I write a lot about organization and productivity, not because they’re things that I’m naturally great at, but because it’s so hard for me. Keeping myself on track takes so much effort on my part to do at all that I’m constantly studying and experimenting to try to find things that really work for me.
Last week I got some new flooring installed in our two bedrooms. This is obviously a pain in the butt; everyone knows renovations are a hassle. But because I live in a not-huge apartment, those two bedrooms are fully half of the floor space our family of three has to work with. And there was a lot of stuff in them….stuff that had to be piled precariously in our living and dining areas for two days because we have no garage/basement/yard to work with. This quickly became a huge hassle of the highest order. Even when I wasn’t busy ripping out carpet and scraping mostly-disintegrated ancient bug-infested underlay off of our subfloors, I couldn’t really work: my laptop was buried in the heap somewhere and there was nowhere to sit except on the floor of my tiny galley-style kitchen. At one point I just went and lied down in my car for a while because I didn’t know where else to go and I was sore and exhausted. My toddler came home from her dayhome and had nowhere to play or eat or live. Here she is sitting on a roll of carpet, enjoying some French fries, because I am Mother of the Year:
So we packed up and headed to my sister’s for a night, slept on a rapidly deflating air mattress, and then once the flooring was all installed and we could finally relax and put our life back together…I drove 4 hours to Canmore with the toddler to run an Ultramarathon, which Jill and I were proud to come in second last for.
What I’m trying to say is, things went off the rails. My routine is just gone. I’m sore and exhausted. My daughter’s routine is such a mess, I think I spent a total of nearly 4 hours of my day yesterday just lying in bed with her trying desperately to get her to JUST SLEEP ALREADY. I’m way behind on work, but in no mindset to dig in and be productive.
Calm down, Emily. Get it together.
So here’s my 5-step program to get back on track when you’ve fallen way, way off:
- Start with self-care
This one is a little tricky because it can be easy to mix up “self-care” and “procrastination”. Taking a few days to just lie around binge-watching Mr. Robot over and over again trying to figure out what the hell is going on while stuffing my face with Peanut M&Ms is tempting, but not really what I need. What I DO need is a healthy, satisfying breakfast, maybe a brisk autumn walk, a phone call to my mother, and some time spent just playing with my daughter without trying to “get something done” at the same time. There is always time for these things. There has to be.
If things have really gone off the rails, chances are there’s a lot that needs to get done and you’re behind on all of it. Your to-do list is probably totally overwhelming. Whittle it down to just what you can accomplish in 24-hours and worry about the rest of it later. Force yourself to use stubby lists rather than long, horrifying treatises on everything that needs to happen in your life for the next six years. And for the love of god, give yourself some leeway. If you’re in as much of a mess as I am, and you don’t even have somewhere to sleep, start with that. Your 60-point marketing plan can wait a day or two. Re-assembling your bed cannot.
- Do Something Easy
Sometimes you’ve just gotta get something checked off your list. If you have a mental block against larger items on your list because you’re frazzled by how long they’re going to take and how far behind you are, do something quick (like, less than 30 minutes) off of the list instead to remind yourself that yes, you are an effective person who can get things done. Then email your boss, your coworkers, your mom, and your first-grade teacher to tell all of them that You Did a Thing and bask in the praise. Well, maybe not that last part. Actually, yes, do that. It will feel good.
Just be careful not to fall into the trap of only doing the easy things. Those big projects aren’t getting any smaller.
- Ask for help
Maybe no one has time to help you. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Whether it’s asking a co-worker for an assist on a project, asking your boss or client for an extension on a deadline, or just asking your partner to do the dishes, there’s a good chance that a small request could make a big impact on your stress level. Reach out and just ask. It’s ok not to shoulder the whole burden yourself.
- Celebrate the victories
Sometimes life gets thrown off by things that are great: a vacation, renovations (I really do love my new floors!), a wedding. In that case, remember how awesome the big change or event is, and keep in mind that all the extra stress is totally worth it. But maybe what threw you off was something that was an unmitigated disaster: a car accident, a death in the family, a nasty breakup. In that case, be super kind to yourself. Sometimes you just have to congratulate yourself for getting out of bed in the morning. Remind yourself that you’re dealing with a worst case scenario like a champ, and you’re basically a superhero just for surviving.
Got more strategies or ideas? Do share below!