I’m starting to feel creative burnout, not even for lack of ideas, but for time in the day, energy to expend, and other obligations pulling me every which way. You may have noticed that this posting is a day late? I knew that attempting more than one challenge this month was going to be tough, but I guess I thought, “huh, well, I’ll have that vacation week, right? That’ll be a good chance to catch up/get ahead on my challenges.” Ah. Ahahaha. Except that’s when I need to catch up on literally everything else — housework that’s piled up over the week or so we were all sick, nearly a month’s worth of laundry, washing all the bedding (post-stomach bug), rehanging pictures, reorganizing Bear’s clothes, etc., etc.
Eventually, something would have to slip. Probably better a day or two in an online challenge than more obligations in my personal life.
Still, it means I have to be able to sit back and let something go. And that’s hard. That’s really, really hard.
Part of it might be compensating for the fact that I’ve been told I’m kind of a failure for so long, and some of it is just my own perfectionism/all-or-nothing thinking, but no matter who many things I’m successfully juggling, when I’m forced to let a ball drop, it hurts me — it feels like a very personal failing, and it’s very easy, from there, to drop into a shame spiral where I eventually drops all the damn balls and then feel like trash about it.
And yet. And yet, and yet, and yet — sigh — sometimes dropping a ball (or two) is necessary.
But which one? Do I drop the one that’s more frivolous but personally fulfilling, or do I drop the one that’s more necessary, but so much more soul-sucking and draining? Do I have to totally drop any of them? Can I pick them back up again?
I’ve written about the mental and emotional toll of living in a messy house, and the steps — the bare bones, smallest steps — you can take to feel better even when you are running on nearly empty. I’ve found that there are other things I can do when I am feeling overwhelmed by things (including, but not solely, cleaning) that help alleviate the stress to some extent without overextending myself.
Write down everything you have to get done. Everything, big and small. Include personal projects, however frivolous they seems, if you consider them a priority.
Circle those things that can be done immediately. As in, immediately immediately. Log online and pay your bills (you can probably do it from your phone). Answer that email. Take out the trash and recycling. You can probably knock out three or four of those things in fifteen minutes. It will lighten your mental load considerably.
Find the time sensitive items. Things with a deadline. Since you’ve likely handled bills in the previous steps, this would be things like responding to emails (assuming you have more than one pressing correspondence to get back to, which could have been dealt with in the “right away” step), finishing up a project for work, grading papers, returning items on warranty, etc. Tackle these. I know there’s probably other stuff that feels pressing — laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, etc. — but unless you’re literally living in filth with an empty fridge, it is better in the long run to get these done first, because they closer you get to the window when they have to be done, the more stressed you’ll feel about them.
Find the multi-tasking or passive items. By this, I mean those things that you can bang out while sort of decompressing or hanging out — “TV tasks,” in other words. You know, those things you can get done while you’re sitting and watching TV. That could be exercising (turn on a favorite show and do some callesthenics or some yoga), folding laundry, ironing, sewing, crafting, etc. Put those at the bottom of the list; you can work on these items at the end of the day, when you are getting ready to decompress. They are tasks that you can do almost on autopilot — you just need to set aside the time to do them.
Now pick your top three priorities; the things you want to make sure you get done. But be specific. Instead of, “I want to clean the house,” maybe it’s, “I want to scrub out the tub and clean the toilets,” or “I want to tackle all the dishes and wash the floor.” But pick three specific things that you want to get done — “I want to finish that painting,” “I want to get me oil changed,” “I want to schedule that cat’s vet appointment.” But limit it to three. Three things you want to get to today.
Let the rest go. This is the hardest thing to do, I think. Accept that you cannot get everything on your list done — and yes, tomorrow your list will probably have new items on it. That’s okay. You don’t need to clear your list. Do you know anyone with an empty to-do list? Even if it’s just personal projects and things they enjoy doing, everyone has an ongoing, constantly evolving list of Things To Do. the challenge isn’t a race to get things done, the challenge is keeping the items on your list from becoming a source of stress and dread. It’s not about clearing the list, it’s about making steady progress and clearing a few items off the list everyday.
Let yourself do enjoyable things as you accomplish tasks; don’t punish yourself an wait until everything is done to have fun. You will waste your whole life in pursuit of completion of this damn list if you don’t take breaks and allow yourself to do things that are enjoyable and relaxing for you, and the worst part is, not allowing yourself to have fun and recharge is actually detrimental to completing your tasks because you are going to be so overwhelmed and burnt out that you will be utterly useless to do anything worthwhile.
I still struggle with all of this. I still go through phases where I get on this bender of “clean clean clean go go go now now now,” and it’s hard to talk me down from them, but I am getting marginally better at prioritizing and understanding that I can’t always get everything done.
And hey, sometimes you won’t even get through your three essential tasks. Sometime life happens, the tasks wind up taking longer and being more involved than you thought, something comes up. That’s fine. Incomplete tasks move to the top of the priority list the next day. It will get done if you work at it. Just because it didn’t get done the first day doesn’t mean you failed. Hey, it’s further toward completion now than it was when you started. Just because you didn’t finish doesn’t mean you got nothing done.
Just because you dropped a ball doesn’t mean you can’t pick it up again.