How to feel amazing when you definitely can't do it all

Files stacked in filebox

Nope. I can’t do it. I can’t do it all.

And, while I understand this concept intellectually, somehow every time I have open space in my calendar the cold, hard facts about how long it actually takes to accomplish things start to mist over, and, as if in a dream, I begin to imagine that it actually IS possible to do everything. Right here, right now.

To which I can only say, “HA!”

For example, just this past week I noticed my brain saying crazy things like, “Why yes, I CAN clear out my entire apartment over spring break! And host a Passover seder, and launch a Jewish learning community, and file our taxes, and support my clients, and develop my [*awesome!!] new program, and be a completely present and engaged mom, and have personal time, and have creative time, and, and, and…”

Again, I'm going to have to say, "HA!"

Or, rather, “I love you Jennifer, and your wild ambitions, and your glorious dreams, and your visions of all that’s possible. And, rather than set yourself up for frustration and disappointment, how about we look at it a little differently next time, with a combination of practicality and compassion, so that you can feel good about what you accomplish, and good about who you are, and good about life in general?”

So simple!

Sort of.

While I might not have yet mastered the art of seamlessly matching my time to my ambitions, or my wishes to my results, I have developed a few mantras that help me notice when I’m about to hit overwhelm and allow me to pause, breathe, and move into a more open and accepting space, from which so much more is possible.

Here are a few of my favorites; may you use them well:

1. You’re allowed to want what you want. 

That’s right, I said it. I don’t care if what you want is a dream business, a fulfilling relationship, or a day where everybody just leaves you alone and doesn’t ask you for anything. I don't care if it's the biggest, most audacious vision ever and everybody tells you you're crazy and it's impossible. YOU’RE ALLOWED TO WANT IT. I’ve seen too many (= pretty much all) of my clients afraid to even think about what they really want, much less say it out loud. I’ve definitely been there myself.

And I get it, of course it can be scary to acknowledge what you really want—because once you admit it, you might feel sad that you don’t have it, afraid that you’ll never have it, or worried about what would happen if you actually got it. But you know what? That is ONE STEP CLOSER to making what you want an actual reality! Or even to deciding that you don’t really want it after all. Either way, you’re living in truth, rather than fear or fantasy, and it’s really only from that place that you can make conscious, thoughtful choices that actually fill your life with what’s most important to you.


2. Things take time. 

I know, duh. But one thing I noticed right off the bat way back in my organizing days was how off so many of us are when we attempt to gauge how long things take. Over and over again I saw people—students, adults, myself—assuming it would take half an hour to [insert any task here: study for a test, respond to email, outline a new business idea, cook dinner, follow up with new connections], only to discover that it almost always took a completely different amount of time.

Sometimes more, sometimes less. Sometimes unanticipated factors threw things off, such as mood, interruptions or lack of necessary components, information or focus; sometimes the task itself simply turned out to be a different beast altogether and all bets were off. We used to wrangle all of these potential obstacles during Get One Thing Done™ Days, and everyone was always shocked by how much they accomplished in that four-and-a-half hour stretch. But part of what made those days so successful was the process I made everyone walk through in advance that forced them to acknowledge what they could realistically expect to accomplish in that amount of time!

And that’s what I have to remind myself when I’ve worked for three hours and instead of seeing all the progress I've made all I can see is another seven hundred hours worth of things that need to get done. I have to remind myself that things take time, that it’s important to gauge accurately so you can set healthy expectations, and that three hours may not have finished the job, but it got me three hours closer to my goal.

3. All is well. All is as it should be. All will be well. 

I learned this mantra from a book I read (skimmed) when I was pregnant, The Whole Pregnancy Handbook. It’s a great book, and this mantra has stayed with me ever since. While the book teaches the mantra so you can use it while you’re in labor, I’ve found that it’s perfect for pretty much all situations where you’re feeling anxious, unsure or are about to completely freak out.

I find it reassuring; somehow it just lets me relax and have faith, even when I have no idea how things will work out, or what they will look like. It’s basically a promise that things are and will be OK, so you can just keep going, one step at a time. When I say it, I believe it, and then I can make peace with where I am. From there I can move forward.

BONUS TIP: Go back and look at what you've accomplished.

It's funny, this wasn't on my original list, but I as I was rereading this JOYmail before I sent it out, I realized that I'd actually taken care of a lot of the projects I'd been agonizing over. I started writing this four days ago, in the throes of frustration because my expectations of what I could get done over spring break were...somewhat off base. But when I took the time to read my goals, I felt pretty damn proud of myself.

I did host a Passover seder, I did file my taxes, I did support my clients while I took off from work. I was a present and engaged mom--a lot of the time; I was also not a present and engaged when I was busy feeding my soul (reading Mary Balogh novels...). I made headway on clearing out my apartment, and while it felt like a hopelessly small dent at the time, the truth is that there was NO WAY I could have possibly gotten it all done (see mantra #2), and what I did get done did make a difference.

In fact, it turns out I actually did some or all of everything on that list except work on my new program. And you know what? I needed time off for all of these personal things in order to create space for the program to evolve. So technically you could say I did develop my program over break!

My point is that even as you're calming yourself down and resetting your expectations so you can be both kinder to yourself and more realistic in how you plan, take a minute to look at what you've already accomplished, because I'm pretty sure it's a lot more than you think it is. Your projects may not all be finished, and you may still have a lot more you want to do (in fact, if you're one of my clients or anything like them, you definitely have a lot more you want to get to). But if you take the time to acknowledge what you've already done, and better yet, write it down, it will remind you to be proud, to feel good, and to recognize all you're capable of.

So, there you have ‘em. Try one or more of these mantras the next time you bite off more than you can chew. If you’re a person with big ideas, with great, gorgeous visions of what’s possible, you will likely be doing that often.