Sometimes life comes at you with both barrels. It’s not fair, but it happens to everyone. I’m not gonna sugar coat it… it sucks. It sucks big time. Your already lengthy to do list can grow to an insane level. So, in addition to the mental and emotional stress of whatever’s happening you’ve probably now got a major time and/or money crunch, too. It’s enough to drive you crazy. Especially if you don’t have a plan for dealing with it.
When life is completely hammering you it can be easy to get overwhelmed. I’m not gonna lie, it’s difficult to not be overwhelmed. It’s difficult to not want to start all the projects to feel like you’ve got some kinda handle on the situation. The truth is, however, that handle is merely an illusion which only gives you a false sense of security, safety, and/or order in your life.
It’s taken me until recently to realize that when there’s too much to do, too many emotions to deal with, and/or too many mental stressors, you need to stop what you’re doing, then start with the first thing.
What’s the first thing? Well that depends on what life’s throwing at you, but generally it’s going to be the biggest, most difficult thing or the thing that has the earliest deadline. To get you started, here are a few real life examples from my own life over the years (some generalized, some specific):
Remember, you can only do one thing at a time. So, if there’s no obvious first choice choose the biggest task, or the one that seems like it’s the most important, and start on that.
Remember, you’re not an island. Are there family or friends who can or should be stepping up? Ask them for help with specific tasks. Ask for guidance from professionals. For instance, if life’s hurling a lot of medical crap your way you can always ask one of the doctors or nurses involved in the patient’s care which thing is the most important to start with.
This might be a good time to make a quick list of the resources in your life. Who do you know that can do any of the things you might need doing? Who do you know who might know someone who can help you with one or more tasks? For instance: Who’s got repair knowledge or talent? Who can play chauffeur? Who’s great at research? Who’s got a way with talking to people and getting things handled over the telephone? Who can house or pet sit? Who’s the voice of reason in your life? (They can help talk you off the ledge and figure out what the next thing should be.)
Pro Tip: For the love of all that’s holy do NOT make assumptions about someone’s ability or willingness to help you do things, or to do things outright. You’re going to make your life so much more difficult than it already is if you start taking over things that others are more suited to do or (heaven forbid) have already volunteered to do because you think they’re too busy. That’ll just piss them off and assure that you’ll have the most miserable experience possible. But if misery is your bag, go ahead and knock yourself out.
When life feels like a non-stop game of paintball where the team of life has 10x more players than your team, you not only have to do the first thing, you will probably have to make some adjustments. You don’t have to like them; in fact, you probably won’t like them. But when you’ve got too many things to stuff into an already full life, something’s gonna give. As sucky as it is, it’s better if those adjustments come from you in a conscious manner vs things randomly falling apart or spinning out of control. May I suggest you consider some of these general adjustments:
Once you’ve done the first thing, you’ll need to do the next thing. What’s the next thing? Simple. It’s the ONE thing you need to do next to move forward.
But… what about all the things in all the areas of your life? How do you choose just one? You don’t. You need to do this with your job, home upkeep, elderly parents, sick friend, car maintenance/repair, kids activities, etc. Maybe today you need to work extra long to get a major project done for work so you won’t be able to visit your friend in the hospital. So, you text your sick friend a funny gif/ heartwarming message (whichever they’ll appreciate more) and let them know that you’re thinking of them and you’ll be in to see them tomorrow. Then you call to schedule your car’s overdue oil change for the day after that and text another parent who has a kid in the same activity as yours to see if they can pick your kid up after practice.
The thing to remember is this: You don’t have to get everything done at once. In fact, you literally can’t do everything at once. Hell, you can’t even do everything spread out over time. Trying to do everything is a really good way to find out what a nervous breakdown feels like.
You have to live your life taking care of the most pressing issues and letting the rest go. Pressed for time but running out of socks and underwear? Just because you usually do all the laundry in one day, doesn’t mean you can continue to do that right now. You’ll have to face up to the fact that that’s not going to happen while life’s hammering you. Instead, do 1 load of laundry containing as many needed clothing items as possible today, and plan to do another load another day. Pick the day if you can. Maybe you break up the chore so that you put the clothes in the washer in the morning and move them to the dryer when you get home after work. Figure out your work arounds.
If you feel yourself getting frazzled trying to figure out what to do next, take a deep breath (or 2 or 3). Then… pick a big task, an item with with a deadline, one that’s an adequate stop gap, or that will advance your progress toward an end goal. If you’re having difficulty deciding, go back to step one and decide what your next first step is. Then just keep reusing that criteria.
I know how hard it is. I’ve been there many times in the past, and I’m sure I’ll be there many more times in the future. You’ll never navigate it perfectly so make peace with that now. Just remember: no matter what you can’t do, there is always one thing you can do… the next thing.