I used to always feel like I had too much to do.
As a student, I thought, Ah, once I finish school, I’ll no longer feel overwhelmed!
But somehow, the habit of juggling 97 tasks per day stayed. As an adult, my “schoolwork” consists of cooking, exercising, working and supporting loved ones.
We all have 24 hours each day. Yet it never seems enough. I only crossed off 7 tasks! What’s wrong with me?
After years of hustling, I experienced burnout. I had no choice but to stop and reflect. What pushed me to work so hard? At what price?
Above all, how do I live differently?
These 5 mindset shifts helped me find peace, even with too much to do.
1) Heal your wounds
My parents praised me mostly for achievements.
Because to my parents, ambition meant survival. As an immigrant, my father quickly got a college degree that landed him a well-paying job.
So he encouraged me to work hard at school. He harshly criticized me, which was his way to motivate and love me.
It’s no wonder my inner child believed stress and success go together. I’ve wrestled with these limiting beliefs:
- Self-sacrifice breeds success
- There’s no (or little) time to play
- You’re horrible if you make mistakes
Psychologist Dr. Bruce Shackleton writes in his essay “Meeting the Shadow at Work” that when we’re “given support only for [our] performance… [our] self-worth becomes entirely rooted in winning.”
Also, if we had workaholic caretakers, we may inherit their behavior. A parent may force their child to perform to compensate the parent’s lack of achievements.
So, acknowledge the pain of tying your self-worth to success. To checking off the boxes. To doing things perfectly.
Who you are without achievements?
Revel in the mystery… and explore!
2) Enjoy the ride
Do you know that feeling of never quite “making it”?
I couldn’t understand why time was always running out. Waking up early and scheduling errands didn’t help much. My to-do list stretched like an accordion.
Then I realized that by rushing through my day, I was unconsciously saying, The present moment isn’t good enough.
What’s more, as a recovering perfectionist, nothing I did was ever good enough to me.
In Present Perfect, psychologist Dr. Pavel Somov writes that many people, especially perfectionists, “[dismiss] the present as having only the significance of being a step on the way to a future moment of completion and accomplishment.”
In other words, they tend to:
- fixate on meeting goals
- have too much to do
- always be in a rush
- stay late at work/bring work home
- reject downtime
But living this way isn’t fulfilling.
Our days might be full, but when we look back, it’s like we weren’t there. We miss out on life when each moment is a means to the next.
Contrarily, time seems to expand when we’re alert to whatever’s in front of us.
Dr. Somov tells us to see for ourselves:
Note the time on a piece of paper. Take 10 mindful breaths, then guess how much time has passed. Compare your guess to the elapsed time.
It’s okay to slow down and enjoy the ride.
Indeed, doing so makes us happier.
* Learn how to set realistic goals and joyfully follow through in my 60-minute Set Realistic Standards Session.
3) Revise your expectations
The philosophy of Taoism teaches us to respect nature’s rhythm.
Us humans tend to have our own agenda. And when things don’t get done on time, we roll our eyes and push harder.
But we’re only a tiny aspect of nature.
We all abide by its constant ebb and flow:
Resisting the current wreaks havoc in our lives.
Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.
When I experienced burnout, I didn’t have the strength to fight back. It forced me to stop all activity, so that I could heal and take care of myself.
Our well-being demands that we live in harmony with nature’s rhythm.
So, breathe deeply. Listen to that still, small voice within.
What’s your next step?
4) Claim breaks
I’ve been living in France since 2008. But it still amazes me that many French employees:
- indulge in 60- to 120-minute lunches
- work only 35 hours per week
- enjoy at least 5 weeks of paid vacation per year
That said, it’s also typical for many French to work longer hours. But research shows that downtime actually boosts productivity and creativity.
What’s more, alternating between our brains’ 2 modes of thinking, focused and diffuse, yields better results.
Focused mode is when we zoom in on tasks, details and information. During breaks, diffuse mode kicks in, which helps us fructify ideas and make new connections.
Both modes are necessary. And staying in focused mode for too long exhausts us and curtails productivity.
Instead, try the Pomodoro Technique: work intensely for 25 minutes. Then give yourself permission to take a walk, listen to music or daydream for 5 minutes.
After 4 pomodoros, or 25-minute work sessions, take a 20- to 30-minute break. Repeat the cycle.
Yay for guilt-free breaks!
5) Infuse tasks with joy
When I rush through my to-do list, I try to remember: Stop and take a deep breath, Annie.
Then, I check my intentions: What’s my higher purpose?
For example, preparing dinner used to be a chore. But now it has become an opportunity to cultivate joy and presence.
My partner Loïc and I begin the ritual by choosing a vinyl to listen to. (At the moment, we’re gaga over Common’s Resurrection.) The familiar sound of the needle hitting the record brings a smile to our faces.
Then we get to our posts: Loïc chops the vegetables, his Santoku knife drumming on the bamboo cutting board. I rinse the rice and operate the stove.
Often, I imagine the many people who helped produce the rice, the carrots and cabbage. I feel grateful for the sun, water and earth.
And when we finally sit down to eat, Loïc and I marvel at how much more delicious our simple meals taste.
You too can infuse any mundane task with joy, peace or love.
Try it and see what happens.
Too much to do… or an abundance of chances
It’s easy to get caught up in being productive.
After all, we’re contending with our society’s mindset, based on fear and scarcity.
But every single action you take can inspire yourself and others to choose love over fear.
So, dare to do things differently, mindfully.
Without a doubt, the world needs it.
About the author
Annie Moussu is a mindfulness-based life coach who helps women let go of perfectionism, self-doubt and people-pleasing. Sign up for her newsletter to get blog articles twice a month.