Episode 24 – What to do When You are Drowing in To Do

I am just about to head into THE busiest month of the year, with over 55 sessions booked and climbing – actually by the time you are listening to this I will be right, smack in the middle of it. Over the years I have put systems in place to keep it flowing smoothly, and I have help, lots and lots of help, with all of the editing. I LOVE getting to see so many of my clients for Christmas sessions, but it still makes for a super wild, and super exhausting month, so this episode couldn’t have come at a better time. It will be a great reminder for me, and a great reminder for any of you that have businesses that do a huge spike right before the holidays. Shout out to Nine ah for sending me a message asking me to cover what to do when you fall behind and just can’t seem to get caught back up – love the topic and it’s something that I have a LOT of practice with.

I may have said this before, but we went from 1 kid, to 4 kids in only 4 months’ time. We had moved in together the year before, Michael, Peyton and me, and then in December Elise was born. At that time we had pretty limited access to our older boys, Nathan and Anthony. Fast forward a few months, Elise is now 4 months old and we get a call saying we need to take my step sons full time – with just a few days’ notice. I am SO glad we have them full time, and can’t imagine life any differently at this point, but in those first few years it was CHAOS. Because the family had exploded in size over night and we hadn’t raised them one by one there was no easing into it, and there were really no rules, routines or systems in place. So… we have 4 children ages 4 months, 3, 4, and 7 – 2 that had never really been exposed to routines or structure at that point and 2 who were too young for it to really matter. Now add in that Michael, my husband, was working CRAZY long hours, and because there is no maternity leave when you are self-employed, I was also back at work. Pure chaos. Michael and I tagged in an out, keeping moving at all times to make sure the ship stayed afloat. We were in a rough season financially as he had lost his job around the same time we found out we were pregnant, and had just started working again a month before Elise was born – so outsourcing and hiring help was off the table.

For the most part we managed to keep things moving. It wasn’t perfect. I learned how to apologize well and often for everything from forgetting appointments, to putting the wrong homework in the wrong backpack, and I learned some hard lessons about needing to let little things go and drop my standards just a touch. My business was much smaller back then and between myself and Michael we kept the balls in the air – most of the time. Unless. And this is a BIG unless. Anything went wrong. Especially if we got sick. And oh my goodness, it feels like we were sick every 3 days for years on end. 4 kids, none of whom had attended school regularly and built up their immune systems yet – they brought home ALL of the GERMS. Our house was just a never ending cycle of colds, gastro bugs and sore throats for years on end. If one of us got taken out (and we did, regularly) EVERYTHING fell apart. So… we had to become very efficient at catching up.

When everything goes South it can honestly feel hopeless. There were so many times, and honestly there occasionally still ARE so many times where I feel like it will never get done, I am failing at everything and there is no point in trying. When it feels like this the first thing to do it take some really deep breaths, and remind yourself that you are amazing, and you CAN get this done. Then take another deep breath and take yourself through the actual worst case scenario. Will anyone die if the laundry doesn’t get done? No. What about if you blow that deadline? Probably not… Sometimes taking a moment to actually go through the end result of something that feels super huge and super pressing can actually take some of the pressure off because we realize it isn’t THAT big of a deal after all. Many of us, especially women, have a tendency to try to take on EVERYTHING and then put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves to accomplish this impossible mission. For many I think a lot of our value is wrapped up in this – being all things to everyone, doing everything. Truth is that when you breathe and look at the bigger picture, most of the things on our list aren’t urgent and are not going to make a life or death level difference.

The next thing I do is make a big fat to do list. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the list, it’s just worlds on paper.  I make this list for a couple of reasons. 1 – It gets it out of my head and onto paper which frees up brain space. 2 – When I am that stressed I become scattered and start to forget what I need to do and 3 – it helps me to prioritize AND to make a To DON’T list.

A to DON’T list is when you look at your to do list, and decide that there are things you are NOT going to do. I am NOT going to go buy a red/blue/green/black shirt for spirit day at school, because I don’t have time. I am going to cancel that coffee date because I have so much going on that if I go I will be stressed an miserable the whole time. I am skipping this week’s swimming lesson because I HAVE to. I am ordering in dinner because we need to eat. I am going to take it off the to do list, and dump it on the to don’t list – and I am going to feel zero guilt about it because I am doing what I need to do to keep this ship floating. This list will look completely and totally different depending on what your priorities are and what your life looks like, but it can immediately take a huge weight off your shoulders.

Next, take the remaining items on the list and prioritize based on deadlines. What is time sensitive? What absolutely needs to be done RIGHT NOW in order for life and work to keep moving smoothly? What needs to be done by tomorrow? Friday? Next week?

Put your to do list in order based on the deadlines and urgency and then look at the tasks. Are there 2 with equal urgency and the same deadline? If so do the easy one FIRST. This will help you build momentum and feel like you have a quick win, giving you more energy and confidence to tackle the next thing on the list. Create an actual list that you can cross the items off – it feels great to see things getting ticked off the list! Sounds silly, but giving your brain little wins will make you far more likely to keep moving.

So now we have our task prioritized and in order of how we are going to tackle them. Look at the list and see if there is ANYTHING on that list that can be outsourced, delegated or you can ask for help with. You don’t need to be everything to everyone. You don’t need to do it all yourself. Especially not when you are already drowning.

Can you hire a cleaning service? Use a grocery delivery service? Hire a virtual assistant at work? Can you outsource any of the tasks in your business? Order that birthday gift, the jeans you need, or your child’s school supplies online to save a trip to the store? Get a babysitter, extra daycare day or Mother’s helper to watch the kids while you knock some stuff off the list?

Side bar – Don’t let the Mom guilt sneak in on this one. It is ok to send your child to daycare, Grandma or off with a fun babysitter to allow you to accomplish the tasks that NEED to be accomplished. Quite frankly they will probably have more fun off with someone else than they would with you when you are that stressed and busy, and you will be better able to shower them with love when they get back and you actually have time to dedicate to them. Seeing Mom take care of herself is the best way for your children to learn to do the same for themselves later in life. There is nothing wrong with giving yourself the time and space needed and likely it isn’t permanent. Once you get caught up and things are under control you could even plan a one on one day with your kiddos.

Are you repeating any tasks? Do you write the same email over and over? Copy it into a word doc that you leave open so you can literally copy/paste the email instead of typing over and over. Look at all areas of your business and life as you move through your list to find areas with repetition or cross over and see if you can systematize to make it more efficient.

This is the perfect time for me to remind you about Dubsado. Dubsado is a customer relationship management tool that will help you keep your business running smoothly with proper systems and take a ton of the repetitive tasks off your plate. Having a CRM like Dubsado in place BEFORE you get behind, overwhelmed and start to drown is going to make it a) less likely to happen and b) SO much easier to get caught up! I use it to create pre written emails, send automated reminders and birthday wishes, collect payment, track contracts and more. Go to www.dusado.com enter the code “updraft” to save 20% off your first month, or year when you sign up for Dubsado.

Ok so back to how we are going to get caught up… What about delegating? Are there tasks that could be passed on to a spouse, roommate, or your children? What about in your business? What can you pass on to a coworker, teammate, or assistant to ensure that is gets done? It’s ok to ask for help. Again, I repeat it is OK TO ASK FOR HELP. Do not sit there waiting for someone to step in and save you. You don’t have time for that right now, and chances are they are busy enough with their own life, thoughts and priorities to realize that you are drowning over there.

And, guess what? When you ask someone to help you with something it does 2 things. It creates trust, and it makes it easier for them to reach out when THEY need help next time. Need an egg and the stores are closed? Which neighbor are you more likely to ask? The one that seems to have it all pulled together and never really talks to you much, or the one who admitted she was a hot mess last week and begged you to listen out for her sleeping baby while she ran to the store to grab formula before he woke up?

We are more comfortable approaching people for help when they have approached us in the past – so reach out and let them know you need them! In general we are all WAY more willing to give help than to ask for it, so by reaching out you are actually making their life easier and creating a change in your community be it you family community, work community, or friend community. Worst case, they are swamped to and say no, but at least you know you tried!

Ok so you have your To do list, your To don’t list and you have it prioritized. You have outsourced, delegated, and asked for help with absolutely everything you could. Now it’s time to take a good look at your life and the distractions in it.

Here’s the thing, most people, when they become overwhelmed tend to be far more susceptible to distractions than normal. We want to avoid the feeling of overwhelm so we buffer. Sometimes it’s by stress eating or drinking wine, other times it’s by getting sucked into social media or telling yourself you just NEED to unwind by watching some Netflix. I get it. Feeling overwhelmed sucks – but spending even 20 minutes of your precious time on Facebook, or watching TV, or stuffing your face with food that isn’t doing much to fuel your body is just going to put you THAT much more behind and make you feel even MORE overwhelmed.

So can those habits, remind yourself that this too will pass – and honestly it will pass as soon as you get hustling and get caught up and that you can reward yourself with a glass of wine or handful of chocolates and some guilt free TV time once you are caught up.

Still with me? Hopefully you are listening to this episode in a season where this ISN’T happening and you can just have it in your back pocket for a time where everything goes off the rails. If you are in a place where you are completely behind and overwhelmed then honestly I’m really proud of you for making it this far because your stress levels are probably through the roof and you most likely feel like you don’t have time to even listen to this, never mind take the time to implement all of these steps. But I promise, if you do it will save you time and effort in the long run – and we are almost there!

The last step before you start working like crazy and knocking things off your list is to time block. This means setting an allotted amount of time for each task on the list, putting it on the schedule and focusing on that task and ONLY that task for the allotted amount of time.

You won’t always know how much time to give yourself – that’s ok, just take your best guess and do everything in your power to make sure that it gets done within that time or sooner. Generally if you have 2 hours to complete a task it will take you two hours. But if you only have an hour you will get it done in an hour. Think about when you clean your house, and how much you can get accomplished in a half hour when someone calls out of the blue and says they are dropping by to say hi vs. when you have the entire day to clean. If you are anything like me you would get more done in that half hour of panic that someone is going to walk in and think that you have been robbed because it looks like a bomb went off in the living room, than you would in 3 hours on a day where there was no real deadline in sight. Likewise I don’t think there is anyone more productive than a Mompreneur at nap time. And if this is you – if you only have nap time to work, then make sure you are using that time for the things that you couldn’t possibly do when baby was awake. There are things you can do – housework for example, with a baby on your hip – but tasks that take more brain power and focus are going to need to happen when that baby is sleeping – so plan ahead for that!

During the time that you have given yourself to complete each task you are going to focus ONLY on that task. No other tabs open on your browser. Phone set to silent or do not disturb. Get your work station organized with water so you aren’t getting distracted by going and getting some. Your brain will WANT to find ways out of it. Whenever I sit down to accomplish something my brain always decides it’s thirsty, it’s hungry, oh I should check in on Facebook! NO! We don’t have time for that, so plan ahead, remove all potential distractions, set yourself up with everything you will need and stick to the deadline you have set for yourself. You will be amazed at how much you can actually accomplish when you are set up this way. All of this, and there might be some balls that still get dropped. I guess that is where learning to apologize well and often, and learning to lower your standards in the really tough seasons of life comes in. Done is better than perfect. Show yourself some love and grace. Think about how you would react to a loved one if they failed to come through and then show yourself the same compassion that you would show them. If you prioritized your list and worked through systematically then whatever didn’t get done should be of lesser importance than what you did accomplish, you have accomplished a ton and that is something to celebrate.

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