If you came with me from Fewer Better, you know that burnout has been a theme for awhile: I guess I thought that if I took my hand out of the flame (e.g. by transitioning out of my W2 role) my burns would heal overnight but I'm not finding that to be the case. Last week was busy: I overscheduled myself with too much work, some of it "make work" because of my tendency toward hypervigilance when others in my system are dropping balls. Hero child oldest? Yup. Bring it on. Except that's old shit that I thought I'd learned not to do anymore. It's not good for anyone in the system.
On Thursday I had a coaching session with one of my coach training classmates that started as a conversation about my struggling with time management and procrastination and turned into a realization that I don't need to be "more productive" I need to be more selective with what I take on, and I need rest, because I'm still burned out. Still exhausted. And even with that awareness, by Saturday morning I found myself surrounded by (metaphorical) broken plates because I couldn't keep them all spinning and lost a day to old, unhelpful voices in my head.
I was, ultimately, able to change the channel on those voices – but it wasn't pretty in the meantime. And the takeaway for me is that I'm still signing myself up for too much. I've been accommodating some relationships that are asking too much of my time and energy, that need to have boundaries drawn and enforced. So I spent the rest of the weekend in restoration mode: less screen time, more paper, reading books, talking with supportive friends, and counterintuitively, more time on my meditation cushion with less happening – just quiet, no guided meditations, so I could practice my own noticing.
I also pulled out my paper planner to start April with a fresh slate in terms of time supply. Because of my introversion and my creative nature (and probably my mental wiring) I really struggle with "management" tasks so I've created systems for them to help keep me organized and on track, and because of the volume of things I juggle, those systems work and they also tend to feel rather overwhelming for me.
As I type this, I think to myself: even in my digital systems, some things need to get put in the "not going to happen" column instead of carried over from week to week. One of my old colleagues would remind me right now I need to find the "no" button on my keyboard.
I use my paper planner to filter what's in my digital systems down to: what is actually really going to happen this week, given the limits of time. So I did that on Sunday, and I was shocked at just how little actually fits into the limits of time this week. I could only say yes to a handful of the things I had planned to do. I had to make some hard decisions about what's most important (and also, about what's not actually my circus or my monkeys).
I'm happiest when time is irrelevant, when I get to go deep on a small number of things, and when I'm in a state of flow or group flow, and I don't have to watch the clock or stop at a certain time and can just immerse in what I'm doing and lose track of time. I probably should have been a researcher, or a professor (I'd have been the professor who was always late to class, though, because I got caught up on a project or in the lab or on a writing project).
I'm least happy at the other end of the spectrum: where I have a lot of things on my plate, and where my days are sliced into many small pieces and I have to schedule my work and then inevitably underestimate how long things will take so I wind up behind and then my "not enough" voices kick up.
I experience the latter as a kind of crushing weight. Overwhelmed is the word that gets used to describe it, but that word doesn't feel proportionate to what I experience in that state. It feels like waves crashing over me while I struggle to breathe. Under water. And I'm not a fish. (Maybe that's why I have sea birds tattooed on my arm.)
My thoughts keep turning to Dunbar's Number and an instinct that there's an equivalent for things a human mindbody can keep track of: a reasonable number of things a person can juggle (which may be a range, since we're all wired differently). And it's less than I typically try to juggle.
And over the weekend while I was trying to mindfully journal my way back to some kind of equilibrium, I noticed that I rarely do just one thing at a time. When I sit down to write in my journal, I make and sip a cup of tea. When I write a proposal, I'm doing laundry in the background. While I read a book my phone is open so I can take notes. Sometimes I'm doing several things at once: washing the dishes, writing an email, listening to a podcast, inventorying the shop apparel, writing a shopping list, jotting a note in my idea file, arguing with the dog about whether it's her dinner time yet ... and on and on. Sometimes I can't even count the number of things I'm doing at once.
This weekend when I was feeling so – under the crashing waves – I thought
I wonder what it would be like to do just one thing at a time
And it's been three days and I've still barely tried it, it feels so unnatural. What if instead of listening to a tape for class while I'm in the shower I just showered? Or instead of listening to a meditation tape while I walk the dog, I just walk the dog? Or even: walk just myself (see, it's hard for me to even think about the unit of one thing at a time).
There is a limit to my time and I don't often honor it. (I trample all over it, regularly.) But I have a feeling that spending more time doing just one thing may help me reset my own expectations around how long things take, and then how much time to plan (which leads to knowing how much I can say yes to in a week (and what I need to say "no" to)).
I didn't actually mean to write that, but here we are. I meant to share that I've been reading voraciously lately and wanted to share a couple of the things that have me really fired up right now.
Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey is a must-read. It came out in February and was like
gasoline on a spark in my own mind
that has been smoldering around
a whisper of a thought that
what if there is nothing wrong with me and I only believe there is because of fucked-up conditioning.
AND just reading is not enough.
That article has been read by over a half million people and I'd expect Ruchika and Jodi-Ann to be booked through 2022 for (highly-)paid speaking and consulting gigs based on that readership and the power of this article alone and that is not the case. They're seeing some uptake in the form of paid work in their research area but only from women of color, according to Ruchika via Twitter.
If you're in a position to hire and/or fund Ruchika and Jodi-Ann please do. I'll personally be looking for every opportunity to do so.
(The book begins with a reference to Cassandra's sexual assault right off the bat, so if you're a sensitive reader marshal your resources for that.)
The book is a brilliant read about how and why we can do power differently and about how to examine whose stories we're raised on and how they shape us and the systems we live in. It was one of those books I didn't want to end, that landed on my "in arms reach" bookshelf and will stay there. I loved the book, and the encouragement it gives me to continue following my instincts and honoring the truths as I see them as I build the next phase of my career.
That's it for this week. Be kind to yourself, and take care. Drink some water. Get some extra rest. Try doing just one thing at some point this week. I'll be doing the same.
P.S. a reminder from Hafiz via @shannon.bonne on Instagram (via my dear friend Rose – thank you).
(I choose dropping keys.)
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