“overwhelmed” is not a good strategy

unpolished thoughts 1/5/19

Yesterday I started doing something new. Instead of zoning out unintentionally all the time, I started doing it on purpose.

To explain, here’s what typically happens:

I look at my schedule in the morning, see all my commitments, and notice the open spaces between. I rarely have a clear plan for those spaces, but I always have my trusty to-do list nearby, so I assume that it will keep me occupied.

(Assuming that you will do something is hardly a very high level of commitment.)

So, like so many people these days, I’m easily seduced by my email inbox and social media. When I end a  scheduled appointment I’ll often say to myself, “Ah, now I have space.”

Rather than turning to other important tasks, I “allow” myself to “take a break” to “see what’s going on.”

That’s it – thirty minutes gone, or more.

It’s not that I don’t need to look at my email, and I am not swearing off social media just yet (although the idea intrigues me), but what I realized yesterday was that it wasn’t necessary to constantly be losing my time into the void.

I starting noticing when I was already in free space and started to set limits – literally.

I would set the timer on my phone, for example at lunch time, for 20 minutes. Until the bell rang, I wouldn’t look at my phone or the laptop – so that I would actually make my freaking lunch!

If that sounds extreme, I’ll admit that I have at times recently been just about the worst you can imagine with screen distractions. I am completely capable of checking my email two or three times within the space of 10 minutes.

Sometimes I may do so because something is bubbling and correspondence is coming in rapidly. But I can’t pretend it’s rare for me to check the inbox frequently even when there is literally nothing new to see.

Even the idea that the arrival of a new email is such an event that I have to be on top of it right away is a bit worrisome.

How did my brain get this leaky?!

Not long ago, I was talking to a friend of my mother’s, a woman who has known me since I was a baby. She remarked how I had always had such incredible focus as a young person. When I became interested in something, she said, I just blocked everything else out. I could stick with that one thing for hours on end.

“It was almost scary!”

At this point, it’s much scarier to me to think that I could have lost that skill.

Anyways, I’m working on getting it back.

This is hardly a unique story, is it? We’re all fighting this battle on some level these days.

But the bigger problem I identified recently was that a part of me wasn’t fighting it. I was giving in and using that favorite excuse of a word that we all throw around so much.

I’m overwhelmed!

My business coach, Allison Rapp, said something wonderful to me the last time I told her that I was overwhelmed that helped put this all in perspective.

“Seth, thanks for giving me a chance to say once again that overwhelm is a strategy . . . and a damn good one: because it allows us to do nothing – because how can we be responsible for anything when this much is all happening at the same time?!!”

That was the main thing that shifted for me yesterday. I felt inside of myself that I was done with using “overwhelm” as a strategy.

I stopped allowing myself to blame the outside world for what was going on inside my own head. I decided to take responsibility.

As it turned out, yesterday was jam-packed with activity, including many unplanned situations. I had two client appointments (one of which involved an hour of drive time), prepared and taught an online class (then uploaded the recording of the class to send to students who couldn’t attend live), had a long phone call with a friend in need, cooked, bought groceries, bought gifts, published a new blog post, responded to several important emails, and ended the day by driving again to be with my love.

There was very little free space in the day.

But that was OK because I didn’t really feel like I needed it.