When there’s so much on your plate you can’t focus

I bet I’m not the only one who has stood in the middle of the house, staring. Everywhere I looked, there was a task screaming for my attention. Every room needed to be decluttered, cleaned, and organized. It felt like there wasn’t a single thing that was the way it was supposed to be.

The to-do is so long, it’s impossible to know where to start. And that’s just the written to-do list. The mental to-do list, kept in my head, was even longer. It left me feeling a sense of impending doom. There was no such thing as catching up. I had zero chance of even knowing, much less doing, all the things I ought to be doing.

If you find yourself in a similar place, where you have multiple responsibilities, all with many duties, many tasks, some urgent, some important, many unlisted and possibly unknown, so that you feel overwhelmed by life, there is hope.

You can get on top of it. However, it will take more than an hour, more than a day, and “getting on top of it” will look quite different than you probably imagine.

We all often feel pulled in a million directions. Parenting, cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, church, activities – all add to our plate and take time in our day.

However, we must remember that good work is supposed to take our time and our energy. Our time and our energy is not ours to spend at our discretion and pleasure, so that work and obligations to others are impositions on our personal resources.

Rather, our personal resources are given to us that we might give them to others. The whole point of having time and energy is to spend them on others in service to God for God’s glory.

We all often feel pulled in a million directions. Parenting, cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, church, activities - all add to our plate and take time in our day. Here are 4 steps to take when you feel overwhelmed.

#1 – Declutter your thinking

When you’re overwhelmed, your first impulse might be to ignore most of the responsibilities weighing on your mind. After all, you can only work on one at a time, right? Focus means ignoring what you’re not working on, right?

It’s true, but focus isn’t the first step. Before you’re actually able to focus, you have to clear your head and free your mind and emotions from the burden of holding all the vague obligations.

Telling yourself, “I have too much to do!” or “I am being pulled in a million directions” makes focus and attention impossible. It justifies worry and stress rather than dealing with the worry and stress.

Worry is dealt with through prayer. Prayer is the vacuum running over the crumbs of worry. If the crumbs aren’t cleaned up afterwards, the vacuum’s filter is clogged. It is part of the nature of prayer that it removes worry as it aligns our hearts and minds with God’s will for us.

Sometimes our prayers are ineffective or our stress remains because we haven’t taken the time to even realize what our worries are. We don’t know what to pray for. The vague overwhelm has turned our ability to think and pray right off.

A baby step action to clear your heart and mind and to clear the way for effective prayer is to brain dump.

Begin listing the “million things” pulling at you. As you name them, they lose their grip on you. You become the one in the driver seat rather than your vague emotions as you get specific and write things down in ink on paper.

Try it. It works.

Dump all those swirling thoughts out of your head.

Yes, simply writing it all down will help to

  • Reduce stress by getting your thoughts onto paper
  • Reduce frustration by assigning homes to stuff, tangible & intangible
  • Reduce anxiety by knowing what you have on your plate

Declutter your head.

#2 – Focus on what matters

After you’ve decluttered your head with a brain dump and prayer, you are ready to focus. Focus is a matter of zeroing in on the things that matter and letting the multitude of small, insignificant things happen as they may.

More of those small things will actually be done when you focus on and start with the tasks that matter most than if you tried to take care of the little things before getting started with the significant things.

But the most important thing to focus is not your physical energy and attention on specific tasks, but your attitude and your internal story.

Your attention-focus is a function of your internal narrative. What are you saying about your life, your job, your tasks? Is it helping or hindering? Is it true or false?

True focus comes as a result of knowing your purpose and the significance of your work. It comes from knowing the real story you’re in and being happy to live it out faithfully.

Learn more about changing the story in your head by getting free access to the first module of the Organize Your Attitude course: Declutter your story.

#3 – Take a baby step

When your head is clear and wrapped around your true responsibilities and purpose, you can begin to move forward effectively.

Often we want overnight change, a fresh restart where we begin doing everything rightly and completely from now on.

But that’s not how change actually happens, so we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and discouragement when we have such unrealistic expectations.

Instead, we need to choose baby steps. We need to take a small action that begins movement in the right direction. It doesn’t matter if we aren’t doing everything we should be doing as long as we start doing something we should be doing.

Some is better than none. All or nothing will get you nothing. Progress is better than perfect. Choosing baby steps is choosing to put our perfectionistic tendencies and temptations to death.

Once we get started, we’ll make more informed and realistic adjustments along the way, increasing our momentum and progress.

It’s not effective to not begin until there’s a perfect, figured-out, complete system in place to handle everything. It is effective to start with a small next step, then follow it up with another. That’s how progress is made in the real world.

#4 – Iterate

Once progress begins with baby steps, we’re able to iterate, to adjust, to figure it out as we go along.

Having rejected the temptation to set up a complete system we’ll never implement, we get to create a system that works on the fly as we practice and see what does and does not work for us.

By setting up routines and productivity habits one by one, we are not defeated by an overly ambitious total life makeover. Each new habit and routine supports the next. Each change we make gives us more information about how we work best and what we need next.

Iteration, not total planned-out systems, work best because our life changes. Our plans have to adapt, so starting with the intention of adapting as we go helps us roll with the punches of real life without giving in to discouragement that our perfectionist, unrealistic expectations didn’t work out.

Progress is possible

You can put routines and habits in place that will help you deal with the myriad of responsibilities and obligations you have. Put them in place incrementally and from a place of satisfaction and clarity rather than frustration and discouragement. The plan itself will never work. The plan is just a reminder to you that you must work and what you should choose to work on next.

Weekly reviews, daily cards, and other productivity practices will help you not experience overwhelm even as a busy life increases its demands upon you, but the basic approach that will calm our hearts and focus our attention is four-fold: Declutter, focus, do, iterate.

  • Get gospel-focused advice and encouragement.
  • Level up your plans and progress, one step at a time.
  • Find accountability with likeminded women without any social media drama.
  • Experience the homemaking mentoring you’ve always wanted.
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