Sometimes, life can feel like we’re running a marathon — we’re just trying to get to the finish line each day, week, or month. How many times have you said, “Yeah it’s crazy right now, but things will slow down and next month will be easier”?
Probably a lot, right? The only this is… things don’t slow down next month! Your schedule is still hectic, your to-do list is still a mile long, and it feels like you only ever get rest when you fall into bed exhausted (way too late at night).
We’re just trying to keep up with our responsibilities. To lead good lives. We’re trying to show up for ourselves and our families and our work… but it seems like someone hit the fast-forward button on life.
Unfortunately, we don’t have limitless capacities. Eventually, that overwhelm will catch up to all of us. We’re humans, not Energizer Bunnies (sorry!). How do we manage all the things we have to do in a day, week, or month, while still enjoying some quiet space in between?
In my opinion, we have to commit to slowing down, even when life is moving fast.
Why rest is BEST
There are so many ways to get more done and to be more productive, right? In fact, you could probably pop over to Instagram or TikTok right now and find another “productivity hack” or easy time management tip if you scroll long enough.
These tips aren’t bad — they can actually do you a lot of good, especially if you’re in a pinch! — but sometimes what you need isn’t to be more productive, it’s to slooooow down. (And sometimes, these self-help tips aren’t helpful.)
I’ve talked a lot about the importance of rest, and that’s because it’s one of the best ways to be more productive. You know the old saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”? That applies here, too. If your batteries aren’t charged, you won’t be able to get much, if anything, done.
There’s another side to the whole rest thing, though, and it involves slowing down. I know, I know, this may sound a little uncomfortable. You may be thinking, “Slow down?? Anna, you don’t understand, I have SO MUCH to do!”
Trust me, I’ve been in your shoes.
On the road to burnout
There was this one time when I was a Crisis Communications Account Manager at a PR Firm, and it seemed like every single one of my clients was in crisis mode for a straight month. In the middle of all that, my boss gave me the amazing opportunity to lead a strategic planning session for a major company at its headquarters in Georgia.
At the same time, I was serving on the board of a local nonprofit, I was involved in a women’s Bible study group, and every weekend was another bridal shower, baby shower, or birthday party.
In order to make it from one thing to the next, I had to carefully choreograph every minute of my day to hit deadlines and make it to meetings on time. Needless to say, at the end of this marathon, I was exhausted. Keeping up with this pace clearly wasn’t working for me, and I put in my notice a few months later.
So let me ask you this… Is running around all the time working for you? Do you really, truly, feel like you can get everything done, and be present in every aspect of your life, all without feeling completely overwhelmed?
No? Then read on.
How to manage the overwhelm
Let’s look at some of the ways you can actively practice slowing down — even when life is zooming around you at a Tasmanian Devil pace.
Whether that’s in your personal life or in your work day, these tips will help you slow your roll and keep your energy steady and sustainable, without sacrificing what matters most.
#1: Do a mind sweep.
Whenever I feel like there’s too much on my plate and my head is swimming, I make a beeline for a blank sheet of paper. Doing a mind sweep is simple.
All you have to do is get a pen and paper and write down everything that’s on your mind. Every concern, every to-do, just get it out of your head and onto paper! It can be especially helpful when everything feels like a swirling tornado.
Back when I was in the early days of juggling both my coaching business and my full-time role with Clockwise, I started every morning with a mind sweep. Instead of jumping into my to-do list, my Slack messages, or my email inbox, I spent five minutes clearing my head in the pages of a journal.
Even when I was staring down the barrel of back-to-back meetings, deadlines, and projects, I was able to step into each day feeling so much calmer after my morning mind sweep.
And although I personally have more extroverted tendencies, if you tend to be more introverted, regular mind sweeps are incredibly important. Because introverts tend to process internally, taking time to write out what’s in your head can help you make connections and see opportunities that you might not have otherwise considered if you held them in.
So, if you feel like the world is moving around you at hyperspeed, stop and do a mind sweep.
#2: Do a calendar sweep.
When you feel like your head is spinning and you’ve got a lot of places to be, it’s a good move to head to your calendar and really examine where your time is going.
The thing is, even when we’re being careful about how we’re spending our time, suddenly we might look up and realize that our calendar is filled with meetings and obligations that we just don’t need anymore.
Maybe a meeting was useful at some point, but it ran its course. Maybe a meeting that’s an hour could be just as effective for 45 or even 30 minutes. Or, maybe there are a few meetings on your calendar that really could just be an email instead.
There are five different types of meetings…and even non-work or personal commitments can fall into these categories.
Five types of meetings
- First: Meetings you absolutely must attend because they’re mission critical. You have to attend these and you don’t have any control over when they are or how long they are. These are things like all-staff meetings or board meetings. There’s not much you can do about them.
- Second: Meetings you must attend in order to do your job — and ones that can’t be delegated or outsourced to someone else either. This could look like a meeting with your team one-on-one or project-specific meetings. You could potentially move these meetings to a more convenient time if you had to.
- Third: Meetings that someone needs to attend, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be you. Maybe you could train someone on your team to attend this meeting for you. I know it can be hard to delegate, but sometimes it’s much more valuable to put in the work to train someone so you can get your time back.
- Fourth: Meetings that are nice to have, but not necessary. For these, see if you can space out the frequency of the meeting — like moving it to every other week instead of weekly, or shorten the length of the meeting — like shifting from an hour-long meeting to just thirty minutes.
- Fifth: Meetings that you just don’t need to attend. They don’t have any real impact on your role or responsibilities. Maybe you started going to this meeting because there was a project or something that impacted you, and you just continued to attend just in case. If you can cancel these or stop going, you’ll get your time back.
When life feels like it’s moving at warp speed and you’re running from meeting to meeting, or you’re getting zoom room whiplash, doing a calendar sweep can help you free up some of your precious time.
#3: Focus on one thing at a time.
Most of us aren’t that great at multitasking (I know I’m not!)! Seriously — research says that only 2.5% of people can multitask efficiently. Two point five percent, y’all. I love you and I think you’re amazing, but you’re probably just like the other 97.5% of people who can’t multitask — and that’s ok!
Bouncing back and forth between tasks, especially when each of those tasks requires our full attention, isn’t very productive. And when you feel like you’re going all day, but never getting anything done, it only amplifies the stress you already feel.
There’s this saying from the Navy SEALS that goes like this, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”
Which basically means that going slow and being deliberate helps you be more accurate with what you’re doing, and that means fewer mistakes. And I know how tough it can be to be I slow down and be deliberate, but it will benefit you SO MUCH in the long run.
Maybe for you, that looks like complete and total silence as you work. Maybe that means going into your office, shutting the door, and locking it, so you don’t have any unprompted interruptions. Or maybe just go put your phone in a drawer, so you aren’t tempted to check it.
There are so many ways to do this, but remember, you can only do so much effectively at a time, and trying to work at breakneck speeds isn’t going to do you any favors either.
#4: Make time to decompress.
Something I’ve learned as a business owner is that there will always be more work at the end of the day, no matter how productive you are. The to-do list never ends. There will always be something to do.
I always think of that episode of I Love Lucy when Lucy and Ethel are working at a chocolate factory, wrapping chocolates on a conveyor belt. First, it’s slow enough for them to wrap the chocolate and keep it moving. But then, the conveyor belt cranks up to full speed and chocolate ends up everywhere. On the floor, in their mouths, down their dresses.
That’s what our to-do lists feel like. But the difference is, we have the power to decide what “enough” looks like each day, which is always going to be different depending on what’s on our plate, how we feel, what we’re capable of, and more.
Once we decide our enough — and we’re real with ourselves about what’s actually possible based on the amount of time we have — we can hit our enough, and walk away from the conveyor belt.
When the workday is done, do your shutdown routine and log off. Go cook a meal and sit down to eat with your family. Go watch a movie on Friday night in your cozy PJs with your kids. Put your phone (and laptop!) on do not disturb and leave it in the other room! Let yourself be fully present in the moment.
It’s important to create moments to decompress, especially at the end of a working day! And it’s true…finding time to relax can feel impossible. At the end of a busy day, there’s no magic window of time left over. That’s why you’ve got to be proactive and make the time to recharge your batteries, instead of leaving it to chance.
#5: Go for a (quiet) walk
This is another thing I LOVE doing because exercise is really helpful for moving stress out of our bodies, but coupling that with fresh air can do wonders! If you decide to go on a walk to decompress, don’t take your headphones — enjoy the quiet and the views. And maybe take a notebook with you because chances are, you’ll drum up some amazing ideas without even trying.
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism has written about the power of the outdoor office and the way that nature can fill your senses without demanding your attention. Turns out, walking in nature can behave like a performance-enhancing drug for deep work. Anytime he needs to work through problems with deep thinking, he heads to the woods.
You don’t have to embark on a full-on nature hike to reap the benefits. You’ll find that just a 5-minute walk outside can act as sort of a “reset” button, and when you’re done, you’ll be able to come back to the drawing board fully rested and refreshed!
#6: Let that person merge. You’re not in a rush.
When we’re rushing, we’re not exactly at our kindest, most compassionate. That person taking their time ordering four hot triple venti nonfat no foam two equal lattes at Starbucks? Annoying.
Your kids, trying to get dressed themselves when you’re already running late? your two-year insisting on buckling herself into her car seat? So frustrating. That person trying to merge on the highway who doesn’t seem to understand how merging works? Absolutely infuriating.
The whole concept here? Take a deep breath, slow down, and let the other person in the lane. Bless their heart. Let that person order their fancy drink. Let your kid put their pants on their head. The 2 minutes you spend waiting for this to happen can either be a calm experience — or it can set a bad tone for your whole day. The choice is yours.
Let the other person in your lane. You’re not in a rush.
BONUS: Take my quiz!
You know how it seems like there are all the things you have to try and all the hacks you should be using to cut down on your time and get more done? Well… you already know they just add more noise to your already-busy world.
More than that, you know you’ll get frustrated if they don’t work. That’s the opposite of slowing down. You need to know what works for you — and maybe even have a little roadmap to help you get where you want to go.
I created the Chaos to Calm Quiz, because I know that time management isn’t one-size-fits-all.
So… why not slow down and take a few minutes to figure out what your time management personality type is? After this quiz, you’ll see results that show you exactly what you need to do to feel more productive, less stressed, and more balanced.
In this episode, we talk about:
- Why rest is one of the best ways to be more productive
- How to deal when life feels a little too overwhelming
- 6 practical ways to actively practice slowing down
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