“I can’t think straight, I have so much to do, I don’t even know where to start.”
This is something I said to my husband a few weeks ago. When I am feeling overwhelmed by my workload we play the “Now & Later” game. We write down every task/project that’s in my head (but feel as if they are baby elephants on my shoulders) and we put a “Now” or “Later” next to it.
“From what I can tell on this list, you have only one Now.”
“Let me look at that!” I said and grabbed the paper from him. He was right. Most of my stress was related to work projects that were not due for months but because of my looming work schedule and imminent deadlines I was concerned I would not find the time to get everything done.
From the beginning of my career, I’ve had an enormous amount of work to do. It’s nobody’s fault but my own: while in graduate school I chose to get three degrees instead of one, at the same time. After graduate school I decided it would be a good idea to open and operate two businesses, at the same time.
I like to work and I love the challenge. Sometimes, however, the sheer amount seems insurmountable and I find myself wasting time thinking about how it will all get done versus just doing what needs to be done right there and then. This anticipation, for me, is a distraction. It’s a form of anticipatory anxiety that if left unchecked can interfere with any chance of productivity.
If I could speak to my 22 year-old self I would tell her to turn anxiety into fuel. I’d tell her that success comes when you sit down and do the work to bring your idea to fruition. The repetitive thinking about what needs to happen, I’d tell her, builds pyramids of stress in your mind, layer after layer, built by little Egyptian slaves called thoughts that never stop working, never get tired, and work for free.
Practice the art of focusing on the here and now, I’d tell her. Use your thinking mind to support the work that needs to get done; lasso it when it starts to run amok like a wild bull in a rodeo.
Begin a meditation practice now so the habit is in place for later.
An avid watcher of Shark Tank, I love when Mark Cuban tells contestants they should be working like there’s a competitor out there with the same idea that is working twice as hard to beat them. Whatever anxiety you have should be channeled into work. It’s OK to feel anxiety, I’d tell her, but use it as a call to action.
Then once you see the fruits of your labor materialize — CELEBRATE! REJOICE! Pat yourself on the back for crying out loud. There will always be more to do so make sure you acknowledge what you’ve done thus far.
Then I’d tell her that she doesn’t need to buy so many pairs of boots as she’s only going to wear one pair every day.
This post was originally featured on Equilibrialeadership.com.
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Nicole Lipkin, Psy.D., MBA is an organizational psychologist and the CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting. She is the author of “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night” and the co-author of “Y in the Workplace: Managing the ‘Me First’ Generation.”
Originally published at medium.com