Too much to do, not enough time to do it.
Twenty-five years ago, at the dawn of the modern internet revolution, people were predicting that our technological advancements would eventually allow us to work less, so we could pay more attention to what’s truly important in our lives. Today, however, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.
We may be able to achieve twice as much in half the time, but that’s what’s expected of us now – it’s the new baseline. On top of that, technology fills our free time with endless distractions – we’re checking text messages, email, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., 24/7.
And so, despite its benefits, our technology has us feeling as desperately overwhelmed as ever.
Or more specifically: mindfulness as it relates to prioritizing, letting go, and reframing our thoughts.
1. The Art of Mindfully Prioritizing
The moment we admit to ourselves that we’re trying to cram too many things (tasks, obligations, distractions, etc.) into a relatively small space (24 hours in a day), it becomes obvious that we need to clear some clutter from our schedules.
Mindful prioritization is the key.
Pay close attention to all the things you do today – all the things you’re trying to fit into 24 hours. How much TV are you watching in the morning and evening? What websites are you browsing? What games are you playing? How much time are you spending texting, emailing, or updating your social media accounts? How much online window-shopping are you doing? How much time do you allocate to eating, cleaning, and taking care of others? What else are you spending the precious minutes of your day on?
What you might notice first is that you’re doing too many random things that don’t need to be done – too many time-wasters. Then you might also notice that you’re overcommitted with too many obligations – and those obligations are filling up your life.
You can start stealing your time back by eliminating as many needless distractions and obligations as possible, and saying “no” to new ones that arise. Easier said than done, of course, but the important thing to realize is that you CAN change how you allocate your time.
Next, look at your to-do list (assuming you have one): how many of these things can you reasonably do in the next 24-hours? Probably only three to five, with sanity.
Now ask yourself this: which task would you work on if you could only work on one task over the next 24 hours? That is your #1 priority. Just that one task. The truth is, you probably can’t complete everything on your list in one day’s time, and you can’t do your top three to five tasks right now. You can do only one thing at a time. So just focus on your #1 task and, once you’re done, then figure out what your next #1 task is.
Clear everything else away, and focus.
2. The Art of Mindfully Letting Go
So what about all the other things you want to do (or feel you “should” do), that you simply can’t get done? What do you do with the tasks that don’t fit into 24 hours?
This is where the art of letting go comes into play.
You had too many things you wanted to fit into your day, and now you realize this, so you’ve decided to only put the important things on your priority list. But that means there’s likely a few things you think you “should” do that are not going to fit.
So what can you do?
You can do those things tomorrow. Or you can decide to not do them at all. Either way, the reality is they won’t fit into the next 24 hours of your life. And since these things were not top priorities, there’s really no problem.
A problem only arises when you feel anxiety, overwhelm, and frustration because you can’t fit everything in. But you have to realize that the way you feel is based on your ideals – the thought that you should be able to do it all, be everything to everyone, and be super human – not your reality.
So you have to adjust your ideals to match reality. The reality is that you can’t do everything today. You can only choose to do some things – the important things – and everything else will have to wait until tomorrow, or get removed from your list.
Since you can’t get more than 24 hours out of a day, you need to adjust your ideals.
Focus on what’s truly important, and do what you can do today.
That is enough.
Let go of thinking that it isn’t.
3. The Art of Mindfully Reframing
Once you have your priorities better managed, and you’ve let go of some things, it’s time to reframe how you’re generally thinking about the busyness that overwhelms you.
As human beings, how busy we think we are amplifies how overwhelmed we feel. That is, the stories we tell ourselves about life can dramatically escalate, or ease, our stress levels. This is where reframing makes all the difference.
In a recent coaching session, one of our newest course students, Rebecca, a wife and mother to three who owns a successful photography business, recently told us about how she has reframed the way she thinks about her life (I’m sharing this with permission):
“I used to describe my life as overwhelming and busy, but not anymore. Now, I see it as exceptionally rich and interesting. I feel empowered by the challenges I face personally and professional. I’m not in denial and I’m definitely exhausted at the end of most days. But it’s now a satisfying kind of exhaustion. I did what I could do, and I did my best. And that makes me feel good. Of course, there are tough compromises that must be made some days, but that’s OK – the compromises I must make just shine a light back on my priorities. I can’t do it all. But I can do my best. And I can do things for the right reasons. And I can make people feel respected and loved along the way.”
The bottom line is that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have lots of responsibilities, commitments, and tasks on your plate. The key is to narrow down your priorities, let go when it makes sense, and then find a “reframe” that allows you to see how your life isn’t really overwhelming but instead rich and interesting, and only as busy as YOU decide to make it.
Quotes to Ease an Overwhelmed Mind
If you need a little extra inspiration, here are seven quotes that help me keep things in perspective – they include some key lessons I’ve learned over the years that I’ve documented in various archived blog posts (and now our book). When life gets hectic, and I feel overwhelm creeping up on me, I reflect on these quotes for as long as it takes me to shift my mindset. I encourage you to do the same…
- The best time to take a deep breath is when you don’t feel like it. Because that’s when doing so can make the biggest difference.
- Stress and overwhelm both come from the way you respond, not the way life is. Adjust your attitude, and the stress and overwhelm is gone. YOU control the way you look at life. (Note: Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Happiness” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- What you pay attention to grows. Focus exclusively on what matters and let go of what does not.
- It’s OK. Show yourself some love. We can’t do everything for everybody in every situation. Do what you can, and do it with a joyful heart.
- Worry, frustration, anger and procrastination will make you weary. Real, honest effort, on the contrary, will energize you. Act accordingly.
- Keep going. One step at a time. True purpose has no time limit. True purpose has no deadline. Just focus on the step you’re taking.
- No matter what, you can always fight the battles of just today. It’s only when you add the infinite battles of yesterday and tomorrow that life gets overly complicated.
Challenge yourself today to focus solely on the one important thing you’re actually doing, one small step at a time.
Honestly, that’s all life is – a ritual of taking small, important steps, moment by moment, and then one day when you look back it all adds up to something worthwhile… something that’s often far better, and different, than what you had envisioned when you started. (Note: Angel and I build small, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
So please leave a comment below and let us know:
What’s the one small, important step you are going to focus on next?
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Photo by: Dingzeyu Li