When the feathers are flying, take it one bird at a time

Herding Cats and Counting Crows
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

In the last hour, I have been called upon to:

  • Coordinate a last minute work trip to Los Angeles;
  • Notify my friends that I cannot babysit as previously promised because of this last minute work trip to Los Angeles;
  • Re-arranged my workflow in order to meet all my deadlines because I’ll be out of the office for two days next week, thanks – again – to this last minute work trip to Los Angeles;
  • Answer/forward/delete approximately 20 emails that came in over the ether this morning;
  • Supply our sales department with information regarding a story turned in after deadline;
  • Complete a final proof of the latest magazine issue before it goes to the publisher;
  • And field some personal emails that involve student loans, financing and my 401k.

Suffice to say, I am feeling overwhelmed.

I’ve taken on a few big projects lately – some are personal, others professional – and I’m starting to feel the heat.  Not only am I being called upon to make snap decisions and impromptu plans-of-action, but I’m also contending with a steady stream of requests… Can you send this document? Can you give me that address?  Can you? Can you? Can you?

And, of course, all those “negotiables” I’ve talked about before are collecting along the gutters of my fast-lane existence.

Something’s got to give, but what?

The first step?  Turning to my faithful, consistent, always-at-the-ready friend and (unwitting) confidante, Google.  After searching for “what to do when you’re overwhelmed,” my good pal Google gave me a list of articles chuck full of tips and tools, kind words and pep talks.

In my rabid, maniac-paced state, what resounded most was the suggestion that when life begins bursting at the seams, just stop.  Stop and reassess.  Stop and take a breath.  Stop, and let everything flow by you while you plan your next move.

“Switch all your devices off (no hyperventilating over this!) and go to a quiet spot,” suggests blogger Kimberly Smith. “Close your eyes and focus on the sounds and how your body feels…just breathe and focus on yourself and your surroundings… Forget everything you have to do that day, let go of any guilt/pain/aggravation from earlier and just sit there for 5 – 10 minutes. Do it, it feels awesome.”

But where would I find ten minutes of calm?  Closing my office door always seems to “alert the hounds”, and soon cubicle busy-bodies start wondering, “What’s she doing?” “What’s going on in there?”  “What’s happening?”

During the ten minutes I should be writing up to-do lists and prioritizing tasks, I’ll just be distracted by the inquisitive rumblings of coworkers, all the while keeping a wary eye out for the manager who seems to keep an excel spreadsheet in his head recoding every employee transgression (real or imagined).

So a time-out is not in the cards.  What else?

(You are not going to believe this…but just as I typed that sentence Word decided to lock up on me.  Had I saved the preceding paragraphs?  Of course not!  Ahhh….this day is definitely headed in an interesting direction.)

Writer Val has some workable options for beleaguered writers that seem promising.  When you’re inundated and besieged, Val suggests reorganizing your workspace or focusing on a different type of writing (hello daily blog entry!).  Planning and outsourcing are additional ways to mitigate the damage of the over-extended schedule.  And always focus.

“Don’t worry about the 300 things you can’t possibly complete today,” advises Val, “They will still be there tomorrow.” Instead, pick one or a handful, and take one small step at a time.

Some other coping mechanisms (courtesy Women’s Transformation): stop blaming yourself for your current circumstances, set some boundaries, set aside other people’s expectations, and  – again – focus.

So I’m going to try and grab that camera lens I’ve got trained on my hour-by-hour existence and see if I can’t just modify the focal point and sharpen up the edges.  I’ve been dealing with a wide-angle perspective, and it’s time to rein things in, pinpoint and prioritize tasks, and try to carve out a few moments of silence.

And as for those negotiables…well, we all know they really aren’t negotiable after all.  In fact, as Sarah Ban Breathnach points out, those little rituals an small daily task can actually help you restore balance.

“Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed by outside circumstances—worries about money, concern over a sick family member, or anxiety,” writes Ban Breathnach, “instinctively I turn to homegrown rituals to restore my equilibrium.”

And in addition to the morning page, Artist Dates, and the long afternoon walks (or evening stretches), it’s important to maintain physical order around you – we’re back to the organized workspace again – so that your brain can operate in a clear setting.

“There is an immediate emotional and psychological pay off to getting our houses in order,” explains Ban Breathnach.  “We might not be able to control what’s happening externally in our lives but we can learn to look to our own inner resources for a sense of comfort that nurtures and sustains.  I have even noticed that there is a direct correlation between the days when I’m feeling depressed and the days when the house is in disarray.  I suspect that I am not alone.  “It’s not the tragedies that kill us,” Dorthy Parker once observed, “it’s the messes.””

And let us not forget Anne Lamott’s advice  – just take it one bird at a time

All original content is the sole property of Elizabeth Cutright and The Daily Creative Writer. If you are reading this blog on another website, it has been reposted without the author’s permission in violation of the DMCA. © 2012 The Daily Creative Writer


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