In this week’s episode we’re talking about what happens when we try to do it all, all at once, and how that can negatively affect our productivity. How can we set aside the paralyzing, discouraging effects of perfectionism and move forward?
If we try to do it all (and perfectly), can it lead to us giving up and doing nothing at all?
If you’re anything like me, you have many interests, things you want to try, and goals for the future. But you also have responsibilities and obligations to your family, friends, employer, etc. It’s easy to feel like you have to do everything and do it well, all of the time. This overachieving mindset is harmful, though, and can lead to discouragement, burnout, and missing out on what’s really important.
This week’s episode was inspired by a recent message in The Productive Woman Facebook group. Rita’s message really spoke to me and got me thinking.
I am 55, with a full-time, high stress job in healthcare and I am trying to complete my doctorate in nursing. Every time I sit down to write my proposal I get chest pain. The anxiety is crushing me. . . . I haven’t found relaxation techniques helpful, possibly since there is no time at all to relax. I drive about an hour and a half to work each day and although I am very productive during my travels and I feel good about that, I feel I have no real downtime. I do not expect to find any until this is over providing I can complete my degree finally. Last year I had to put the degree on hold as I could not complete the assignments due to my husband being ill, I am so scared I won’t be able to finish and I really don’t know what to do. And I want to excel at work too which is making it hard too. I sometimes wish I cared less.
A lot of us can relate to Rita’s experience, trying to do all the things and wanting to do them well. We want to make a difference, live up to our potential, and leave a legacy.
Some studies show that we do it because we think we have to in order to advance in the world. There is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes our own expectations of doing it all lead to us doing nothing at all.
We’ve talked about this before, in episodes 284 (Thoughts about Work-Life Balance) and 253 (When You Want to Do It All. It seemed like a good time to talk about it again, especially when so many of us are feeling additional pressures due to changes resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic.
What it means – trying to do it all and feeling like a failure if you can’t
Feeling like we have to do it all can sometimes come from external pressures. Maybe it’s the expectations of others in your life. These people could be your boss, friends, parents, or spouse. Maybe you’ve trained them to have these expectations because you are so diligent, competent, and conscientious.
There are also lots of messages out there that women have to do more just to stay on par. Whether or not this message is true, it has been internalized by most of us, and it affects how we do our work in the world. If we think we have to do more, it becomes our reality.
Social media contributes too many images of other women’s perfect homes, perfect children, perfect careers, perfect hair, perfect lives. Of course, nobody’s life is perfect, but that’s the image fed to us, which increases the pressure: “If she can do it, I should be able to as well.” We are standing on the outside looking in, seeing only those carefully curated images of perfection, pressuring ourselves to do it all.
We have taken external messages and internalized them. In one article I read recently, clinical psychologist Dr. Jessamy Hibberd, a co-author of This Book Will Make You Calm, notes the internal demands that we create for ourselves on top of external demands.
“These are the pressures you place on yourself. . . . For example, checking and re-checking work, spending too long on each task, taking work home and setting excessively high standards.”
There is a time and a place for giving 110%, but it’s not everywhere and it’s not all the time.
How does “all or nothing” manifest?
When we have an “all or nothing” attitude, we can become paralyzed by perfectionism. We find ourselves not starting (or not moving forward) on something because we believe we have to do it perfectly, and we’re not sure we can. The problem with this is that it keeps us from trying new things and we miss out on so much. We deliberately hold ourselves back because we feel that as long as we don’t actually start something, we’re not failing.
Another way this all can manifest is by spreading ourselves too thin. We are trying to be the perfect mother, perfect daughter, perfect employee. We are trying to keep our home up, advance our career, and remain involved in the community. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, says:
“But when we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. “
We spread ourselves too thin and are paralyzed by perfectionism, It can seem that we are living somebody else’s life. We are not being authentic and true to the vision of what our lives should be. Greg McKeown also says that “When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people . . . will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.”
Trying to do it all can cause exhaustion and burnout
“The research showed that employees who regularly put in hours and effort beyond the call of duty experience more emotional exhaustion and work-family conflict – especially for those who carry out responsibilities at a high level. The study also found “employees who already performed well in their job and had a high level of conscientiousness also suffered significantly higher emotional exhaustion and work-family conflict. Those who exerted greater effort in their work and family roles, with a general sense of not wanting to let people down, found they had little left in reserve, increasing the challenges of balancing work with a healthy family life.”
Trying to do it all can manifest itself is in discouragement and disappointment. You can feel like you’re not accomplishing anything, which can lead to feelings of failure. We ask ourselves why we can’t do it if everyone else can.
But things aren’t always what they seem. No one is perfect. No one can do it all, all the time.
What’s the alternative?
There are things we can do differently. We don’t have to struggle all the time, and we don’t have to give up and do nothing at all.
There is a middle ground. You are not “less than” if you work hard during your work hours, but also build downtime into your schedule. You are not unproductive if you choose not to try to “do it all,” but instead choose to focus your time, energy, and attention on only a few truly meaningful things and set aside everything else. It isn’t all or nothing. You can find your middle ground.
Recognize that the choice is yours. There is a difference between options (things that can be taken away) and choice (an action that is always within your power). There are consequences to every choice we make, but we cannot do it all and remain healthy. In Essentialism, McKeown puts it this way: You can do anything, but you cannot do everything.
Ask yourself which of your endeavors need your 110% effort right now, and which could you maintain with only 100% (or 90%) effort?
For example: You’re working full time, hoping for a promotion; you’re taking classes to earn your masters or doctorate to help with that promotion or even a career change; you’re managing your household, getting meals on the table and keeping the house clean; you’re planning the party for your daughter’s third birthday…
Looking at these scenarios, what needs your full effort and what doesn’t?
- Do you need to host a big party for your daughter with the entire extended family? If so, who’s that for? Her, or you? She won’t remember it, and might even be overwhelmed by a crowd. Could you do something smaller that requires less work for you and still could create a fun memory for her?
- Could you take fewer classes one semester so you could focus more on quality work for one as opposed to giving up sleep to try to excel at three?
- Could you outsource some of the housework or use a delivery service for groceries (or even prepared meals)?
A lot of these suggestions depend on what resources you have available to you and who you have in your life that is willing and able to help. We often hang on to things because we don’t want to ask for help, or we think no help is available. In reality, a little creativity and communication could lighten your load and make it possible for you to focus on the most important things that only you can do.
Accept slower progress
It’s possible to let things take longer to accomplish, especially since you aren’t giving everything 11o% effort. You can be proud and content with taking small steps. Small steps, taken regularly, will get you where you want to go eventually.
Learn the difference between not now and never
Our lives are long enough to allow time for everything, so we don’t have to do it all now. You may have a newborn or a sick parent that you need to focus on, making it necessary to put a project on the shelf temporarily in order to focus on other things. We need to enjoy and focus on the life we are living now instead of overwhelming ourselves.
Prioritize doing fewer things well – “less but better”
We’ve talked about this idea before, in the lessons learned from Essentialism (Greg McKeown) in episode TPW023 and others. McKeown says:
“Everything changes when we give ourselves permission to be more selective in what we choose to do. . . . There is tremendous freedom in learning that we can eliminate the nonessentials, that we are no longer controlled by other people’s agendas, and that we get to choose. With that invincible power we can discover our highest point of contribution, not just to our lives or careers, but to the world.”
McKeown also talks about the myths we believe and the truths that should replace them. For example, if you think “I have to do this”, you can replace that thought with “I choose to”.
Another myth is that “it’s all important”. We tell ourselves this and truly believe it, that everything we are doing is of the utmost importance and must be done perfectly. The truth is though, is that “only a few things really matter” and you can choose for yourself what those things are.
One more myth McKeown identifies is that “I can do it all”. The truth: you can do anything but you can’t do everything.
To get a better handle on this, pause throughout your day–maybe each time you’re about to start a new activity–and ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Is this truly the best use of your time? Is this something that is contributing to the life you want?
Considering these things can help you better balance your time, energy, and attention.
What do you think?
Do you feel like you’re on top of it all, or are you feeling like giving up? If the latter, is there one thing you can put aside for now? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me!
Resources and Links
- Why Less Is More: Advice for Female Overachievers Everywhere
- The Danger of Being a Female Overachiever: How to Start Turning It Around | HuffPost
- This Book Will Make You Calm-Jessamy Hibberd
- To The The ‘Overachieving’ Women Of The World | Thought Catalog
- Overachieving Young Women Need to Find a Work-Life Balance | AllBusiness.com
- Essentialism-Greg McKeown
Help Spread the Word!
Tell a friend about The Productive Woman podcast. Share an episode, using the social sharing buttons at the top of this post, and consider leaving a review in Apple Podcasts.
Thank you to our sponsors, Woven and SaneBox
- If you’d like to like to make better use of your calendar, check out our new sponsor Woven. Go to Woven.com/podcast/TPW to try Woven today for FREE.
- If you want to get a better handle on your email inbox, remember to visit SaneBox.com today to start your free trial and get a $25 credit.
Join me in The Productive Woman Mastermind
Don’t forget to let me know if you’re interested in joining a small group of like-minded women to share mutual support, ideas, encouragement, and accountability in a TPW mastermind group starting in September. Visit TheProductiveWoman.com/mastermind to learn more. Email me if you have questions after you’ve reviewed that page.Click here to discover my favorite apps!
I would love to have your help!
- Subscribe, rate, and review The Productive Woman in Apple Podcasts or subscribe in Stitcher.
- Join the conversation at The Productive Woman on Facebook.
- Your feedback matters to me. Please share your comments, questions, or suggestions.
Royse City, Texas