It would be fair to say that from the start of December onwards I felt too busy and overwhelmed with what I had to get done. Actually, the feeling started building in September and hadn’t gone away when Christmas added to the pile. A new school year always brings with it new routines to adopt for all the family, new negotiations to be had with my husband about who is doing what, and an urgency to get work deadlines achieved before the end of the year. When all demands of Christmas were included I was at my limit.
I used an analogy with a friend to describe how I felt. I wasn’t pushing a rock up a hill but a lot of little stones. Each on their own looked easy and not too much of a big thing but trying to keep them all going up was testing my skills of organisation, prioritisation, administration and my own sanity. Oliver Burkeman in an article for the Guardian wrote that ‘the state of “overwhelm” …. [is] the result of a mismatch between what you expect of yourself and what you manage to get done’.
January seems a good time to reflect. I spend my working life coaching other parents on juggling work and home so I should have the answers, shouldn’t I?
At How Do You Do It, we advocate getting clear on what is important to you and then prioritising based on this. As working parents, we have a lot of conflicting demands on our time and attention. We are usually able to do a lot of different things. However, we can’t do it all. Back to my analogy. Some of the little stones were more important to me than others. I should have focused on them and let the others go. In my state of busy-ness had lost sight of this.
Practically how does it translate? We don’t need a homemade Christmas cake that was largely uneaten over Christmas. Elf on the Shelf can stick to his brief i.e. sit on a shelf, as opposed to dreaming up new antics for him at 11 pm every night. In fact in 2018 perhaps he can get lost on the way to our house.
Who am I kidding, by choosing those, I’m only making small adjustments around the edges. Oliver Burkeman goes on to quote the author Elizabeth Gilbert in his article who says “the biggest, trickiest lesson is learning how to say no to things you do want to do”. I need to prioritise my important list and focus on what is truly meaningful to me, realistically matching my expectations of myself with the time I have to get it done.
As we talk about on our programmes, deciding what success looks like to you, the important list, needs regular review – does it still fit, have I slipped away from it (easy to do in busy times), have I said yes to things I think I ‘should’ do as opposed to want to or have I reacted to what I think is expected of me (a ‘perfect’ Christmas has to be homemade doesn’t it?). It isn’t something which you do once and then mentally file away to never think about again. I think that is my task for my train journey home sorted, isn’t it?
 ‘This column will change your life; stop being busy’; Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, 19/04/2014