Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What's Next?

This time of year gets busy for a lot of us. School is ending, and spring sports are in full swing. It seems there's something on the calendar every day, on top of all the usual stuff! It can get very overwhelming. I know I've stared at the family calendar and wondered how on earth we were all going to get where we needed to be, let alone be in clean clothes and have food in our bellies. I've learned some ways to keep my sanity when the commitments pile up, the trick is to use them myself, rather than just offering them as advice to others...

1. Prioritize. I know there are things that have to get done today, and things that can wait. I found a brilliant to-do app for my iPhone that helped me think of things differently. You get to prioritize your list according to what has to be done today, and the rest can be put off until tomorrow. It actually moves the items to the next day's list, so they're not sitting there staring at you, making you feel guilty. It even allows you to create a "long-term" list of things to do someday in the future. So, technology neatly gives me permission to label some things as more important than others. If only our brains allowed us the freedom.

2. Cut corners. Not everything has to be done perfectly all the time. This one is particularly hard for us type-A personalities, because I am actually advocating doing things half-way. Or even less! Buy the pre-cut carrots. Sweep under the table but leave the rest of the floors for a less busy day. Be at peace with the messy mud room, because it really doesn't matter in the long run. Eventually things will settle down and you can return to your usual standards, but when something has to give, the extra housework can wait.

3. Plan ahead. I keep a calendar so I know what's coming up. I can ask for help the days I need to be in 2 places at once, and buy the cookies I volunteered to bring to baseball ahead of time. I would love to say I have fully prepared meals waiting in the freezer to be pulled out when I'm too busy to cook, but that's on my "someday" to do list. That is clearly a fantastic idea, though!

4. Plan to say no. There are a lot of demands on the whole family. The kids could be in a different activity every day, and I could drive or volunteer at every one of them after work. However, eventually I have to start saying no. After all, one more sport isn't just one more hour a week, is it? Let's practice a few helpful phrases: "I am not be able to volunteer this week, but I will put it on my calendar for next month." "No, I am not able to head the planning committee of whatever next year." No excuses, no I'm sorries, just no in a polite but firm way. It can be very liberating!

5. Take care of yourself. When I'm busy, the first things I'm likely to ditch are my own needs. I eat on the run, stay up too late and my yoga and meditation practice becomes an after thought. Eventually it catches up to me, and I notice my irritable mood and impatience in every area of my life. We are taught to give and think of others' needs first. But if I am not grounded and healthy, I am not able to give my best to anyone else.

6. Just do the next right thing. I got this lovely gem from a person in recovery. It works for people overcoming addiction, and it will work well for the rest of us, too. When I see the tasks before me, it's easy to become overwhelmed. If I remind myself of this phrase, I realize that I can't do everything at once, I have to choose one thing. Also, I don't have to choose the right thing, only the next one. I get to choose again later. I can work my way through my tasks knowing I'm making the best decisions.

Every day is a new chance to do the next right thing, so I'm moving forward instead of beating myself up for allowing myself to lose sight of some of these ideas. I will start by keeping mindful today. The right things are so much easier to recognize if I've kept myself grounded and present!

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