I feel like there's a racetrack in my house sometimes. We have a sort-of circular floor plan, and if I counted the times I've rushed from my dining room through my bedroom through my office into the kitchen and around again, I'd be in the tens of thousands I bet. Sometimes I feel exhausted with all the rushing and the to-do list that seems to only get longer.
I've noticed I'm usually rushing because of a need to move something, provide something, respond to something, or take a break from something.
Move, provide, respond, take a break...isn't that what's entailed in a busy life? Let's explore more.
There are lots of demands for movement at some point most days, right? Gotta roll out of bed in the morning, stretch the legs, shower up, walk out the door to the car or bus or train...GET SOMEWHERE. For those of us that work a lot at home, especially with kids, we may have instant demands to start moving, especially when they are kicking us in the bed or crying at 5am.
There's alot of physical movement required most days, but there's also the moving of things from one place to another. I find myself constantly taking my kids' things from one part of the house back to their room, things I'd just put away the day before! But here they are again... my daughter's hairbrush on my desk, my son's slingshot on my bed, an upturned bag of those tiny rubber bands for making bracelets in the kitchen floor. Ugh! Won't things ever be in their right place, and just stay there? No they won't, because people and things constantly move (and that, in and of itself is not a bad thing.)
So, I could definitely putter around my house all day putting things back where they go, but I'd get nothing truly important done. So I have to be ok with a bit of a mess. I have to be content with things out of place, and without order in every corner of the house. I have to let movement be graceful and come from a true need, rather than an obsessive desire to get somewhere, put things somewhere, or control my environment. I have to find balance between moving and being still. I have to find stillness when the urge to move will distract me from what is really important.
Sometimes the being busy comes from the need to give, to create, to deliver, to provide something. Whether it's a meal, a service, a phone call, a lesson, a document, or anything else, the pull towards giving can easily become unmanageable. Because what happens when you don't live up to a demand to provide something??....GUILT, that's what. It really should be a four letter word, this most tricky emotion!
Here's the mental commentary we may experience:
"I gotta provide what is being asked of me...or what I expect of myself...but I'm exhausted from all this moving and doing...I need a break...if I take a break, I won't be productive...I won't be providing, and how can I possibly live with that?...I can't live with that so I keep giving and providing."
It's a self-defeating cycle of feeling unworthy. So when you feel the need to keep on providing, take a moment of self-awareness to inventory what you've already done. Whether it's doing the laundry, making lunch for a loved one, writing a paper, seeing a client, completing a project, or anything else, acknowledge it and give yourself gratitude. Even if no one else says thanks, you can give thanks to yourself.
Have you gotten those emails yet?
What about those voice mails?
Can you stop what you're doing real quick and answer a question?
The trickiest part of multi-tasking is responding to the needs of others. We not only have to know what's on the to-do list and work on it, we also have to juggle the things that come up in the midst of an already packed day. We have to decipher what is important and what can wait. Who needs immediate attention and who will be ok until later today or tomorrow? And if we do stop and respond, how in the world do we get back where we left off? Especially if we were really in a good flow and accomplishing things. Is it even possible to get the momentum back if I stop and respond?
It's no wonder our brains hurt and we get headaches with all the mental work it takes to handle multiple demands.
When you're multi-tasking, do you even realize you're doing it? Next time you feel overwhelmed, stop everything you're doing and name all the tasks on your mind at that moment. Write them down or make a star next to them on your to-do list. If you have more than two or three, and especially if they are complicated tasks, it's time for a new approach. Otherwise, you'll spend time moving between tasks and not making progress rather than wholly focusing on one or another.
Prioritizing is key. If you don't know what's most important, ask yourself. "If this task isn't done tomorrow, will someone critical in my life be disappointed?" If the answer is no, then it can wait. You can also ask, "Can I accept my efforts today even if this is not done tomorrow?" If the answer is yes, it can wait.
4. Take a break....
Ahhh, that's just what will help when all the moving, providing, and responding becomes too much. Getting away for a quiet moment, taking a walk, gazing out the window, grabbing a snack, locking ourselves in the bathroom for a moment or two...it helps right?
It sure does, but it's hard to get a break most of the time. Sometimes we don't get to choose when to take a break, we just have to snag it when the opportunity arises. It's critical to seize those opportunities and to savor quiet and stillness. Will you allow yourself to be still, even while the to do list looms, the phone rings, the iphone dings, or someone calls your name? Cultivating stillness in the midst of activity is part of what yoga can teach us. That's why I use yoga in counseling, because it helps calm nerves, ease fears, and see the beauty of the moment.
The bottom line is that all of this moving, providing, and responding is important. It's what keeps us connected to the external world, with all of its beauty and all of its chaos. It's what keeps our social connections healthy, and our communities fertile. We just have to learn to be still within all the movement.
Kambria Kennedy-Dominguez, Counselor and yoga teacher specializing in mental health, substance abuse and wellness.