As my husband went to walk out the door to go to work, I found the words jump out of my mouth:
“I wish I could just walk out the door as easily as you!!”
The feeling of resentment punctuated each word. Over the last two weeks my frustration had been building. My beautiful little girl, who is now 11 weeks old, had gone through a stage of not wanting to be put down. She has been so easy, calm and relaxed……..but only if she’s being cuddled. As adorable as that is, it’s also meant I’ve got next to nothing done!
As I’ve sat cuddling and feeding my baby, my mind has been going into overdrive with all the things that I’ve needed to do. Each day the list has grown, and the feeling of being more out of control and overwhelmed has built. Each moment when I was trying to sit and be present with my daughter I found myself being hijacked by my mind’s preoccupation with my to-do-list.
When I’ve mentioned this to people I’ve received so many well meaning words of support:
- Just enjoy this time it passes so quickly
- Just let the to-do list go – everything can wait, there’s nothing more important than what you’re doing now
- Relax and cherish these moment, you won’t get this time again
All well meaning comments, but, if I’m honest I’ve kind of wanted to poke people in the eye as they’ve said them! You see, as much as I know they’re right, it’s made me feel more guilty and ashamed for allowing myself to get frustrated. I struggle to not be doing and achieving. I’m deeply invested in being competent, capable, hard working and responsible.
My guess is that if you’re part of the Wisdom For Working Mums’ community you might have these kind of tendencies too. We’re achievement orientated, care deeply about others and want to do everything well. These tendencies support us in achieving great things in our lives, but can also trip us up. They can lead us into feeling overly busy, frantic, pressurised and overwhelmed.
I hate to admit it but my self worth is often measured by my productivity. How I feel about myself at the end of the day is often determined by how much I’ve achieved. Can you relate to this?
So I’ve found myself applying all my wisdom and experience as an executive coach to myself. Sometimes we’re teaching what we need to learn the most! I thought it might be useful to share how I get out of my own way when I find my over-achiever tendencies kicking in. How I get myself to be ‘present over perfect’. How I meet my need to feel that I’ve got something done without feeling a failure for not getting everything done.
- I get still. When I’m feeling overwhelmed my immediate reaction is to attack my to-do-list and get moving. I can preoccupy myself with being busy in the attempt to reduce my overwhelm and feeling like I’m achieving something. The problem is my busyness can distract me from noticing what’s really going on. When I get still I can get clear on what is really frustrating me. Not just the story I’m telling myself, but the real truth. Sometimes just this clarity can free myself from getting caught in the achievement hamster wheel. Because we live in a time that glorifies busyness. It’s too easy to be seduced into being busy. Getting still enables me to unhook myself from that seduction.
- I get clear. When I’m feeling pressured by my overflowing to-do list, and when everything feels important and I don’t know where to start, I get clear on my purpose and values. As John C Maxwell say “People who use time wisely spend it on activities that advance their purpose.” That allows me to navigate myself out of the fog of overwhelm. It’s like a lighthouse helping me to get back to shore safely. It allows me to prioritise and focus my action on what’s most important in that moment. As busy working mums that’s vital for our sanity. If we’ve only got limited time, how we spend it becomes one of the most important decisions we’ll make.
- I let go. By focussing on my purpose I can start to clearly see what activities will move me closer to this. And by aligning myself with my values I can do what matters most. The other things are just peripheral and I can let go of my grip on achieving them. That might mean I delete them from my to-do list. Or it might mean that I defer when I do them to a more reasonable and appropriate time. Or it might mean that I delegate them to someone else..… even if I think they won’t do it as well as me! As Tiffany Dofu brilliantly writes in her book Drop The Ball this is the way to thrive as working mums:
”to release unrealistic expectations of doing it all and engage others to achieve what matters most to us, deepening our relationships and enriching our lives”
That’s the only way in this season of my life (with a baby that I’m exclusively breastfeeding) that I can move forward without losing my sanity. To accept the limitations of myself and my time. As Shauna Niequist says in her book ‘Present over Perfect’
“I have this much time, I have this much energy. I have this much relational capacity.”
So I have to spend it wisely and well.
If you’re driven by achievement and being in control, like me, I hope these insights into how I navigate my to-do-list without sacrificing my sanity or wellbeing, are useful.
As always I’d love to hear from you. How do you stop your to-do list ruining your life?
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