Even those who generally are organized and productive, who have systems and routines in place that help us get things done that we care about, sometimes experience seasons of disorder and disarray. It’s not that systems and routines fail us, necessarily, but that something happens that gets in the way of us following our routines or using our systems. And if it goes on for long, things just get out of control.
It’s possible to get things back on track after an extra busy or stressful season of life
It happens to most–if not all–of us occasionally. But especially for those of us who care about being organized and productive, it can leave us feeling anxious and stressed–or add to the anxiety and stress of whatever situation got us to this place in the first place. And that’s no way to live.
What can help reduce the anxiety and stress is to do a reset. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy, but it can have a big impact.
Why a reset might be needed and why things might have gotten out of hand
Perhaps there has been an illness (yours or someone else’s) or some depression or stress. Both of these situations can undermine our motivation and energy to get things done.
Maybe you have been traveling lately or moving. And whether it’s across the country or down the street, the process still disrupts routines and causes some level of chaos.
Maybe you’ve had an extremely busy work session or a difficult life event, such as a divorce or death in the family.
Or maybe even a positive life event like a new baby, graduation (yours or your child’s), holidays, or even out-of-town guests.
What “out-of-hand” might look like
- The house is a mess–whether dirty (dusty surfaces, sticky floors, scummy bathrooms), piles on counters, laundry piled up, the fridge needs cleaning and restocking.
- The house looks good at visible level but behind closed doors, some or all cupboards, closets, drawers, etc., are cluttered and disorganized because you’ve stuck things out of sight in an attempt to keep the rest of the house livable.
- Usual routines are disrupted–tasks left undone are weighing on your mind (personally, I’m way behind on email).
- Maybe things look fine but you’re feeling off-balance, stressed, like you’ve lost control and aren’t sure what you’re missing.
Steps to resetting
First, give yourself some grace. The fact that things have gotten out of control, for whatever reason, is not a reflection on your character or value as a person.
Take a breath–literally. Just for a minute, stop, breathe deeply in and out, relax your tense muscles.
Consider taking a walk (or a nap!), do some yoga or some meditation–whatever helps you relax & find your center.
Then grab a pen and paper, maybe a cup of tea, and do a thought download of everything that’s on your mind–every task undone, any decision unmade. Walk around the house and make note of any areas that need attention.
So much of our stress comes from this nebulous cloud of worry from the “stuff” hanging out there, the “open loops” that David Allen talks about in Getting Things Done — unidentified but feeling huge and overwhelming. Putting it down on paper turns it into something more concrete, that you can look at, evaluate, and make a decision about. Keep the list or notebook handy, add things to it as you notice or remember them, and enjoy the satisfaction of crossing things off as they get done.
I do this process for work as well. If I’m finishing up, or in the midst of, a crazy full work week and feeling stressed by the sense that things are slipping through the cracks, I’ll sit with a pad and pen and list everything that needs to be done. There’s significant relief just knowing that nothing’s going to be forgotten or drop through the cracks because it’s right there on paper in front of you.
After taking a few minutes to walk away, go back to the list, review it, and highlight anything that’s truly urgent, time-sensitive, or needs immediate attention. A nearly overdue bill that needs to be paid or registration to be renewed? Groceries ordered so there’ll be something for dinner? A load of laundry washed so everybody has clean underwear for tomorrow? Whatever it is, do that–or pick one, if there’s more than one–and do it right now. It usually takes far less time than you think, and your mind will feel a powerful, if tiny, bit of relief.
If there are more than one of those urgent, time-sensitive things on the list, and you’re not the only adult (and for this purpose I mean anybody old enough to have a driver’s license) in the household, get the other adults on board to take one of the tasks off your hands. Examples: Teenagers can sort and run a load of laundry. Hubby can go online to pay the bill, while you put in a quick grocery order for delivery or pick up.
Beyond the time-sensitive things, what else is on your list that could be handled quickly and help re-establish a sense of control? Sometimes it’s making a decision to not do something, or when you’ll do it, or to delegate it to someone else. All are valid options.
Clutter all over the house? Grab a box or laundry basket and sweep through the main living areas or the most offensive spaces, grabbing everything that’s not where it belongs and tossing it in your box or basket, then put it aside to be sorted later. If you have time, at least pull any trash out and toss it now. By clearing out the clutter and leaving at least some of the house clear, you lighten some of the mental load. Again, get others in the household involved if you can. Get a kid or two washing the dishes, somebody to gather and take out the trash, etc.
If it’s work stuff, now that you’ve created a comprehensive list of what needs to be done you can evaluate the next steps. It might be a phone call, a conference with a client, boss, or colleague, delegation, or just quickly identify whether there’s something that’s truly more urgent than the others and make a plan.
The simple steps of getting all the stuff out of your head and onto paper, and then taking action on one or two things, are often all it takes to re-establish a feeling of calm confidence that you’re back on track to getting things under control. It’s a process, though, and things don’t get back to “normal” immediately. And that’s okay.
What do you think?
What do you do to reset your productivity and your mindset when things get out of control? Post your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
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