I am frustrated because a project I am working on at work is behind schedule. The causes of the “behind-ness” are many, which is part of the frustration, but not part of my topic. Maybe it’s an old-guy thing, but I am learning to take the opportunity when I feel strong emotions to observe myself. It is almost like having an out-of-body experience. I’m going through a circumstance and feel a strong feeling. I’m still in the circumstance, I still feel the feeling, but at the same time, I am asking myself all kinds of questions about what’s going on. I understand that my emotions are about what’s inside of me and not so much what’s happening around me or to me. In an attempt to understand me better, I ask myself what is going on. What emotion do I feel? What are the circumstances? What do I believe or what story do I tell myself that causes me to feel this?
It is not unusual at times to feel overwhelmed with the tasks I have to do and then at other times, I find myself waiting on others with nothing that I have to do. With only a few tasks to keep up with, I can multitask and juggle the tasks in my memory just fine, but when I have way too many tasks, I need a list to manage things or I start to forget them. This list can be on paper or computer. It can be many different formats like a checklist or a mindmap. Anything will work as long as I am not depending on my pea brain to manage the list alone.
The other day, it occured to me that when I have just a few things to do, keeping a list is cumbersome. Since I don’t really need a list, creating and managing one feels like a waste of time and a little like a crutch. On the other hand, when I feel paralized with all I have to do, I need a list and I need it now! It doesn’t matter if it is a crutch, just give it to me so I can start walking.
The thing that just occured to me is that the passing from the state of underwhelmed to overwhelmed is stressful! When the number of to-do’s passes a threshold from a few to too much, I feel a different kind of stress than just having too much to do. I need a list and it doesn’t exist, or if it does, it is only as current as the last time I needed a list. It is like someone reaching for the crutch they need to walk now, only to find that is unassembled. On the other hand, when the new tasks slow down and I begin to catch up on the list, I fall back into the I-do-not-need-a-list mode. I still have the list I needed, but I feel like I can get along without it. It is then that I find myself in a different kind of struggle. Part of me wants to keep the list current, but that part of me always loses in this phase. It is too much work for something I can do in my head, so it fades from my awareness and gets stale again.
Understanding that the movement from one state to the other is stressful helps me because I can recognize it in the moment. An uncontrolable feeling becomes a recognizable pattern. When I first begin to feel overwhelmed, I can recognize the pattern and ask myself what’s going on inside, take a deep breath and then make choices that help me handle that to do list. Not to say that it is easy, but it is possible.