How 3 Little Things Help Me From Getting Too Overwhelmed

Last week, I shared about some big life stuff going on in the Way house – busy jobs, moving, and baby! I’ve also discussed how I initially struggled with my New Year’s Resolutions because everything was in flux (and still is, somewhat). So, how am I doing with all that’s on my plate and how I am doing at getting it all done? Meh. Recently, most days I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water.

Overall, life is very good to me and I try to make a point every day to remember that. Some days and moments are better than others, and I get overwhelmed so much more easily right now thanks to pregnancy hormones (for example, crying off and on for 2 hours the other night over the big move and how much there is to do, and full on crying during sad moments in movies and tv shows). So, it’s really important for me to remember to be grateful that I have everything I really need in life and so, so, so much more.

Even during the crazy moments when life is overwhelming, you spill coffee (or tea, if you’re pregnant) on yourself, your black dog went missing for a few minutes in a brand new neighborhood at night, you’re fighting with a loved one, something’s wrong at work and it’s your fault, and your bank account is lower than it’s been for years (yes, all true occurrences from my life just in the past week)…chances are that you still have something for which to be grateful. When stuff like this is going on, it can be hard to think of anything that is going well, but I promise you it’s there!

The easiest way is to spend a little bit of time every day consciously thinking of things for which we are grateful. Okay yeah…that sounds great, but who has the time?! Well, there are a few ways to do this, some of which are easier than others. It’s all about figuring out what works for you and not giving up when 1 or 2 ways don’t work for you.

Because I’m all about little ways (hence the name of this blog), I keep it short and simple. And because I’m an introvert who isn’t keen on sharing my thoughts out loud, I prefer to write it down. My method is to keep my gratitude journal. I started it almost 2 years ago in 2017 after some decluttering turned up a couple of beautiful notebooks that I couldn’t bear to get rid of. After some thinking, I decided to start a gratitude journal. Every day when I get to work, I write down 3 things for which I’m grateful while my computer is starting up and retrieving the 100 emails I need to read. Usually, I’ll walk into my office, get some hot tea from the kitchen, and write down my 3 things while the tea steeps (and the temperature cools down a little bit). Some days, it’s hard to choose only 3 things. Other days, I struggle with all 3.

my gratitude journal and cup of morning tea

On the days that I struggle, I try to think of things beyond my immediate situation (e.g., work, husband, dog). These things include:

  • I have both my legs
  • I have both my hands
  • I can use both my legs
  • I’m not sick (or, I have medicine to help me get better)
  • I have enough money to put fuel in my car
  • I have a job
  • I have a home
  • Both of my parents are still alive
  • I have health insurance
  • I have safe, clean water to drink
  • I have a full jar of emergency peanut butter in my desk
  • Ginger ale was invented and is great for nausea
  • Pinterest can help me come up with mother’s day gifts
  • I’m not worried about where I’ll get my next meal
  • I have clothes to wear
  • I have a dishwasher
  • I have a graduate degree
  • I have been able to travel
  • The sun is shining
  • The rain is coming down to water flowers
  • I woke up this morning

None of these items are probably what you think of first, but there are so many things that each of us have. If you are able to read this blog, then that means you have electricity and internet. You might not be grateful for these things on a daily basis, but you sure miss them if you don’t have them! You can also take inspiration by looking around at other people. Somebody else might have sprained her ankle and be stuck on crutches/in a boot for 3 weeks (bet you’re grateful that’s not you!), or somebody else is fighting with their spouse, or somebody else is sleep deprived for some reason. Bet you’re glad that’s not you (for now) and you should be! There is so much we take for granted and it’s easy to do that. It’s an ongoing process for me to be grateful, but it’s so important. It definitely helps me stay grounded and come back from being overwhelmed (again, pregnancy hormones have removed my emotional regulation filter, so I become overwhelmed first and then have to come back from that).

If you don’t want to write anything down because that’s just not your style, try making a point to spend some time each day consciously grateful. But, don’t spend more than 5 minutes on it! You could share 3 things with your spouse/significant other/roommate/best friend every day while you eat breakfast or dinner. You could write down your list at night. You could type your list. You could be grateful while you’re eating your morning cereal, or while you shower, or while you walk the dog, or while you drive to or from work. The main things are to be consistent, be conscious, and don’t overthink it. Keep the list to only 3 things – there are always at least 3 things for which to be grateful every single day.

Today, I’m grateful that last night’s hail storm didn’t damage either of our vehicles, that my baby is moving around a lot this morning, and that I am slowly getting through the grading for my class. What are you grateful for today?

Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy Preparing for Next Year. Enjoy the End of This Year First

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas (or non-Christmas if you don’t celebrate it) and are enjoying some quiet time before the new year kicks off next week. Just like every year, I can barely believe that the year is nearly over and that next year is about to start.

Speaking of next year, this past month has bombarded me with information about starting 2019 off right and needing to plan ahead so that I can hit the ground running for the Best.Year.Ever! I have also been told that I need a theme for 2019. My favorite is the idea that next year will be ruined if I don’t plan right now. What I hear is that, on top of being busy with last minute gifts, cooking for Christmas dinner, spending time with family, and still living my regular life (working full time, keeping the house clean, the dog fed and walked, and the chickens fed), I have to plan ahead with a theme and a 20 step action plan to make sure I accomplish all my goals for once? HA!

Right here, right now, I give us both permission to ignore that advice. If you have the energy and desire to plan ahead and think of what you want to accomplish next year, go for it! You do you! But if you’re like me, don’t worry about it. Coming up with some ideas on January 1 versus coming up with some ideas on January 7 won’t make a difference in your year. Think about it, having your list of goals and your theme and your action plan ready to go on day 1 versus day 7 out of 365 days total is nearly negligible. Heck, you don’t even need a list of goals or a theme or an action plan! There are plenty of people who don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. Personally, I go with some concrete goals that I want to accomplish, but I’ve never had a theme (I’ve never had a theme for anything – my wedding, the baby shower I hosted, my life).

The point is, enjoy the end of 2018. Recover from the holidays. 2019 will be here soon enough as it is and we can face it then. Right now, enjoy the quiet time between Christmas and the New Year. If you want to find me, Way Pup will be squishing me on the couch as we watch movies and eat popcorn.

It’s hard to see in this photo, but Way Pup is leaning into me with all his weight and squishing me on the couch so I am stuck and must pet him

Distracted By All Your Holiday To-Dos? Try My Favorite Technique to Get the Important Stuff Done

Merry Almost Christmas!

It’s the Thursday before Christmas! If you’re like me, your brain is probably full of stocking stuffer to-dos and Christmas menu recipes and last minute shopping items. At the same time, you probably still need to be productive – whether you are taking/administering finals, have a full-time job, stay home with kids, or a combination of any of those – when all you want to do is wrap those last gifts, bake those last minute tasty treats, watch yet another video of how to make a beautiful Beef Wellington for your Christmas dinner, or go shopping for a new holiday outfit. Basically, anything but focus at work. Unfortunately for us, we still need to be productive. So what are we to do?!

Write All The Things And Then Prioritize

I really really really wish that I had some great, time-tested advice that works every time to stay focused. Instead, I have one main technique that I use and several backups.

The main thing I do to help me stay focused at work is to prioritize what MUST get done.

First, make a to-do list. If you need to, separate them into work to-dos and home to-dos. Get it all out on paper (but don’t freak out if it gets long…that’s okay). This first step is just about identifying everything that’s up in your head (well, everything related to what needs to be accomplished).

Second, prioritize what needs to get done. If you’re at work, decide what absolutely MUST get done first, then second, then third. Or, decide what absolutely MUST get done today/this week/this month. Is it getting that report out? Is it studying for your last final? Is it turning in grades? Is it analyzing that design and providing feedback? Is it responding to your client or your sub? For home, decide what is your top priority. Maybe it’s doing laundry so you have clean underwear tomorrow, or it’s finding a recipe for an easy Christmas dessert or finding a recipe for a showstopping main meal. Your priorities could change from one day to the next. Today, you might have to go to the end-of-year HOA meeting and tomorrow you might have a fun activity planned with a friend, while knowing that this weekend you need to go grocery shopping for your Christmas dinner. In between you also know you need to walk the dog, feed the chickens, and oh yeah, feed yourself.

Third, start with the highest priority thing on your list. Wherever you are, start with that list. If you’re at work, start with that list because that’s what you’re getting paid to do. If you’re at home, start with that list.

my to-do list this week
Way Pup helped with cleaning up the yard after some branches fell down (which got marked off on my to-do list above)

That’s the main thing I do! It sounds simple because…it is. You don’t need a complex system to get stuff done. You just need a system. If you worry that you’re wasting time by writing everything down, you’re probably wasting even more time by not focusing. If you take 10 minutes to write everything out and another 5 to prioritize, that’s better than spending 30 minutes spinning your wheels. Just sayin’.

Also just sayin’, go ahead and add stuff to your to-do list so you can cross it off.

Backups

If this doesn’t work, there are other things you can try, such as:

  • Clean. This isn’t glamorous, but picking up your space (especially if you have lots of paper and dirty dishes lying around) can really help you. Chances are, you probably already know this technique and use it, but a reminder is always good. I’d say that over half the women I talk to clean when they have other important stuff to do. So, if you need to clean, then pick up your space and then get right to work.
  • Go for a 10-15 minute walk. This might help some people, but for me it’s just more time to think about what I need to to. I take walks to get fresh air, not to refocus.
  • Use a timer. I’ve tried timers with limited success, but they really do work for some people. The most common timer method is the Pomodoro principle – work for 20 minutes, take a break for 5, work for 20 minutes, break for 5, repeat until you’re done. Another way is how someone at work uses a time – he has a timer set every 30 minutes to remind him to stand up and stretch, stop goofing off, or change tasks, which works really well for him.
  • Change location. If you usually work in one spot, changing locations can sometimes be a huge difference. In college, I spent the semesters studying in my dorm room, but then would always move to a favorite coffee shop to study for finals. When I was tied to my desk, I would try to change which part of my desk where I worked (it’s an L-shaped desk). Now, my office has a lounge where we can take our laptops if we want to get out of our offices. So, if it’s an option for you, try changing it up.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, we all have times when we need to focus at work but it’s the last thing we want to do. Hopefully the advice above will help you out and help you focus when you least want to, year round.

And finally, Merry Christmas! Whether or not you celebrate, I wish you a joyful holiday season and best wishes for the last few days of 2018.

If You Apologize When You Shouldn’t, Try Saying “Thank You” Instead

This holiday season (heck, year-round) you might find yourself apologizing for a lot of stuff. Schedules are crazy, there are so many expectations that come with the holidays, and it is hard to get it all done. If you’re like me, you want to apologize all the time because you don’t feel like you’re living up to expectations. This feeling is exacerbated because I chronically run late and am often slow in so many ways. My husband, family, and friends know that I almost always run about 15-20 minutes (something I’m working on) , and that makes me want to say I’m sorry for being late (which I am). I also tend to forget to respond to text messages from friends, so their texts might accidentally be unanswered for hours or even days. I’ll notice it when I go to text them and see that I never responded to a heartfelt text message. Again, so very tempted to apologize for being a bad friend (and sometimes I do) because I left them hanging. I’ve done this for well over a decade, which has led to so.many.apologies and so.much.guilt. And of course, it’s easy to apologize in emails: “Sorry to bother you, but…” or “Sorry this is late” or “Sorry for the inconvenience…” Then a couple of years ago, I came across a great piece of advice about a teeny tiny thing: instead of apologizing, say thank you. 

Make no mistake – I still feel guilty and my procrastination is something I constantly work on (yes, there will be a future blog post about working on procrastination, but…again…I’m a procrastinator). However, I have found that saying ‘thank you’ instead of ‘sorry’ has 2 great benefits: ‘thank you’ is the positive side to sorry’s negative. First, you feel better because you’re focusing on the positive (and maybe ignoring some of the guilt). Second, the other person feels appreciated. In 9 out of 10 cases, you’ll probably end up saying, “Thank you for your patience” and then the other person will think, ‘yeah! I am a patient person!”.

As much as I wish it were true, the change did not happen overnight. In fact, saying ‘thank you’ is a constant choice. After years of practice (read: beating myself up after saying the wrong thing in so many situations), I am marginally better at pausing before I speak and this tiny margin lets me say ‘thank you’ instead of ‘sorry’.

“Alright,” you may be thinking, “I’ve got the theory. What is the practical side of this? How do I actually work on saying ‘thank you’ instead of ‘I’m sorry’?” Glad you asked and thank you for your patience with me while I got to this. (See what I did there? I thanked you for your patience instead of apologizing for taking so long to get to the point.) Here are a few examples of when you can switch your apology with a thank you:

  • Sorry I’m running late. ⇒ Thank you for waiting on me.
  • Sorry I didn’t respond to your text message/email/phone call. ⇒ Thank you for your patience.
  • Sorry I’m so slow on this project. ⇒ Thank you for your patience while I figure this out.
  • Sorry I’m rambling. ⇒ Thank you for listening.
  • Sorry to bother you. ⇒ Thank you for your time. (Or, Excuse me.)
  • Sorry my family is so crazy. ⇒ Thank you for being so nice to my family.
  • Sorry I can’t make it tonight. ⇒ Thank you for understanding how crazy work/life is.
  • Sorry to ask you to do this.or Sorry for the inconvenience. ⇒ Thank you for your help.
  • Sorry I don’t have your Christmas present ready yet. ⇒ Thank you for being patient. It’ll be fun to give you your gift after Christmas and celebrate a little longer!

Extra tip: remove “sorry” from your emails and text messages. After you type something up, look it over and change out that ‘sorry’ for a ‘thank you’.

The next time you find yourself tempted to apologize to someone for something, try to pause and decide if you can thank them instead. And remember, it takes practice. You’ve probably been saying “I’m sorry” for a very long time and it’ll take awhile to change an ingrained habit.

Self-Improvement Isn’t Going Anywhere – It’s OK to Take a Break When You Feel Overwhelmed

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by how much self-improvement information is out there? There’s tons of advice constantly barraging us with how to be better at everything – how to be fitter, how to be a better parent, how to negotiate better, how to give back more, how to be more productive, how to go faster, how to go bigger, how to, how to, how to. There are books that can teach you how to improve yourself. There are courses and websites and lectures and conferences. There is so much information out there that information overload is a real thing.  Continue reading