Saturday, April 19, 2014

So Much To Do

Why do I feel so compelled to keep all the plates spinning and to respond to the incessant to do lists? 

Why does productivity matter to me so much? 

Why do I always say "yes"?

Why am I so distracted all the time? 

Why is it so hard to stop? 


I have been extremely distracted lately. And this state of being distracted, well, it's distracting. I don't think it's likely that anything new is distracting me, just that I'm waking up to all the noise that's been there all along. 
I sit down to play baby dolls with my two year old daughter and almost instantly my mind wanders to the bow tie orders I need to be making and the fabric that needs ordered and the emails that need sent and I'm down a mile-long list of business to do's before I realize she's still sitting there, waiting with her baby doll. 
It's excruciating for a moment, but my wheels are spinning too fast to stay in one emotion for long.

Later on, I sit with my son to build trains and again, like second nature, my mind is racing with writing prompts and analogies I want to remember and books I need to read and others I forgot to return and fines that need paid and the spinning mental to do list consumes me all over again. I decide to give myself ten minutes to send a couple emails and get all the laundry gathered, hoping that by checking off a couple boxes from the to do list, I will again be able to focus and breathe. I excuse myself from the kids, pleading with them to play kindly with each other while I’m gone. I send the emails, but am distracted by the mess of the office and in the midst of sorting piles and picking up crayons, I hear crying and screaming from the basement. I find both children sobbing at the bottom of the steps, one having been hit by a sword and the other bitten in retaliation. I fume at them for not being able to play together for ten minutes while mama gets some work done. I situate them on the couch with a cup of raisins, then resume my sorting and cleaning and, after checking emails again, gather the laundry. 
By this time, the kids are frantic for my attention and I’m consumed with guilt for all the distraction and stressed even more by the endless list of to do's. The "ten minute" break has turned into a half hour of frenzied doing, and I plead with myself to just slow down and let my focus rest entirely on these two beautiful children. I drop the laundry basket at the top of the stairs, straighten a few cushions on my way back, then plop down beside warm, welcoming bodies.
I'm able to breathe into some time with the kids, cuddle with them to books and sit down for lunch together. My mind flitters off here and there throughout our cuddles and conversations, but mostly I'm present and warding of the Do Demon with the hopes of productive nap time hours, quickly approaching. We chitter chatter and cleanup from lunch and I have this urgent sense of wanting to freeze time, to savor these moments forever. For a moment I am caught up in what really matters. 

But then, I race to lay the kids down for naps - dreading the day I won't have those hours to slash my to do lists in half - and run downstairs, dashing from item to item, responding to more emails, finally throwing in that load of laundry, cleaning the kitchen, timing my every step. I check in with my list, check the clock for the hundredth time. I allow myself a four minute shower, respond to more emails, numb with a scan of the news feed, then race back downstairs to switch the laundry. 
Multiple times, I realize my heart is racing from trying to squeeze four hours into an hour and a half. I try to take deep breaths, to think of a better way. I add "exercise" and "write" to my to do list as I race upstairs to gather too-soon woken children. 
The day continues on, with laundry to fold and floors to sweep, groceries to buy and errands to run, food to cook and kids to love. We stop by the park for a mental breather, and I'm able to relax again, briefly, and breathe deep when we look eye to eye. But all too soon my mind races and in my frenzy, I find myself repeating tasks, over-checking emails, numbing to news feeds and staring past the people I love the most. By the end of the day, I'm exhausted, guilty, frustrated and still have a few more to do's to finish up before I can collapse into bed. I end with a pending to do list and set my alarm for earlier the next day. Maybe an earlier start will help?


I have long, long been a juggler of many plates. I've proudly received the comment, "I just don't know how you do it all?" hundreds of times and have breathed deeply of my ability to stretch the limits of a tight schedule and check off every last to do on my list. I've also found room to check off others' to do lists, being the go-to-girl for hosting baby showers and birthday parties and babysitting and volunteering for some project or another. My "yes's" have outweighed my "no's" a million to one, while I meticulously schedule each minute and, then, write another to do list. 

When my husband and I met and married in 2005, I was working a 30 hour a week job, volunteering at least 10 hours a week with our church's college ministry, keeping up a packed social calendar and finishing out my senior year at Ohio State University, where I petitioned the dean every quarter for permission to take above the maximum allowable credit hours. I was paying my way through school - refusing to take on any debt - living on my own and planning a wedding. I literally ran (or sped) from one responsibility to the next, rarely uttering the word "no". In fact, I volunteered myself - my time and energy and talents - constantly, to family and friends and any reasonably needy cause. When people would ask, "Are you sure you have time for that?", I would proudly answer, "Oh, yeah, I really thrive best under pressure!" Which I whole-heartedly believed. And so the responsibilities would pile on and I'd somehow manage to keep all the plates spinning, with astonishing success, and would marvel with others at my ability to take on so much. 

My husband has always been my biggest fan, and in those early years of marriage, I remember how impressed he was with how much I could handle and how thoughtful I was about using my time intentionally, even it did mean a bit of steam-rolling and constant motion. I lived by this "intentional time use" mantra. I was obsessed with productivity and using every second of my day to check something off my to do list, which fortunately included relationships and ministry and volunteering. But instead of endless evenings of laughter or sharing, my friendships were grown during volunteer hours or while doing the laundry or over a ministry planning meeting. Which wasn't wrong, but certainly imbalanced. I had a hard time allowing myself to stop and saw little value in activities purely intended for pleasure. Life was being shared, but largely because we were all rushing through it together. Everything had a point, a plan, a purpose.


Only very recently have I awakened to the value of personal time or down time. And even more recently have I acquired play and creativity and rest as meaningful values. It is so new in my life to ask for an evening out alone, that I often still feel a twinge of awkwardness and guilt when I hear the words come out of my mouth. I feel as if I should look over my should to see if someone else has made the request on my behalf, or if, in fact, it was really me. 

I am new at setting boundaries and am an amateur at saying "no". It is a daily discipline to stay mindful of my limitations and a new practice to ask for help.
In Brene Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she focuses extensively on these concepts of play and creativity and rest as aspects of a whole-hearted, healthy lifestyle. In fact, it is this book and the corresponding e-Course that have started to engrain these values meaningfully into my soul. Brown speaks directly to my exhausting, endless to do lists when she writes:
"In today's culture - where our self-worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worthiness on our level of productivity - spending time doing purposeless activities is rare. In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen. We've got so much to do and so little time that the idea of spending time doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress. We convince ourselves that playing is a waste of precious time. We even convince ourselves that sleep is a terrible use of time."
I read this and think, "Oh my God! She is in my head. How did she know exactly what happened the other night?!" I am too often verbatim the Doer she's describing, feeling far more stressed at the thought of sitting still, than running frantically on behalf of my list. I have long shirked play and creativity and rest as unintentional wastes of time.

And where has it gotten me? Exhausted. Distracted. Guilty. Empty.

Brown later encourages, in her matter-of-fact way, "Stop pretending play and rest are optional" and, at least for the moment, it resonates deeply within me. I sense the value and I adopt the practice.
I keep practicing, and on some days I find myself in the midst of chaotic distraction, but on others, I find I've chosen a calmer way. I'm becoming ever more mindful of the pull to define myself by doing and increasingly convinced that pleasure is purpose enough.

Pin It Now!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Design by Small Bird Studios | All Rights Reserved