Feeling Overwhelmed? Start Here.

Feeling Overwhelmed? Start Here.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed? You know the feeling:

Slightly frantic.
Unable to make decisions.
Burnt out.

For me, these are the tell-tale signs that I'm feeling overwhelmed. Why does this happen? How do we get overwhelmed in the first place? Here are six common reasons. Do any of these resonate with you?

When I start to feel overwhelmed, I try to stop and ask myself these questions:

- Am I saying “yes” to too many things? 
- Am I unable or unwilling to relinquish control of something or ask for help? 
- Am I chasing the thrill of achievement and productivity? 
- Can I live up to my own expectations?

These are hard questions to ask. But understanding how we got here, to this place of overwhelm, is important to learning how to overcome it, now and in the future. 

These Wonderful Things

These Wonderful Things

Newspaper for gift-wrapping.
Charlie Brown stamps.
Extra rehearsals.
(Endless) to-do lists.
Christmas concerts.
Amazon packages.
Bulletin drafts.
Doxology Press orders.
Shipping deadlines.
Various versions of Jingle Bells in lessons every week.

These are the things our December days are made of (especially if you're a musician!). As much as we long for a slower pace at this time of the year, the truth is this is one of the busiest seasons of all.

Debunking the Myth of the Ideal Day

Debunking the Myth of the Ideal Day

We talk a lot about our ideal day as if it was a dream world we sometimes like to escape to where there are no alarms, the sun is always shining, you have time to sip your coffee and read in the morning, and you seem to float through the day without cares or obligations or stress.

Sounds too good to be true, right? But really, what makes a day ideal instead of just ordinary?

My answer would probably be time: Time to do the things I want to do, time for things I enjoy, and time to spend with people I love. Feeling like I have time helps me feel more relaxed and rested, it helps me feel in control. And having space in my day makes me feel better about what I do. I'm more engaged and focused and inspired and driven. It all comes back to time management, doesn't it? We all have the same 24 hours in a day - it's all about how we choose to spend it.

Sweet November


IMG_2179 Sweet November, that wonderful season of preparation, thanksgiving, and rest before the holiday hustle and bustle.   The nights get cooler, the days get shorter, and we wait for glimpses of those first few snowflakes of winter (well, some of us do). But with the rush of the end of the semester, a full teaching schedule, and a few other projects to manage, the rosy glow of my ideal November fades a little.  I admit, this is usually the time of year when I put my head down, do what I need to do each week, and look forward to a fresh, new year when I can take a breath and hit "restart" on goals, plans, and living in general.  I get burnt out on my goals.  I get tired of my routine.  I lose focus.

But this weekend, I took some time to sit still, to be still, and I realized - life is too short to live with your head down.  There are so many things to enjoy in the moment (like the brilliant yellow trees, glowing in the sunlight outside my window right now).  Sometimes I find myself so wrapped up in my to-do list that it doesn't seem like there is time to anything but what is absolutely essential.  Does that ever happen to you?  This weekend, I was reminded (partly from reading this post) that we're given enough time for everything that matters.  It comes down to how we manage our time and the priorities we set.

What really matters?  Here are few things that came to mind:

1. Making time for that passing conversation with someone in the hall 2. Offering a word of encouragement to someone who is feeling overwhelmed 3. Baking cookies to give away to others 4. Making the people in my life a priority and being fully present 5. Going the extra mile with kindness and grace

This is how I want to live my days this holiday season.  This is how I want to spend my time: focusing on what matters.  The rest will fall into place, as it always does.  What will you make happen this month?

Do What Matters

Do what matters.

This is my new motto.

When you really stop to think about what matters in life, the world seems to stop spinning quite so fast.  There are so many things in life that vie for my attention every day - emails, bills, people asking me to do more, my iPhone in general, you get the idea.  But do they really matter in the bigger picture?  Not so much.

Sometimes things happen that put things back in perspective.  You make choices about what you are going to do and what you are going to leave undone. 

Sound familiar? 

This happened to me last week.  The decision seems easy at the time but it makes you stop and think.  How often would I make this same choice on a normal day?  How often do I scroll through Instagram during our after dinner conversations?  As recently as last night, I'm embarrassed to say.  How often do I fret about meeting the expectations of others or getting everything done in a day?

This is a reminder to myself: Do what matters. (Forget the rest.)

Moving Day + Learning to Unplug

We did it!  Earlier this week, we packed up everything we own, fit it into a 17' U-Haul, and made the trip from MA to upstate NY.  I am so grateful for the nice weather and the help of good friends on both ends.  It is no easy task moving my over-sized dresser up and down the stairs!  We have been working nonstop these past few days trying to get settled and get things unpacked.  Here's a sneak peek of our new place - y'all, it's awesome!!

It's times like these that I am especially grateful for a slower work schedule in the summer months.  This is my time to recharge, balance my priorities, and unplug from things for a little while.

Last week, I wrote this post over on my personal blog.  Learning to unplug and disconnect from the world for a bit means I can focus on the things (and the people) in front of me.  I don't need to check my email every hour.  I don't need to sit on my computer all morning jumping back and forth between Facebook, my website, and my placement exam notes (though, studying is important!).  I don't need to read every tweet that pops up in my feed.  There are more important things.  Moving makes unplugging a little easier, it's true.  I haven't turned my computer on since Saturday!  I think I've sent three emails since the weekend.  I check my phone every few hours for missed calls/messages and any new emails; otherwise, it's in another room so I can work free from distractions.

There will always be emails to send, accounts to check, and articles to read.  For me, the greatest thing about making a conscious effort to unplug is the renewed focus I have when I choose to plug back in.  Now, that time I take to sit in front of a computer screen has purpose.  I have specific things I want to get done so I can get back to the things in life that really matter.  Like evening walks to get frozen custard.  And unwinding time with SD on the rooftop before dinner.  And morning trips to the farmer's market.

Disconnect to reconnect.  Choose what matters.

Real Rest

Life is a balancing act – work and play, go time and sleep, time with others and time alone, etc.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to rest.  You know, really rest.

Sundays mornings are busy for us.  After warming up, double-checking all of my music, rehearsing with the choir, playing a service, saying hello to folks afterward, and putting everything away, I am ready to rest.  However, most of the time, I spend a few hours perusing Facebook, catching up on TV shows, checking Pinterest, and relishing the time to sit quietly at home.  After a little time passes, guess what?  I still feel just as ready for rest as I did when I started.  How can this be?  None of these things are really restful.  They pass the time, they’re fairly mindless, and I can sit quietly by myself while doing them but I’m fooling myself by thinking that I’m resting.

Here’s why: Real rest requires spending time on the right things – things that fill me up, inspire me, refresh me.  Less TV, more books.  Less Facebook, more time with SD.  Less time spent surfing Pinterest, more time spent seeking true inspiration.  Less time on the couch, more time outside.

Real rest is essential.  Make those moments count.

Image Credit: personal

So Good

"Be so good they can't ignore you." - Steve Martin This is the kind of reminder I needed this morning.

Right now, I’m sitting at home with my cup of hot chocolate/coffee with seven different tabs open in Firefox and I admit that I just spent the last 30 minutes jumping from one thing to another: posting, saving files, responding to emails, proofing, downloading, linking, etc.  Then, I read this quote (again).  Be so good they can’t ignore you.  Be that good.  Is the work I did in the last half an hour really that good?  It didn’t have my full attention.  It wasn’t that careful.  It was reactionary rather than thoughtful.

Let’s reset.

1. Choose the things that are most important for today. 2. Structure the day so that each task gets your full attention. 3. Eliminate distractions. 4. Do your best work.

Be that good.

Keeping Up

We're at the 19-day marker, y'all.  It sounds a little better right now to say "a little less than three weeks" - seems like that gives us more time to get everything in order for the BIG DAY.  We have collections of pewter dishes, ribbons, wine bottles, and Christmas decorations (from the Christmas Choir Kick-Off this weekend) lining our entryway.  I have about eight pieces of clothing hanging on my closet door (literally since the first week of August) to bring to the dry cleaner.  I am going to try on my dress this weekend for the first time since April.  The pace of life is fast right now... and by fast I mean flying. This week, that meant typing up grant applications for the WCMW while driving to VT for wedding errands, emailing schedules to the wedding vendors while sitting at the laundromat, checking emails on my Blackberry in between choir rehearsals, and writing out the seating chart for the rehearsal dinner on scratch paper in the car.  Oh, and I downed my coffee/hot chocolate this morning in three minutes flat before running out the door to get ready for church.

The question, "Am I keeping up with everything?" is one that I ask myself at least five times a day.

Albert Einstein has some pretty great words of advice for people like me: "Life is like riding a bicycle: In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving."  I think balance is a key word here.  Forward motion is important, but it doesn't drive everything.  In order to get everything done that needs to be done, I need balance in my life.

For me, balance means:

- taking a breather from emails on the weekends (at least from my school account) - spending less time on my laptop/Blackberry on the weekends in general - taking time to cook dinner with Steve on weekend nights (last night, we made apple- and bacon-stuffed pork chops with a maple glaze) - not lingering at church after the service - cleaning up the Choir Room can wait until Monday evening - making time to do something on the weekend that I wouldn't normally do during the week (Yesterday, for instance, I made fresh guacamole... up until the point when I sliced my finger open with our brand new tomato knife.  Steve had to take over on this one.) - spending a few minutes at the end of each day writing down everything I want to remember in the morning - taking a short walk to the Post Office after lunch (fresh air + exercise + no Blackberry = mental breather) - sending more emails from my Blackberry during the day (in between things) rather than waiting until I am at my computer again

How do you keep up?  How do you achieve balance in the everyday work?

It's One of Those Days...

It's one of those days.  My feet hit the ground running this morning. Welcome to the fall semester, right?!

Inboxes (yes, three of them) full of unanswered emails from the weekend, staff meeting this morning, errands to run, studio lessons this afternoon, meetings to schedule, etc.  And then there are the unexpected things that come up... a reporter calling to interview me about the cultural council grant we received for the workshop this year, booking a hair salon for the wedding party, responding to student inquiries, a 2-and-a-half hour staff meeting, and dealing with a Blackberry that is constantly blinking for attention.  Grace, not perfection, my friends.  I likely will not cross everything off my to-do list today.  I will probably not be able to make all the phone calls I need to make before 5 p.m.  I will, however strive to be the best that I can be in accomplishing as much as I am able.  One thing at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Image Credit: personal