As we return to life post pandemic, many people are finding their schedules are starting to feel overloaded again and their to do lists overwhelming. As the tasks and social obligations increase, so does the anxiety. Oftentimes we are not even aware of how quickly things are piling up. Guilt, resentment, and anger build up and spill out on to our relationships. I want to challenge you to take a step back and evaluate what needs to stay and what needs to go and moving forward to be more mindful of what continues to enter your life. I have a 4 step solution for evaluating your schedule and to do list and 4 questions to ask yourself before you say yes to something new.
Before we jump in to the 4 step solution, pull out your schedule and to-do list or do a brain dump of all the things you need to get done in the next month. If that feels overwhelming just start with the next week or just today. The point is to start somewhere. You can add to this as you remember things going through the next exercise.
Now you’re ready to start the 4 steps or “4D’s” to make it easier to remember. Dump, Delegate, Do later, Do now. Grab four different colored highlighters and let’s get to work.
Dump: Look over your list. Is there anything that you can let go of entirely? Are there things that will be OK if they don’t get done? Maybe you said yes to volunteering at your kids’ school every week and you need to step away for now. Mark these things down with one color highlighter.
Delegate: Grab a second highlighter and go through your list marking off things that you can ask someone else to handle. Be prepared to give up control over how things are done and do your best to curb your criticism. Can your kids put their own laundry away? It may not be folded neatly but they will be learning to be responsible for themselves. Can your partner plan and cook some of the meals or mow the lawn? Sit down as a family and decide how you want to split the household tasks for the week. Do you need to hire a cleaner, a nanny or babysitter, or a dog walker? We often take on more than we need to because we are afraid no one else will do it the way we like or we might feel guilty asking someone else to help out even when they have offered. We might also suffer from high expectations that come from our culture and our families about what it means to be a good wife, husband, mom or dad. Give yourself and your family grace. It is OK to not have it all together.
Do Later: You should now have a smaller list of the things that must be done by you. Let’s grab that 3rd highlighter and start marking anything that doesn’t need to be done today. Can this be put off until tomorrow, next week, or later this month? Go ahead and put a due date next to each item. Are there big projects that can be broken down into smaller tasks to do when you have extra time? Make a smaller list of these and set some due dates to complete them so you aren’t overwhelmed when it comes time for that project to be done.
Do Now: Anything left on your list now that hasn’t been highlighted should be things that have to be done today and can only be done by you. This should include communicating with the people you are delegating tasks to for items that are urgent and reaching out to decline invites and step away from responsibilities that you decided to put in your Dump pile. Organize your Do Now list into priority level and then go ahead and get started. The more you use this system, the more you should start to feel less overwhelmed and you should find that Do Now list getting more manageable.
Going forward, before taking on a new responsibility or project ask yourself these four questions:
- What will I have to give up to take this on and am I willing to? It may be time for your family, sleep, space to relax, or peace of mind. These things are valuable as well. It is OK to say no so that you don’t lose that time to nurture your relationships and yourself.
- Is there someone else who can do this? Be willing to let go of control over how things are done. It is flattering when someone tells us that no one else can do what we do but it can also feel like a burden and most of the time it just is not true.
- Am I taking away an opportunity for someone else to grow? By allowing someone less experienced to take on a task we are giving them an opportunity to learn a new skill. Ask yourself if the task is enabling someone else to stay stuck in a pattern of helplessness, anxiety, or even addiction. Some tasks might require you to take on the role of a coach or encourager instead of the fixer and that’s OK. Figure out what your role needs to be.
- Will this bring me joy or fulfillment? Not every task that you must do will bring joy or fulfillment. Use this question when taking on things that are not necessities like coaching a soccer team, running for the PTA, or a new volunteer opportunity. If the answer to this question is no, then go ahead and say no to the opportunity. You will find more joy in your day when you can make space for things that bring you joy.
I hope these ideas help you create more peace in your life. If you have tips that you have found helpful, please share in the comments for our readers.
Hannah Lindsay, MSW, LCSW-C provides individual and family therapy in our Sterling, VA office and virtually to those located in the State of Virginia. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Hannah!