If you are anything like me, you want to do everything. Your brain is a live wire, watching for and reacting to sparks. Your enthusiasm for new projects rivals the ebullience of happy children. Every idea looks fresh and exciting—maybe even life-changing. So you sit down and you map out your ideas. You figure out a multi-step plan. You get this all down on paper before your thoughts escape like butterflies let loose from a jar. And when you see your course of action laid out in front of you like a Google Map, telling you this journey will take 156 days on foot, your eyes pop. The flame, like the end of a candle, flickers and shrinks.
You remember all the other things you have to do, all the other journeys you’ve started on foot. You wonder if it’s worth turning around, or saving this trip for later. Immediately, you consider taking a detour—changing course. Surely this new idea is more important than your last? You feel so much more enthusiastic about this one!
But only because it’s fresh. You felt enthusiastic about all the other ideas, too, until you started walking on foot. Days pass. Then weeks. Then a month. And you’re still walking.
Honestly, I have been struggling lately with wanting to do too much. It’s something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. There are many things I’m passionate about and want to devote my attention to, because they’re either fun or stimulating. However, there just isn’t enough hours in the days, or days in the week, to do everything.
I never realize I’m stretching myself thin until none of my projects bring me satisfaction anymore. Everything feels rushed, because I’m rushing! I’m rushing to do everything, so I don’t take my time with anything. I don’t sit quietly with something and enjoy it; I try to get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible so I can move on to the next great thing I want to do. When I’m working on one thing, I’m thinking about the other—and it’s back and forth this way forever.
It wasn’t until I made a few changes in my process and in my mind that this see-saw effect made a turn for the better.
First, write a list of everything you want to do.
And I mean everything. You want to write a book? Write it down. You want to beat this video game? Put it on paper. You need to finally clean out and reorganize your closet? Down! (Okay, this is my list. You caught me.)
Ask yourself: why is this important?
Go through each item on your list and ask yourself why you want to do it or why it needs to get done. This will help you prioritize which tasks require your immediate attention and which ones can wait. Is it time-sensitive? Is it for you or someone else? Would you feel happier if you did it? If you realize it’s not that important or you can delegate it to someone else, get rid of it.
Now, sort this narrowed list into things that can be completed quickly and things that take longer. If it helps, label each column: Now, Later, and Someday.
Once you narrow it down, start somewhere.
I usually tend to knock out the things I can do quickly on my Now list first, just so I can put them out of my mind and make room in my brain for bigger projects. For example, if my messy closet is distracting me from getting work done, and I can clean it out in a couple of hours, I put on my favorite movie (the reward) and get to work.
In the meantime, list out all the steps in your Later and Someday lists.
When it comes to tackling big projects, I recommend getting specific about the small steps, which are more digestible. Launching a website, for example, is a huge project. There are many “little” things you need to do first before you can press the Publish button. Each time you knock something off this digestible list, you’ll feel like you’re one step closer to your bigger goal.
Give yourself a generous timeline.
When you give yourself an unrealistic deadline, you beat yourself up when you don’t reach it. And this is something you usually bring on yourself! This is why I was constantly rushing through things—because I wasn’t being realistic.
Instead of giving yourself daily goals, think of your goals in terms of weeks or months. When you give yourself more time to work on something, not only will you take more of your time with it and do it the right way without rushing, but you’ll feel more rewarded if you complete it before the week or month is up. You will also experience the reward of savoring each step that you were excited about in the first place.
Celebrate small wins.
Launching a website is great and all, but don’t forget to pat yourself on the back along the way—not just at the end. That About page that took you all day to write and finese? Great job! Most people hate writing about themselves! Treat yourself to something nice, even if the reward is an hour of TV or your favorite savory snack. No one else is going to pat you on the back for completing smaller tasks, but you should!
Remember to stop and acknowledge the hard work you are doing to reach your goals and you will feel even better about the process as a whole.
What do you do when you realize you are stretching yourself thin? How do you avoid this and prioritize what’s most important to you? I’d love to know!
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Megan Portorreal is a professional writer, editor, and creative in the New York City area. In her spare time, she enjoys reading books, writing about her life, and playing video games.