Panic Button

You’ve found the panic button.

Maybe you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown – you have way too much to do, and not enough time to do it in. The balls are falling all around you, and you know you can’t keep up the juggling act for one more second without going crazy or doing serious bodily harm to the next person who asks you to add one more thing to your already monstrous To-Do list.

It’s okay.

You are going to be okay. If the house is on fire, if someone’s in the emergency room, if your car is out of gas and you have to drive to the airport to pick up your boss or your mother-in-law, take care of those things. Pretty much everything else – including email – can wait.

If there are no true emergencies (involving potential loss of life, home, or livelihood), we’ve got a bit of time to work together. I’ll help you – I promise.

The first step – commit to taking the next 15 minutes to getting your head together. Yeah, I know you don’t have 15 minutes. But you’re not going to get everything done whether you “waste” the next quarter of an hour or not. So stick with me here.

Go somewhere as quiet as you can get it. Lock yourself in the bathroom with the shower running, tell your family you’re going to do laundry and watch them disappear, or go get gas and park over by the side, out of the way. Whatever it takes.

First: BREATHE.

Seriously. I know you’re already thinking, “I don’t have time to wipe, let alone breathe.”

I get it. I really do. But if we’re going to get you out of this mess, I need you functioning, not sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth and begging someone – ANYONE – to bring you a chocolate shake.

So take three deep breaths, all the way down to your belly. Close your eyes while you’re doing it if you’re not afraid the kids will run off with the fireplace poker.

Okay. Now let your shoulders relax. You can pull them up by your ears again after we’re done. But right now, concentrate on letting them drop. Then take one more deep breath.

That’s better.

Now get a piece of paper and a writing implement (the back of a receipt and a tube of Revlon Color-Stay is not ideal, but work with what you have).

Step One: Get it all out of your head. One of the reasons you’re so nuts is that you are trying to keep track of everything mentally, or in fourteen different places. Forget that. Right now, write down everything you have to do. Everything. From buying toilet paper to drawing up a new will to getting a new job, write it all down. Don’t prioritize, rank, or otherwise censor. If it’s in your head, get it on paper.

You may think you’ll never stop writing, but the truth is that even the longest To-Do list has an end. And once you get all these pieces of information out of your head and down in writing, two things happen: One, you see that your list ISN’T limitless. And two, you naturally start prioritizing and eliminating in your mind.

While everything’s drifting around in your grey matter, it all has equal weight; your brain doesn’t distinguish between the need to buy new vitamins and the need to sign your tax return and get it mailed. They’re both just things to do. But when you You realize that cleaning the vitamins can wait and the tax return is urgent. Isn’t that cool? You’re already feeling better!

Step Two: Go through and cross off anything that doesn’t need to be done in the next three days. “Redo master bathroom” is awesome and all, but it doesn’t have to be done tomorrow. Cross it off and, if you like, create a separate “parking lot” list for future projects and action items. Be ruthless. It may seem like your personal world will stop spinning if you don’t get a chance to buy new towels for the guest bath before your husband’s work party at your house, but I swear no one will notice. At least, they’ll be more likely to notice the fact that you dropped dead of exhaustion in the linens section of Bed Bath & Beyond. So skip the towels. Skip anything that isn’t going to be a risk to life, limb, or sanity.

Why three days? Because typically when we’re in crisis mode, that’s about as far ahead as we can think. Leave the longer-term stuff for a calmer period in your life (I promise, we’ll get there!).

Step Three: Start grouping. Assign categories to the items on your list. Don’t get too hung up on this. Just put a “W” next to anything for work; an “F” next to family stuff, a “P” for personal, etc. Try to stick to only 4 or 5 main categories (if you have more than that – like, say, 12, this may be a huge core reason you’re constantly overwhelmed. Let’s chat.)

Once you can see where the preponderance of items are, you can start formulating a plan of action, consolidating, and further streamlining.

Step Three: Triage. Triage on the battlefield means deciding who’s going to live no matter what treatment they receive, who’s going to die no matter what treatment they receive, and where the medical staff needs to intervene to make a difference. Go through your list and do the same. Some stuff – social obligations, PTA and kids’ sports teams – may seem like huge responsibilities, but the truth is that the world will keep right on spinning if you beg off your shift as library volunteer, and your son – if he’s destined to be the next Andrew Luck – will still be on his path to fame if you don’t bring snacks to one practice.

Figure out where you are ABSOLUTELY needed and concentrate there. There are some places where you just HAVE to be there – your daughter’s first ballet recital, a big work presentation, a pap smear. But a lot of that other stuff? Skip it.

At this point, your list should look much lighter. Maybe not quite yet do-able, but at least lighter. Feel better?

Step Four: Outsource, Delegate, Delay. If the other stuff still is important, then pass it off to a friend, spouse, relative, or hired teenager. The laundry doesn’t care who folds it. Or if it gets folded at all. 😉

You’re probably thinking there’s no one who could do as good a job as you, or you don’t know anyone who would (fill in the blank), or you just couldn’t ask so-and-so to help out… but face it, you’re in crisis. Pick up the darned phone and call your sister, or your neighbor, or the mom of that kid you drove to summer school every day last year. You can make it up to them after you get your life back on track.

If you need to hire someone, check Craigslist.com, Taskrabbit.com, Fiverr.com, and the job posting at your local high school or college. Someone just might do that Costco run on Saturday for $20 and an extra-large case of beef jerky. You won’t know until you ask.

Step Five. Get over yourself. You are awesome – seriously! But in most cases, you’re not as critical to the proper functioning of the planet as you might think. Get over your own ego and go back through your list again, honestly this time. Let go of the stuff that you’re holding on to because it makes you feel important, gives you a sense of identity, or keeps you from thinking about how you never really wanted to be a lawyer and should’ve gone to art school instead.

In the immortal words of Elsa, “Let it go.”

The path to sanity is paved with unmade beds, unfolded laundry, and take-and-bake pizza.

By this point, you should be feeling quite a bit more in control. That’s awesome. But if you go back to doing things the way you’ve always done them, you’re going to be in the same crisis position in a matter of weeks, if not days.

Instead, try something different. Give me a call. We’ll talk through your life, your goals, and your dreams. It’s time to figure out what you want to be when you grow up. We can do it together.

Contact me for your free one-on-one laser strategy session!

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