The first draft of this piece was written one week ago at the airport. I was heading back to school after a trip and felt overwhelmed by the amount of work hanging over my head.
- A test by 9 AM the next day
- A term paper to be submitted on the same day, with a presentation scheduled by 2.30.
- Two articles were due for a client. One on Monday, and an emergency commission had a scheduling error, so I had a few days to complete it.
- I had also not published a piece on Sunday (the day before), the stated time for getting this done.
I was overwhelmed and felt horrible that my time management skills had failed me yet again despite my best intentions. If you asked me, I might have explained that there was so much going on that it felt like nothing was getting done. I might have made the often-repeated joke that my scale of priorities is broken — Everything is urgent and needs to be done now, so nothing gets done.
But I’ve gone down this road enough times to tell myself the harsh truth that I often miss opportunities to manage my time better. That my anxiety about work and the desire to produce something excellent on the first attempt paralyzes me until I’m in a race against time — a race I’ve often lost.
The other side of the equation is the descent from anxiety into a vicious cycle of self-criticism. A voice tells me that I can only produce passable work, so maybe there is no need to try.
Some months ago, I went to see a counselor after a few tough months of feeling like my life was a constant game of catch-up. I was exhausted and afraid I would fail at everything I’ve been juggling — an intensive full-time MSc program, managing clients at work, and being present for my loved ones.
I’m a Type A on the surface. I have a ton of lists, several alarms, and project management tools. I want to be the best in the spaces where I show up. None of these have been enough to drive me to action when my mind feels overwhelmed and paralyzed by anxiety.
She gave me a few tips that appeared to be mundane, but I’ll share them with you because they’ve served as guardrails whenever I’ve found myself feeling out of control again.
I am highly critical of myself. I become ashamed when I fail to do what I said I would. This makes it hard for me to try again. So every morning or evening, I write about what I’ve done.
It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant it might seem. Some things that make it to my list include making it to class on time, having a bath, making my bed, cleaning my room, engaging productively with people, and calling my loved ones.
These small victories help me acknowledge the progress I’ve made and energize me to do more.
Be accountable to someone:
Despite how hard I might struggle to get things done, I am even more concerned about failing someone else. For example, my articles, term paper, and presentation were all completed last week. I asked for an extension for some, but I still got them done. It was because I was accountable to my client and lecturers.
Knowing that someone’s expectations are above mine makes it easy to move past whatever negative things I tell myself. I knew that I must get it done. But with this article, knowing that I was accountable to only myself, it felt easy to keep it on the back burner, bringing me to the third point.
Set systems and give yourself grace
Typically, missing the days I promised to publish twice would stop me from making any more attempts for a long time. But I told myself I’d get this out this week, even if not on a Sunday.
When I first wrote about this, I mentioned that I was trying to rebuild a writing habit. And that’s exactly what I’m going to keep working at. Although I felt disappointed in myself, I’d rather do it a day late than not at all.
Perfection is a double-edged sword — you can end up with nothing in pursuit of a standard that requires constant practice to arrive there.
So, I allow myself to be mediocre. I believe in the shitty first draft. No matter how terrible it seems, get the first draft done. Then you’ll have something to improve on.
I want to be a better student, employee, friend, and partner. But I won’t get there with only my intentions. There’s a stubborn determination needed to show up for yourself/others and get things done. It involves setting up systems, being accountable to someone, being compassionate to myself when I fail, and being willing to try again.
Something impactful I read last week
For anyone who struggles with getting things done even when you want to do them, this essay on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was very helpful to me.
How to do hard things by Casey Rosengren
Something I watched
I’m a sucker for reading romance stories, but for some reason, I’m not a big fan of watching them. But I love what they’ve done with the Bridgerton series so far, and the spin-off had this hard girl in tears.