I am easily overwhelmed. And, as a result (or as a coping mechanism), I’ve become very task-oriented. Nothing softens my anxiety like thinking through everything that needs doing, laying it all out on a list, and systematically working through each task.
But it’s that last part that can cause trouble.
In my previous line of work as a copywriter, I was never sure what would take 10 minutes or 10 hours. After all, ideas come on their own schedule. As an academic, I’m having to adapt to different challenges, like my course schedule. Most of my assignments run Wednesday to Tuesday, meaning that I can’t leave work on Friday feeling all caught up. I enter the weekend with several tasks intentionally left for the following week.
These open loops create a sense of apprehension. Will I have enough time to get everything done? Should I hold off on other projects to finish what I’ve already started at school? The fact that I like my work makes it all the harder to simply put it out of my mind until Monday.
But I can’t just not show up to the improv classes I’ve agreed to teach. I can’t just not show up in your inbox on Monday as promised. I can’t let my other hobbies fall by the wayside—squeezing them into the nooks and crannies robs me of the joy and energy I get from working on them in the first place. Plus, it’s well-documented that having personal projects makes you more effective professionally.
The answer lies not in creating a clean break between work and life (or other projects, hobbies, and side hustles)—that is both impossible and undesirable. As my friend Mike writes:
“This seemingly well-intentioned split is not only more difficult to manage, but also less fulfilling. For many, it means being a different person at work than at home, a personality split that can exacerbate over time. Eventually, it grows into a wedge that drives a permanent gap between two parts of what should be one life.”
Instead, it lies in achieving harmony through focus. Giving each task its own space and your undivided attention when its time arrives. As Napoleon once said:
“Various subjects and affairs are stored away in my brain as in a chest of drawers. When I want to take up any business, I shut one drawer and open another. None of them ever gets mixed, and never does this inconvenience me or fatigue me. If I feel sleepy, I shut all the drawers and go to sleep.”
Shutting the other drawers is easier said than done. Quieting your brain requires some mental ju-jitsu that takes practice and patience. But just as a tidy desk or clean notebook is brimming with creative potential, so too is an organized and tidy mind.
Each Monday, I share strategies to help you master your limited time, get started, and build creative habits that stick. Try it. You’ll like it.