A couple mornings ago, I was laying in bed, trying to convince myself to get up and go running. The problem was I felt drained of all energy, too tired to get up and do the things I wanted to do. Rather than get up, I started wondering about why I felt so drained. After starting to make a mental list, I realized why. I have been in a Life Pile Up and didn’t even know it.
What’s a Life Pile Up? For the past six weeks, I have been in constant motion, running from project to project, making choices to work on important projects, but dropping lots of others in the process. All those dropped tasks just don’t go away and now they are all coming back to haunt me. I have an overwhelming feeling of being buried in critical tasks that can no longer be ignored. Life Pile Up.
Step 1: Don’t Despair
When I get that drowning feeling, I usually respond by getting down on myself. “If only I were a little more efficient and effective, I wouldn’t be in this situation. Something must be wrong with me.” In my old age, I am finally starting to understand that kind of self-talk doesn’t help. Instead, I started listing all the things I said ‘Yes’ to over the past six weeks. Stacking the ‘Yeses’ up against the ‘No‘ to helps me realize what I accomplished as well as analyze my judgement. My list of completed projects included:
- I built a bed that turns into a boat.
- Took the family on a trip to San Francisco.
- Found a contractor and had the front yard landscaped.
- Prepared our tent trailer for sale (and received a full offer on it last night!)
- Moved our daughter home after completion of her first year of college.
- Made a quick trip with my brother to see our mother (recovering nicely, thank you).
- Attended every performance of Willy Wonka, starring our son as Willy himself.
- Finished wiring my neighbor’s basement bathroom in time for company from Australia.
- Refocused on diet and exercise and lost 7 pounds (so far).
- Managed to get Alec to rehearsals, performances, recitals and contests.
- Moved several projects at work forward.
- Kept up on the daily chores like cooking, washing, finances, and such.
Step 2: Understand what is left to do
Clearly something is bothering me. I started by writing down everything I had floating around in my mind. Doing a mind sweep involves writing fast and furious about everything that needs to be done. No analysis, no prioritizing, just writing. It was amazing how much stuff was jammed into my subconscious. Getting it out was just what my mind needed. Getting it on paper felt like giving my mind space to breath, making room for clear thought. I know I am supposed to be doing these at least weekly, but in the rush of keeping up, weekly reviews had fallen to the side of the road.
My list didn’t take more than fifteen minutes to commit to paper. It included things like paying bills that had slipped through the cracks, following up on a couple bills where the automation I thought had set up failed, understanding why I was double paying my VISA (yikes!), fixing two broken sprinklers that were geysering, and chasing down another attempt to pfish my bank account. Pretty important stuff.
Step 3: Identify the critical
Looking at the list all laid out in front of me made it easy to identify why I was feeling anxiety. There were plenty of tasks that were time critical. Some were actually down to the wire, where inaction for one more day would have resulted in hefty consequences, like late fees or stolen identity. With everything identified, organizing the list into a prioritized order took very little time, perhaps five minutes.
I also found several items floating in my mind were not critical at all, but were just cluttering up my thought processes. I put these tasks on my normal lists where they will be addressed in due time. That is one thing to be careful of. The subconscious is not good at prioritizing when everything is jammed up.
Step 4: Action!
Finally, I was able to get started attacking the list. While it always feels good to finally be doing something, it is important to note had I not take time for the analysis in Steps 1-3, I would have probably started working on something less important that the list I now had in front of me. I would probably have started, realized something else was more critical and shifted over to work on that one, only to repeat the process over and over. A little planning can really focus efforts and accomplish tasks in their proper order.
Step 5: Evaluate
Taking the day off to work on my list was the best use of my time. I accomplished all but one of the seventeen items on the list when I started this morning, and it can easily be finished tomorrow. I have a calm feeling again. I have cleared the Life Pile Up and am once again sailing free on the freeway of life. I have learned that following these five steps can help enormously to getting myself clear. It would have been better to have been doing the mind sweeps all along, as part of a weekly review. I allowed myself to get out the habit in the heat of the battle. I have to watch that in the future. Avoiding Life Pile Ups is the best course of action, but at least I know a good way to get out should I drive straight into one again.