I’ve been working with a client in my mentorship group on organizing her life and focusing on her priorities. This week, she wrote this check-in: 

Learning about Monday morning work ‘practicification’ has helped me to start each work week feeling connected to myself as a centered human and to my values and vision. It is also a time for me to organize and map out how and when I”m going to get my priority tasks done. All in all, this practice has helped me find a sense of ease.

However, I’m noticing that after organizing my schedule, it is soooo jam-packed with allll the things I have to do in a week. I come home drained, and my brain feels like mush.

I also have lots of projects looming on the horizon as we gear up for busy summer programming while also making school-year programming happen. I’m realizing that I’m stressed about how I’m going to get all of the projects done that are further than a month away….and that insecurity leaves me feeling frenetic “I have to start working on those now!” and underlying feeling of stress that’s often simmering in the background.

I think my next step is to revisit the yearly project list and timeline and make a list of the projects that are giving me the ‘we’re not going to get this done’ anxiety the most.

How do I create space in my calendar and also trust that that space won’t lead to stress down the road?

(Shared with permission.)

In case you, too, struggle with the stress of a too-full schedule and long for more spaciousness, I want to share with you my response to my client today. Here’s what I wrote:

One: Celebration.

First off, yay! The fact that your Monday morning reflections are helping you to stay connected with yourself and get clear about how you’ll accomplish your priorities—that’s a win.

There are many layers to this scheduling / organizing stuff. At first, it can be challenging to learn and keep layering new practices on, so it’s really important to celebrate our baby steps.

Two: Your minimum requirements for breaks and self-care.

Often, when people start learning to organize their lives, they focus on their work-related tasks and goals, but they forget to schedule in time to tend to their bodies’ needs—time for breaks, rest, water, food, movement.

Although productivity culture might have us believe that we should be able to keep going, our brains are not designed to function well without breaks. So, if you’re constantly going throughout the day without pausing to tend to your body’s needs, of course your brain will feel like mush.

I invite you to ask yourself: What are your minimum requirements for self-care?

What breaks for movement, food, water, air, and looking away from the computer do you need in order to not feel bad at the end of the day or week?

Three examples of how I schedule in some of my minimum requirements:

  1. Recently, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need an hour-long lunch break (as opposed to the 45-minute break I’d been giving myself). I like to quickly check emails before I make lunch, and when I don’t give myself an entire hour, I end up rushing while eating and struggling to be fully present for myself and my clients after lunch. So, I changed my schedule.
  2. I also realized about half-way through last year that I need to practice an hour-ish of yoga twice per week in order to not feel sore or stiff in my body. So, I added that to my calendar, too.
  3. For a long time, I’ve held a commitment of scheduling fifteen-minute breaks between meetings. I use this time however I need: going to the bathroom, doing a quick stretch or somatic practice, responding to emails. If for any reason I have to attend meetings without this break in between, my brain usually feels quite mushy after I get out of the second meeting.

So, what boundaries does your body need? Schedule them in.

And, please remember: When we are in more overwhelming and stressful moments, we need to double-down on tending to our requirements for self-care.

It’s unfair, I know. When I have more work, the Hardworker in me wishes I could just work even harder and turns her nose up at my breaks. But whenever I forget my commitments to take care of myself, my body reminds me in not-so-comfy ways.

Three: The basic equation of time management.

The basic equation of time management is this:

The time our tasks take must equal or be less than the time we’re able to dedicate to them.

If we try to pack more in than fits in the time we have, we will stress ourselves out and drain our energy.

If you’re consistently tending to the tasks on your plate (ie not procrastinating, which would deserve additional support that I’m not going to be able to offer in this response but which I can certainly support you with in a session), and you still feel panicked about not being able to get it all done, then that probably means that you need to take something off your plate.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How much time do the tasks I’m committed to doing this week realistically take? Write down numbers in your to-do list spreadsheet and add them up.
  • How does this number compare to the time I actually have (make sure to factor in your need for breaks when calculating how much time you have)?
  • If the time your tasks take is greater than the time you have, something needs to go. What will you do to make the tasks on your plate fit the time you have? What can you delegate, say no to, put on your “someday, maybe” / later list, or do less-than-perfect? Do you need to have a conversation with your boss about renegotiating priorities?

Four: Turning and facing the scary assignments.

As for the tasks that you don’t have to tend to this month but are looming in the background of your mind, I agree wholeheartedly that making a list of them is a great idea.

A good rule of thumb is this: Anytime there’s something stressing you out, turn and face it as soon as you can. People often hope that if they avoid the things stressing them out, the stressors will just go away. But that’s rarely what happens. So, rather than the stress simmering in the background, I agree that it’s important to sit down and look at them.

You might want to create a tab in your to-do list spreadsheet for Future Projects and then brainstorm all of the tasks you’ll need to tend to to get those projects done. In a second column, write down when you need to do those steps by. And in a third column, write down how much time you anticipate each step will take. Based on this information, create a list of what needs to happen each month in the coming months.

The point here isn’t to start working on projects that can wait until later if you have more pressing priorities now. The point is to meet your needs for clarity, foresight, planning, and taking the big picture into account.

Five: Your body.

As you go, pay attention to your body. Notice if writing your tasks down creates any sense of relief. And if you still feel stressed, I recommend journaling and having a conversation with the stressed part(s), turning toward them with love and kindness and making attuning feelings/needs guesses.

For example, you might ask: Do you feel worried and long for a sense of support and trust from others that you’re doing your best? Do you feel tired and need more consistent breaks in your days? And are you concerned that you won’t be able to honor your need for breaks as things ramp up to summer?

Keep asking until you feel a sense of yes, that’s it! There may be several layers of feelings and needs. You’ll know you’ve attuned to an unmet when you feel a sense of relief or resonance.

Once you identify your unmet needs, get curious about how you might meet them. Acknowledgement might be sufficient for now to relieve the stress, and you might also discover concrete actions to align your schedule with your needs more.

Now that you’ve read my response to my client, I invite you to get curious about how you might apply these principles to your own life and see if there’s one practical commitment you might make to yourself for the next week.

If you do make (or recommit to) a commitment to yourself, I invite you to share that with me. I’d love to hear!

Wishing you rest, focus, and all the energy you need on the journey ahead!

In love and solidarity,

P.S. If you long for support implementing these changes, focusing on what matters most, dedicating time to self-care, or getting the important stuff done, I invite you to join my upcoming course—Scheduling Boundaries. We start Wednesday, February 22, and it would be an honor to support you. More soon!

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