I have going on. Then I went back and I added how long it takes me to do each of them. I added in my grandbaby watching days and times (I don’t get much work done when I am watching him because he is not a baby who sleeps much. My stress is lower when I don’t think, “I am going to get a ton done when Atlas sleeps.” If he sleeps I will work, if not I don’t stress about it because I make sure my days of watching him are “slow days” in my calendar. Any work I get done on those days, I consider a bonus.
Why couldn’t I help myself?
I was obviously too close to the situation. I was obviously blind to how much I had let tasks and obligations drive me and my day. I obviously didn’t take control. I let myself get pulled down the river and convinced myself I was never given a paddle or a life jacket.
Maybe I was too embarrassed to admit I was overwhelmed. Most likely, that was it. How could I, who speaks as an authority on the topic, have let myself get to this point? Easy. I didn’t practice self-care. I didn’t practice was I preached. I didn’t look at my changing life roles and make accommodations for them in my schedule.
It took a friend, an outside source, to listen to me bemoaning my fate to open my eyes.
Thursday and Friday I spent with baby Atlas. He “attended” my DOGTV customer service video call. He sat on my lap and cooed on occasion and stared intently at the screen. Later, he took a nap. I got a bit of work done. Friday he decided not to sleep at all in the morning and chose instead to be fussy. When he fell asleep at around 1 pm, in my arms, I let the sleeping baby lie. He slept until almost 5 pm. A four hour nap for that guy is a lifetime; cat naps are his usual lifestyle. Obviously I wasn’t able to work with him in my arms and on my lap. I kicked back, watched my favorite sitcom, The Middle, scratched out a few notes for one of my cat-centric romance stories for the anthology and enjoyed the gift of the afternoon with the grandbaby.
Saturday morning I was up before the sun. I ate breakfast, walked Henrietta and jumped into work. I am okay, for now, working weekends again until I truly figure out my schedule. Now that I have plotted out a more workable schedule and took the time to write down how long it truly takes me to perform a task, I feel like I am back in control.
If you’re not sure what I mean about “how long it takes to do a task” consider this: There are times when I look at a task like writing a blog post or vacuuming the house and when I am overwhelmed I think, “Holy crap it will take me SO LONG to do either of these tasks” but when I sit down to write that post (because I am so prepared for it) or vacuum the house it doesn’t take as long as I built it up in my mind.
Perception — misplaced — had driven my reality of late because I let it.
When you feel yourself spiraling out of control and feeling overwhelmed, take a step back.
Grab pen and paper (truly go paper, not virtual) and write down EVERYTHING you need to do.
Then go back and write down HOW LONG it will take you to do each task.
THEN look at your weekly schedule.
FILL in appointments and priorities that are non negotiable.
Once that’s done ADD in your client or life tasks (blogging, web copy, babysitting, working in the office) and TIME BLOCK those tasks.
SPRINKLE in your remaining responsibilities and set DEADLINES. Chances are, all of your tasks and priorities don’t have to be done today, right?
BREATHE. Can you feel the weight lifting off because when you get the “Oh my GODs” of what you have to do out of your head and down, where it’s visible, it doesn’t seem that bad, right?
CALL a friend. I am so grateful Yvonne reached out and pulled me back to reality.
I’m feeling better. I am back in control. Honestly, I wasn’t as out of control as I thought I was, but I’d let small things mushroom until they were big things. I didn’t do anything of what I tell my clients to do. Now I will. I am. I have also set aside two hours per month to plan for the upcoming month and am also taking at least thirty minutes a day to plan the next two days. Staying in control means taking control.
What do you do when you feel you are overwhelmed and out of control?