It’s a pandemic, not a productivity contestApril 21, 2020
Staying sane in difficult timesJuly 26, 2020
People with busy minds frequently have trouble focusing and prioritizing in chaotic times. Driven by the urge to create stability amidst uncertainty, they feel drawn in many different directions by their constantly flowing ideas.
Having a lot of ideas isn’t necessarily a bad thing…until the sheer number of projects and initiatives becomes so overwhelming that our schedule gets out of control. Being preoccupied with multiple projects can also result in losing track of time, which starts a vicious cycle of stress and self-recrimination.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t entertain and enjoy new ideas, but the challenge is to approach them from an organized standpoint, acknowledging our own limitations and other responsibilities. If you have stopped making to-do lists because you feel guilty or overwhelmed by them, it’s time to take stock. Here are some thoughts about taking fewer ideas further:
Let go of ideas that are no longer serving you
People who have many interests and passions often find themselves juggling more ideas than they can reasonably accommodate. Trying to take care of multiple projects at once is stressful, no matter how excited you are about each individual activity. Over time, you may also find that a lot of your energy goes into managing ideas instead of seeing a project through to completion.
Without judging harshly, observe your own behavior patterns: When do you tend to abandon a task to switch to something else? What causes you to feel so frustrated that you start something entirely new?
If you frequently go after shiny new objects, you may have accumulated a portfolio of activities and projects that are half-finished and call for attention you don’t have. Your task list may feel like a cluttered area in your home – in need of clearing up to give you space.
In times of chaos, it may be helpful to go through your task list and give yourself permission to “shelve” ideas for later. Look at the ultimate objective of each project or idea – is it a good fit for your current situation and resources?
Letting go of ideas that are no longer serving you is not a sign of failure. Rather, it means you are learning to identify and successfully pursue your most promising projects.
Use routines to focus your efforts and stay balanced
You know that trope in literature and TV where the creative character stays up all night to finish a project, swept up by the momentum of creativity? If pushing deadlines literally to the last minute is your reality, you know very well how it feels to go without sleep. You also know that the work of a frantic long night doesn’t even remotely compare to the quality you are capable of producing.
People with active minds often benefit from a consistent schedule to create a sense of predictability and calm. You may even find that you’re getting more work done than usual when you focus all of your mental energy on one idea at a time, instead of addressing multiple tasks at once.
To start, think about the activity patterns of your day such as sleeping, mealtimes, work hours, etc. Some of them are a good fit for specific times of day. For example, if you wake up feeling full of energy, maybe it’s best to schedule exercise in the morning. You can create habits by repeating the same activities every day, preferably around the same time. The idea of eating or walking at set times may seem dull at first, but has powerful effects on your inner balance and well-being.
A consistent schedule not only gives you a balanced routine, it can also be an opportunity to track when you feel most creative, and schedule this as the time you work on your ideas. In the midst of widespread crisis and upheaval, setting such a schedule can be an uphill battle. Be kind to yourself if you deviate from your schedule, but keep working to maintain it.
Talk through your ideas with someone you trust
As easy as it is to get wrapped up in our own ideas, never underestimate the power of talking them over with someone you trust. Even just a quick general opinion is invaluable when you feel unsure if an idea is worth your time, energy, and resources. Your “idea buddy” can be a friend, relative, mentor, or colleague, but be mindful of your request for their time. Articulating a concept can also be helpful to clarify what drew you to a particular idea.
If your distraction and pursuit of multiple ideas is causing serious problems, it’s time to turn to a professional. Everyone’s budget is small right now, so don’t be shy or feel guilty about asking upfront about things such as minimum fees and sliding scales.
Moving past idea overwhelm
New ideas will always seem appealing, especially as we navigate uncertain, chaotic times. It’s tempting to leap into action to pursue a new and exciting concept, but new activities and the inevitable obligations they bring can easily lead to a vicious cycle of stress, overwhelm, and guilt. Ultimately, your time and energy is better spent making consistent progress on the projects that matter most.