You can’t do everything but you can do something
This post is all about the expectations we set for what we can achieve in the finite time that we have – often unrealistically high and regularly resulting in feelings of frustration and ‘not good enough’.
It’s been inspired by various conversations that I’ve had with clients and some consistent themes that have come up over the last few weeks. (Not entirely surprising, considering all of the clients I’ve worked with recently have been mums and many of them have also been small business owners.)
The three connected themes I’m going to talk about in this post are:
- the world of infinite possibilities – spoiler alert: we can’t expect to do everything;
- the importance of boundaries – and how to go about setting them;
- decent chunks of quality time – to make space for Flow.
I’ll give you a bit of background to my thinking, based on what I’ve heard and my own experience, and I’ll be offering up some alternative ways of thinking and doing which will make your daily experience of life a little bit (or perhaps a whole lot) more manageable and more satisfying.
So let’s dive straight in at the deep end….
The world of infinite possibilities
We obviously all have the same number of hours in each day and, ultimately, we all have a choice about how we spend those hours. Many of us frequently say that ‘we’re SOO busy’ (learn more about my views on the phenomenon of ‘busy’ here) and we often end the day with ‘not done’ items left on our ‘to do’ list and the galling feeling that, despite having been at it all day, we’ve still not achieved enough.
Fact: living in this state perpetually, rolling from one day to the next with the lists only growing longer, is a guaranteed way to make yourself feel like poop.
So how did we get here? Is the way that we live our lives, and their overwhelming fullness, different to how our parents experienced life at our age?
In many ways we’re so lucky. So much is possible for us that wasn’t possible for our parents and certainly not our grandparents. We have so much choice and so many options. We have a mind-blowing amount of information at our finger tips.
But perhaps that’s the problem – our minds are literally being blown by living in a world of infinite possibilities.
As a small business owner, there’s so much that I can do on my own from the safety of my own home, with Google being the only teacher and advisor that I could possibly need. There are hundreds of people out there telling me that I can both have it all and do it all (usually if I just subscribe to their mailing list and download their ’99 easy steps to a gazillion dollar business’ checklist).
And then there are hundreds more people out there also trying to build their coaching businesses to whom, with the click of a mouse, I can look for even more ideas for what I could be doing. Oh hello there, whopping dose of comparisonitis.
About 6 months ago, when I decided to focus solely on mindset coaching and start really putting myself ‘out there’ (wherever that is), I started researching and came up with a list of all the things that I could potentially be doing to build my brand and grow my business.
Within a matter of days, I’d created for myself a ginormous pile of steaming ‘SHOULD’. I had no idea how to go about doing half of these things, was terrified about how long some of them were likely to take me and, not surprisingly, had no idea where to start.
My mind. Officially. Blown.
Let’s step back a bit and make it super simple.
Finite time. Infinite possibilities. You do the math.
Are you like me? Someone who likes to be thorough, who likes to do your research and know your stuff and who wants to ensure that you’re always doing the right thing or making the best choice?
If yes, then perhaps you can now see that you’re being held back, rather than encouraged forwards, by expecting so much of yourself and because of your relationship with the world of infinite possibilities.
But never fear, I’m not going to leave you hanging there.
Now onto what we can do about it?
The importance of boundaries
So we’ve worked out that submerging ourselves in the ocean of infinite possibilities is not going to end well. Overwhelm, frustration, stuckness, the self appointed label of ‘not good enough’. At best we take on a lungful of water. At worst we find ourselves drowning.
What to do instead?
Create some boundaries.
Bring in the parameters within which you operate – you think, work, do – from so broad that they encompass anything and everything, to a relative narrow frame which you can see right in front of you.
Just like I’m demonstrating so beautifully here:
(Forgive me. Although I spend a lot of time up there in my own head, sometimes I can be quite visual and this image of narrowing my hands so they’re right in front of my face really works for me on this one. Hope it’s not just me!)
If you’re in the depths of the trees and can’t see the wood right now then take that boundary really narrow to start with. As you regain control, clarity and confidence (the 3 amazing C’s) then you can have a play with taking things a little bit wider.
So how to work out what sits within your new world of finite and manageable possibilities?
Here are the main things to think about:
- What’s most important to you right now?
- What big goal are you trying to work towards?
- What does ‘good enough’ look and feel like for you?
Working through this will give you a list of top priorities to which you’re committed – perhaps some long term big picture, some day to day – and your boundaries should be set to contain activities related these priorities and these alone.
The next step is to then look at your time:
- How much do you really have?
- How can you make best use of your energy and motivation at different times of the day/week?
- How do you want to carve it up?
- How do you want to allocate your priority activities to the time slots that you have?
And the bad news is, it’s quite likely that the top list isn’t going to fit into the bottom list and you’ll need to refine your priorities further.
It’s gonna feel weird and icky but, whilst you’re getting things under control and until you’ve had some practice at staying within your boundaries, then you have to just let everything that falls outside of them go.
Don’t question it, don’t worry about it, just ditch it.
Think about yourself as the nightclub doorman “If your name’s not on the list (of priorities and things which are important to me), you’re not getting in (to take up my time).”
Protecting chunks of quality time
So we’re now on the road, moving from the stressful, frustrating world of the infinite to the clear, calm and contented world of finite possibilities.
On paper we’ve got some top priorities, we’ve set some boundaries and we’ve taken a realistic look at how much time we have to play with.
But don’t you just love it when someone says ‘on paper’. Translation: ‘this is wonderful in theory but, in real life, will take just one day to turn into a complete shit show’.
So what can we do to make this work in our very real worlds?
Here are two suggestions which have become super important to me:
Chunks of time:
On our list, we all have a mixture of big jobs and little jobs (and some annoying ones in between). The little ones tend to get done because, although they might be dull, they aren’t as scary as the big jobs and it’s pretty easy to find a 5/10 min gap in our day.
The big jobs, I find, are the ones that roll from day to day, from list to list. Or perhaps we summon up the motivation to get started but then have to stop just as the juice has started flowing because we have another commitment.
For me, any big job deserves a minimum of a 2 hour slot. Anything less will be inefficient and frustrating. It’s better for me to use a shorter window to do three smaller tasks then put in a half arsed effort at one of my biggies.
The reason I want to work like this is all to do with Flow – that state where you’re fully absorbed and engaged in what you’re doing, in that moment nothing else matters. For the tasks which require some brainpower or perhaps creativity (often to do with writing for me) the job becomes so much easier, more enjoyable and the output such better quality if I have the opportunity to get into a state of Flow.
And to create these quality chunks of time to get into Flow then it’s all down to me to manage my diary to make them possible.
A lovely segue into……
Protecting my time as if my life depended on it:
This one has taken me the best part of three years of self-employed life to get my head around.
When I made the decision to quit the corporate world and start The Mental Movement, one important motivator was to have more balance and flexibility. To not have to be in an office from 9-5, to manage my time as I chose and to have space for other things as well as work.
So, to begin with, it totally felt part of the grand plan to accept invitations for lunches in the middle of the day or pop for coffee or a mid afternoon walk. It doesn’t sound like much but each of those things could end up taking up 2/3 hours (more if I have to travel) and, not surprisingly, were wrecking the flow of my working day.
Now I know that, whilst my #1 priority is to grow my business, I have to be careful about how much of my work time I give away to other things. I’ve realised that the impact of not doing that is much more significant than I’d anticipated.
There are also other things which put my quality time chunks at risk that I’ve learnt to be wary of:
- Everything takes me longer than I expect – when planning err heavily on the side of caution
- It’s so easy to let things creep and slip – sacrifice the small things over the big things
- Starting a work session by checking my emails or clearing a few small tasks – the fastest way to turn a 2 hour quality time slot into 30 mins of nothingness
So, phew! This has been a long one. Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end!
As you can tell this is something I’m passionate about. And by ‘this’ I mean people expecting too much and setting themselves up for disappointment, frustration and ‘not good enoughness’. It’s also something that I’m hearing a lot about and experiencing regularly for myself so thought it was worth a quality chunk of my time and attention.
Remember changes like this – in how we think, work and live – don’t come easily. They take awareness (which hopefully I’ve given you here), practice (over to you) and a whole load of self-compassion (because, shock horror, you’re going to mess it up more than once).
If you’re someone who feels like there’s always so much more that you ‘should’ be doing then please take some time out and a bit of a step back to see if you need to move to a world of finite possibilities by narrowing your boundaries and then doggedly protecting your precious time.
I wish you much luck on your journey.
You can’t do everything. But you can do something. So don’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you can.
Hey there, in case you didn’t know, I’m Hana and I could be your Personal Mindset Coach.
I’m occasionally known to my clients as ‘the lovely stranger’.
I’m here to help you see things from a different perspective, to choose a different lens, to find different ways of thinking, being and doing – so that you can get out of your head and just get on with living a bloody great life.
If you’d like some support exploring this or other fascinating things about you further, then drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can arrange a cuppa sometime to find out if we might like each other enough to work together.