Have you ever looked at your schedule and just wanted to hide? Today I will give you the 4 step process I used to cut back on an overwhelming schedule.
I look back at what I was able to do 15 years ago when my daughter was an infant, and it always seems like I was able to do more. At that point I was running three blogs with an article each day. In fact, I was able to do more. Which is fine, except that I expect myself to be able to do the same amount now, even though my circumstances are different. I use this vague need to do the same amount as a basis to add more to my schedule, and I end up overwhelmed.
So this is not in my imagination – this is a real consequence of an expectation that is not realistic. Yes, I was able to do more 15 years ago. At that point I had a condo, rather than a house, with smaller square footage to maintain and no outdoor tasks. There was no dog. There was one cat. There was an infant whose nanny came to the house every day. I didn’t have the music commitments I do now. I didn’t have Girl Scouts or novel writing. While I was working more hours, I was able to do a lot of writing at my job since I had so much down time.
Fast forward to today, I’ve tried to force myself into that same schedule but my commitment level has changed drastically.
Letting Go Of The “Should”
The reason I get overwhelmed is purely internal, and it’s two-fold. On the one hand I tell myself that I did it once, I should be able to do it again. So I allow myself to pile on more writing work, trying to match the level I did 15 years ago.
On the other hand, I recognize that my commitments have changed, and my daughter no longer needs my full attention all the time. I tell myself that I should be able to do more, since I don’t have that demand on me. And I pile out outside commitments, not realizing that she still needs me, only slightly less and very different ways. For instance, as an infant, I could write while she napped. Today, I can’t work while I am helping her with pre-calculus.
It’s very different.
Step 1: Assessing the Current Schedule
So something has to give. I’m going to walk you through the process, using r steps to cut back on the overwhelming schedule. It starts with looking at the monster it had become.
I listed out all of the things that took up my time, even if they weren’t on my calendar.
- Work. While I officially work 30 hours a week, I still go to a client site every day. My current client doesn’t have any down time, so the 2-3 hours a day I used to use for writing and other projects has vanished. My hours have been creeping up as well, and sometimes I am closer to 40 than 30.
- Work Extracurricular. My company is big on “seasoned” consultants sharing their knowledge with the fresh-out-of-college employees. This generally amounts to one to two evenings a month, not including any company meetings (which are held after hours so as not to interfere with our client work).
- Home maintenance. I currently have a four bedroom house with formal and informal rooms. The square footage has more than doubled since my days in the condo, and we live on a 1/3 acre that requires maintenance to ensure we are not overrun by any of the six different types of invasive vines coming at us from the adjacent city wetlands/woodlands. I am now also cooking for three, trying to show by example what healthy meals look like (this requires far more effort than throwing a frozen pizza into the oven)
- Choir. While I am still in the same choir, our rehearsals have grown from 1.5 hours every week to over 2.
- Small Music Groups. In addition to the choir work, I am currently part of three other vocal/musical groups. These add at least another hour onto the rehearsal time each week.
- Fiction Writing I have always wanted to write a book, and NaNoWriMo has provided me the help to get moving on it. Now I am trying to make the fiction writing a year-round thing instead of a single month so that I don’t acquire any more unfinished books.
- Blogging. I now run three blogs – two private and this one. One has two articles a week, with one being a quote. One is pictures so that my mother can be more in touch (because we are not going to show my mother how to use Facebook. And then there is this blog, producing 2-3 articles a week. This is more consuming than it was 15 years ago, since I am now writing more in-depth articles (instead of software reviews) and having to do things like SEO and list building.
- Girl Scouts. I dissolved my troop this past fall and I am now working with four girls as independent scouts. It’s more along the lines of I’m working with my daughter and the other three can tag along. Gone are the paperwork, checking account and crafts; but I am now having to navigate four girls through the Gold Award process. Gone are the days when I can wing a meeting.
- Other volunteer commitments. I administer websites for two groups that I work with. One of them requires a daily effort, the other a larger effort once or twice a month. I am also the coordinator for a church group that meets every month and then an additional eight times a year for seminars.
So those are my current commitments. Here’s what I did to get them down to more manageable levels.
Step 2: Wholesale Abandonment
Sometimes it is just necessary to abandon something that doesn’t have a positive return on investment. After looking at all the activities, I was able to jettison a few:
- Work extracurricular. While I understand my company’s desire to capitalize on my experience, I get nothing out of it. I have been very vocal about the need to have better agenda items to attract people to these meetings – if that should happen I might consider going as a one-off if there is something interesting. I’ve also decided to only attend two of the after-hours quarterly meetings a year.
- Small musical group. I’ve bowed out of one of the small musical groups, since I really wasn’t enjoying the music or working with the other performers.
- Church Group. Given lack of attendance, we cancelled the monthly meetings. It wasn’t giving us any return on my effort.
Step 3: Commitment Deferral
Sometimes you can put a commitment off until a later date. This will free up the schedule for a while, but it will have to be looked at again when things come into play. This is useful when there is still a positive return on time investment, but when that investment is lower than other tasks.
- Small music groups. One of these has been pushed out until May, and fall commitments will be limited to two.
- Church group. Since two of my co-leaders have been heavily involved with the move to the new building, we have deferred all seminars until next fall, when I can get help with them.
- Novel. I took December off in order to deal with the heavy musical commitments during that month.
Step 4: Commitment Modification
Commitment modifications can be everything from scaling back to re-negotiating the terms of the commitment – even if the re-negotiation is with yourself.
- Housework. I have asked my husband to do the cooking twice a week. I have set theme days for the cooking so I am not scrambling to find recipes. I have also limited myself to trying only one new recipe a week (this takes a lot of pressure off). I have modified my cleaning lists from the Flylady era to work with my house and my level of cleanliness. These are now in my task list along with all of my other tasks. Our garden beds have been filled with stone, which keeps the weeds down.
- Fiction Writing. Instead of going at the break-neck pace to get 50,000 words every month, I have backed it down to 6,000 words per week. This gives me days when I am free of writing, and is still moves me forward at a good clip.
- Blogging. The picture blog has gone down to twice a month. My other personal blog has all the quotes set up for the year. My process for producing posts for this blog has also changed and streamlined.
- Girl Scouts. One of the reasons I dissolved the troop was the constant scheduling headaches, coordinating 8 girls at 7 different high schools. Now I set the meetings to work for my daughter and me, and the girls can come or not. I have also determined that we won’t be doing door-to-door cookies sales, but only what I can provide to my co-workers.
Making Sure It Doesn’t Happen Again
So now my schedule is less full. I’ve removed what I can, with very specific reasons.
However, until I make sure that I have shifted my mental processes as well, I am still in danger of going back.
I have to let go of the guilt of feeling like I am letting my scouts down. I have to let go of feeling like I need to be Suzy Homemaker when it comes to meals and cleaning. I have to let go of saying yes when someone asks me to do something. I have to push back when someone asks me to do something within my commitments and it doesn’t work right then. I have to let go of my all-or-nothing attitude to writing fiction.
Goodbye all-or-nothing thinking.
Once I can let go of those things, my schedule has a fighting chance of staying uncluttered.
To get out of overwhelm, you can take a 4 step process. Assess your current commitments, drop some commitments, scale back others, and modify what is left.