If you’re prone to overwhelm like me, this pattern might sound familiar to you. It starts when the to-do list starts to feel never-ending. Then my ability to sort and prioritize goes out the window. Suddenly the urge to reorganize my cluttered desk is on par with my need to meet a writing deadline. When *everything* seems both urgent and important, I feel paralyzed. There’s too much to do, and I can’t seem to tackle any of it.
I’ve learned that, in addition to being a productivity junkie, I’m also a bit of a knee-jerk pessimist prone to catastrophic thinking and false beliefs about the permanence of tough times. To pull myself out of that mental place, I’ve cultivated strategies that shift my thinking through the process of taking meaningful action.
My antidote to overwhelm is scheduling unscheduled time.
This may sound strange, but putting a block of unscheduled time on the calendar every week has been tremendously useful in combatting feelings of anxiety related to overwhelm. Namely, it addresses my personal contribution to my own overwhelm: over-scheduling.
I remember once in my early 20s sitting in a therapist’s office when she asked me, “How do you determine whether or not to say yes to an opportunity?” I told her, “I look at my calendar, and if that time is free, I say yes.” I thought this was completely fine and what everyone else did. Turns out, I was on the fast track to overwhelm, and it was definitely on me to fix it.
I first heard about scheduling unscheduled time from my friend Erin Lane, an author and retreat facilitator. If you want to learn more, you can listen to our podcast episode about it. After our conversation, I decided that I would create a weekly recurring calendar event: “Unscheduled Time.”
Scheduling this time has been key. As someone who lives by a calendar and struggles with spontaneity, the best way for me to be spontaneous is to put it on the calendar. It gives me the mental trigger to release the guilt over not being productive in any particular way, and it frees up a block of time that I will not give away to any one or anything until that time comes. It’s off limits.
What I like about scheduling unscheduled time is that it can actually help on the days when I don’t have it on the calendar. Knowing it’s coming— a luxurious block of time with nothing pre-scheduled—can be enough to get me over the hump of some of the most stressful days. Relief is coming. Then when the time comes, it’s yours to do with. I’ve used my unscheduled time to tackle long-ignored house projects, go out to a last-minute lunch with good friends, and read a novel that I’d renewed three times from the library but hadn’t yet cracked open. It’s been glorious.
Try it out and let me know how it goes for you.