I have been very busy lately juggling a full-time art career, YouTube media studio, weekly podcasts, commissions, writing a book, art shows, giving presentations, gearing up for the holiday season and maintaining a happy & healthy relationship with my wife Klee. She is running her side of the business as well, and it is easy for both of us to get lost in the overwhelm of to-do lists, meetings, and deadlines.
First off, I’m not moaning about how busy I am. Often when someone complains about being too busy, it is actually a thinly veiled boast disguised as a complaint. I have, admittedly, worn the “busy badge” in the past during moments of insecurity. This is where you make it a point to illustrate how your life cannot possibly be silly, trivial, or meaningless because you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
The problem with all that boasting is that it has a tendency to make you feel even busier than you are. Us humans tend to believe the things we tell ourselves, while also inadvertently making others feel overwhelmed too. I finally came to the conclusion that it wasn’t helping to gripe about it, in fact, it was making the overwhelm worse. Besides, if you’re genuinely that busy… are you sure you can spare the time to be bitching about it?
Another unhealthy way I started to give into “being busy” was paying too much attention to the rapid pace that the world seemed to be heading in. I began realizing that the urgency-addicted culture that I lived in was having a huge impact on the way I lived my day to day life, and that was an eye-opener for me. I was convinced that just a bit more speed, time, productivity and I could stay in control. I started to grow unwilling to tolerate the discomfort of slowing down. Taking a break, even a small one, even for good reason, started to seem unproductive.
When you find yourself on this treadmill of urgency, it can feel unacceptable to slow down. As it turns out, the idea that you need to go full throttle all the time is completely unproductive. Your mind and body need breaks from what you are doing or you will end up burning out pretty quickly. I now take a 15 to 30 minute break every 2 hours, even during the busiest workdays. Believe or not, I get so much more done now than I did when I pushed through, and my days are less stressful and much more enjoyable.
A to-do list can be both a blessing and a curse. It is a trackable list of tasks that fuels the ambition of getting completion in a day, but adding one more item to the list feels effortless, so it’s dangerously easy to over-commit. I feel like I used to have lists that were a mile long, and when I didn’t complete them, I felt like a failure that day. I then went into the next day feeling like I was already behind.
I now have a cap on my daily to-do. Instead of an open-ended list, I only allow myself to schedule 5 items for the day. If I complete the items on my list, then I’ll add additional stuff that is small and easy to do. If I do not finish my list, I add the incompleted items to the top of the next day. I also have a Fantastic 4 list that I write about in my book, but that involves special tasks that are designed to break large overwhelming projects into tiny chunks.
Most importantly, remember that life is short and you don’t want to spend these precious days feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. It is something I remind myself of every day as I sit silently for ten minutes, battling the voices that like to say I’m being unproductive.
Give those voices the middle finger, and enjoy your day.