My biggest struggle as an online creator is and has always been time and project management. It’s not that I don’t know how to set goals, plan ahead, or force myself to get work done even when I’m not “in the mood.” For me, there are just too many goals, too many tasks. Too much work.
I bring all this upon myself, of course. I always have. I like to work. I like having something to do and an endpoint to inch toward. I very rarely allow myself to complain about my long to-do lists because I know they are an active choice. A choice that comes with consequences both good and not so good.
The anxiety doesn’t come from the fact that I have a lot to do in any given day. It surfaces only when I take the time to think about everything I haven’t done yet — a thought spiral someone in their mid-20s really shouldn’t have to endure, but I do, because it’s really just a part of who I am at this point.
I often find myself lying awake thinking about all the projects I keep saying I’m going to start but haven’t, all the goals I want to achieve but might never get around to pursuing. I sometimes feel as though the seconds have become hours which have become days, and it’s all slipping away, and all I’m doing is wasting precious moments.
Over the past few years I’ve gotten a lot better at making time for friends and family and real-world experiences. At the beginning of 2019 I set a goal to travel out of state sometime before the year ended, and in February, I boarded a plane alone for the first time, a passenger to North Carolina and back in less than 36 hours, and I survived. I even enjoyed it.
I’m still struggling with this thing they call work-life balance. We needed to give it a name because at some point we all started competing against each other to see who could become more successful without ever admitting that’s what we were doing and we all forgot work is only a fraction of the important things that make up a human life.
As much as I enjoy work, I have a tendency to go overboard. I get overwhelmed when I realize there simply isn’t enough time in a day to do it all — work and exercise and eating healthy, sleeping, playing with the puppy, blogging, writing a book, slowly chipping away at one creative project here, another there …
While there’s nothing wrong with ambition, there IS something wrong with thinking you are capable of tackling every single goal you have all at once.
When I was in college, I hung around a few people who prided themselves on their ability to “do it all.” These were the students with multiple majors, overfilled course loads, sports contracts, jobs, and enough extracurricular activities to make any resume or CV look beyond impressive.
After trying and failing to be one of those people, I realized it was impossible to give 100 percent effort to everything. These kids, my friends, only had 100 percent to give, and therefore could only give 10 percent effort to each commitment. They overslept, they showed up late, they handed their responsibilities off to other people and still took all the credit.
They might have had wonderful college experiences if they’d only focused on a few things that mattered to them and tried to do those few things very well. Myself included. I have a hard time looking back on those four years because, if I’m being honest, the last three were absolutely miserable.
But that was a choice I made. I had to learn many lessons the hard way during that time. I’m still learning those lessons five years after graduation.
You cannot do everything all at once. It’s not possible. It’s not healthy. It’s not wise. Having a dozen ideas in your head can feel overwhelming and even when you write them down, you can find yourself feeling trapped beneath the weight of obligation, suffocated by the restraints of time.
But the only way you can handle that is to take things one ambition at a time. I know, I know, it’s hard. It’s advice even I have a hard time following. Essentialism was a very difficult book for me to read because it told me all the things I needed to hear but didn’t want to listen to! I encourage you to check it out if you’re like me and can’t help but commit to 500 things in one week.
Your ideas aren’t going to disappear just because you can’t work on them right now. If they’re good ideas, they will wait for you. You have to be patient with yourself, above all else. The brain can only hold so much information at a time, the body can only exert so much energy. If you try to do too much, you WILL burn out.
And then you’ll find yourself right back where you started: Overwhelmed, anxious to get things done, and discouraged with the amount of time you seem to have to do everything you want to do (or lack thereof).
Take a deep breath. Pick the most important things to focus on — probably the job that pays first, and the relationships that will keep you sane and steady, and the hobbies that bring you joy.
Take one step at a time, accomplish one goal at a time. It’s not what you want to do. But it’s what you’ll be glad you did anyway.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.