It think happens to most of us. We make ambitious plans, we jump on a chance that came unexpected or we simply feel we should be doing more in our lives. Tasks pile upon tasks, obligations we took upon ourselves take our breathing space, and we suddenly stop, overwhelmed by it all, unable to find a way through the chaos we brought upon ourselves.
I consider myself to be cautious when it comes to my goals and deciding how much I can handle, and yet every once a while I still find myself in a state of a mild panic, trying to comprehend an ever-growing list of things to do. And the more I think about it all, the more I’m convinced it’s not humanly possible to do it all. I’m doomed, I’m simply doomed, and will just keep falling behind.
Such thinking doesn’t get things done. What’s even worse, it prevents things from being done. All the things. But what does then, when it feels like all the duties, obligations and even our own beloved projects overwhelm us?
I think staying focused and positive thinking makes things done.
Whenever I feel there’s too much on my plate and I just wish I could run away and hide somewhere, I stop trying to handle it all. Instead of looking at the big picture and making a list of everything I need to do, I pick one thing. Usually something small and simple. It can be replying to an overdue email. Or editing a page of a short story. Though I’ll tell you a secret: I often start with… laundry. Getting dirty clothes into a washing machine, adding washing liquid, and switching it on means I’ve just done something. It doesn’t matter it took me less than five minutes, because it still can be used as positive reinforcement. Then I use that feeling to do another thing. Dishes? Writing a blog post? Anything that needs to be done and is not a long-term plan like editing a whole novel.
Of course, it’s impossible to clear a backlog within a day, but bit by bit it gets smaller, and at some point (provided I don’t add anything new), it will again start looking reasonably. Some things will be pushed for “later”, and that’s fine. We’re just humans, we can only do so much. Some deadlines have to be met, no matter how many sleepless nights it takes, but other tasks can wait. The world won’t crumble if you do them later.
I fail at things all the time. That skirt I’ve been sewing since January last year, and the other art projects: polymer clay and my drawings are still somewhere in the “not-done” land. But I chose my priorities, and they’ll have to wait until I find a moment when I don’t have anything else to do. Or I don’t feel like doing anything else. Until then I’m happy if I can stick to my 1000 words a day (even if it sometimes means the dishes will have to wait till the next day), and anything else I manage to do during the day means I’m already ahead. It might be nothing compared to all the things I’m supposed to do, but I don’t plan looking at that list until most things are already done.
So if you feel overwhelmed, take it easy, even just for a day. Put that laundry on. Clean up your desk. Write half a page of whatever. Then pick another small task or a reasonable slice of something bigger. And savor every little accomplishment as if you’ve just cleaned the Augean stables. This feeling helps me every time, and it might help you get through the worst backlog. Don’t beat yourself with your to-do list, instead toss it to the side and just get something—anything—done. Because it’s not thinking what we need to do, but thinking of what we’ve managed to do that keeps us going.
Do you have any way to tackle the overwhelming amount of tasks? Maybe you know how to plan to avoid the backlogs? Or maybe you’ve perfected the art of leaving the small things behind and focusing on what’s really important? Share in the comments, we all could use your experience.
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.