My Secret to Keeping it Together: Dream Big, Act Small

So you’re sick of excuses, I’m sick of excuses, we’re all sick of excuses… but this semester (my last semester of undergrad, incidentally) is testing me in ways I had not anticipated. Between awesome, but intensive classes (LGBT Development, Women Writers, and Web design… yes please!) and all of the wonderful Women’s Center projects left to wrap up before I graduate… well, all know the story, but you’re here for a blog post… so lets go!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people ask me: how do you manage to get everything done? Its a fair question. I don’t seem to have the ability or the desire that other people do when it comes to saying “no.” Nine times out of ten if someone presents an opportunity to me, I take it despite the fact that I know my plate is already pretty damn full. Given the fact that I have serious issues regulating anxiety in even the most tranquil of situations, this seems ridiculous. And yet, I tend to manage just fine.

Why is that? Because I know that if something is intimidating, I’m just not thinking small enough.

Take my last week of classes as an example; finishing two essays, 100+ pages of reading, designing two web pages and prepping for a big job interview in just five days seemed impossible to me when I first considered it. Then, I broke it down. For this particular situation it made the most sense to take an index card and break it into the number of days I had left. Once that was done I filled in all of the social commitments and distractions that I already knew about. Based on how much time was left in each day I set myself goals like: two hours working on website or read 50 pages of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan with a small box next to it to be checked off when I was done.

I taped this list in my mirror and constantly reminded myself to focus on just one day at a time.

Five days of fun and work later and I was done (and ready to be lazy for the weekend!)

My wonderful to-do list for the past week. (via Spongebob!)

This simple “trick” of breaking things down works for everything.

Getting from being a [fill in your undergraduate] major to being a [dream job] can seem intimidating as anything, unless you break it down. Figure out what classes you need to take, what graduate programs (if any) you need to get into, what entry level jobs you need to try, who you need to meet, and so on… just break down all of the steps between you and your goal and then focus, one step at a time.

Achieving [that huge project that you’ve been dreaming of for ages] can seem impossible, unless you break it down. Write out your idea, then figure out what you are missing that is keeping you from having achieved that idea. Break it down into small steps that go from where you are now to where you want to be. Its okay if some of the steps are missing when you start out, after all you may still need to do some research (a step!) to give yourself direction.

Getting through [those awful chores that you hate] can seem much less crummy if you break things down into smaller steps and give yourself plenty of little rewards each time you get one done!

I think you get the point.

The beauty of this trick is that it works for everyone because you can tailor it to fit your exact needs! (Different sized steps, lists on paper or computer, etc.)

Miscellaneous Tips

  1. You can go as small as you want, but I find that I feel best when I break things into day-sized steps. That way you feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of each day!
  2. Scheduling in small breaks (a cup of tea, a trip to the movies, a chapter in a fun book, etc.) in between steps can help to keep you insane, especially if you are operating on a packed schedule for an extended period of time.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be flexible. Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, is a popular saying for a reason. A well broken-down list of steps can be helpful to keep you moving towards your goals, but don’t ever be afraid to cross something out (or throw the whole thing out all together!) if life starts to lead you in a new direction.
  4. If you are easily prone to stress, consider blocking each day out on its own sheet of paper. This way you only have to look at today.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up! If you get overwhelmed and spend an hour or two absentmindedly scrolling through tumblr or watching Wife Swap when you should be working, its OKAY. Any time spend moping and feeling like a failure for being distracted is just MORE time wasted, so commend yourself for taking time for self-care and then get back to work!
  6. Recognize when something is good enough. Sure, you could spend another how making sure your essay is EXACTLY 8 pages… or you could get some sleep. If you’re anything like me, letting yourself stop when a project is done is half the battle but mastering this skill will make your life so much easier!

So after writing this I did a quick Google search and found out that I am not so original :P For the record, this post was not inspired by the book of the same name (I just found out it exists!) but I plan to find the time to check the book out now… I’ll report back! (A version of this post also aired on Persephone awhile back, but I’ve made some edits and added some tips before posting it here!)

So Long Summer, Hello Stress

Its that time of year again: summer is ending and (for many of us) that means school is about to begin and life is about to resume a more hurried and busy pace… or maybe that’s just me. Regardless, I’d like to devote a post on this blog to starting a conversation about stress and stress relieving techniques, because I have a feeling this is something many of us deal with.

I’m not shy about the fact that I have a lower anxiety threshold than many people. I am a worrier by nature, a worrier who regularly piles her proverbial plate so high with commitments that it is almost but not quite ready to topple over. If I’m not careful I tend to fall to pieces fairly quickly but, in general I like the business of my life and choosing between my commitments is impossible… I love them all, so taking on less isn’t really an option here. Thus, I’ve had to develop some tricks over the years to maintain a level of sanity even during the craziest times. Here’s what I’ve learned…

Take mini-vacations. During finals week we decorate the Women’s Center where I work with a festive theme, turn down the lights, put out snacks, and provide fun little distractions like bubbles. This quick makeover provides a quick change-of-pace for all of us, patrons and employees alike, that gives us a chance to get away from the stress of finals.

To apply this principle to my day-to-day life I like to take fairly frequent breaks from working, studying, etc.  to recharge. A five minute walk, or a cup of tea consumed alongside a chapter of a good book, a twenty minute nap, a quick dance break… you get the point. These things help me to feel much less over-extended when things get rough, plus they tend to make me more productive as I am more energized when I have something to look forward to.

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Battling Stress

A few nights ago I was sitting in my partner’s room, just unwinding after a horrendously long day full of class, events (I had to help with TWO events within two hours of each other), protest planning (more on that in a week or so, when all is said and done), and an unexpected two hours at work. I had been out of my room from 9:30 that morning until 11:30 that night. So I was just laying back on his bed and all of a sudden I could not catch my breath. My chest had felt funny all day, a little bit tight like something was pressing on it, but all of a sudden it was hurting and I felt like I had just run a marathon because I couldn’t catch my breath, my lungs would not let me get enough air.

Sudden shortness of breath & chest pains are the symptoms for a heart attack. Also, for a free-floating blood clot (thank you Human Biology) so, as calmly as I could, I analyzed the situation and decided the hospital would be the best idea. This is how I ended up in the ER at 1:30am on a Thursday night when T had a paper due and my mother should have been in bed. After hooking me up to a EKG and determining my heart was fine I was left in a room to wait. Eventually the doctor came in and told me that my chest wall was most likely inflamed, due to stress, which meant my lungs did not have the room that they usually had to expand.

Stress. For months now I have been more stressed than I could have even imagined before. The problem is that this stress exists because I am doing things I love. I was stressed about the play I put on, stressed about blogging, stressed about my awesome writing and psychology classes, about work, about being on call for the Rape Crisis Center, about making time to go to the awesome events my co-workers and friends plan, about prepping for Feminists United meetings each week… you get the point. I was stressed, yes, but also loving every minute of it so I had decided to simply stick it out and keep telling myself that one day, things would ease up.

No more.

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