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I am on the brink of despair - please provide some advice

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  • I am on the brink of despair - please provide some advice

    This will sound very silly to many but I need some people who have dealt with a similar problem to help me.

    I suffer from a "have too many cool things to do that I can't give up but I can't find time for ALL of them and really can't pick one over another and when/if I do I constantly think of those other things I am sacrificing" syndrome.

    I have been trying GTD for nearly 1,5 years now and I think I have made significant strides towards implementing the system, but tonight I think I am on the verge of some type of a breakdown...

    Yesterday I spent about 3 hours doing my weekly review and still didn't finish it.

    I have way too many things that I have on the calendar that have to be scheduled for a particular time (that's why they are on the schedule). I do have next actions' lists that I tied to specific project but if I don't forcefully schedule these next actions they will never get done!

    For instance, I HAVE to study Swedish Mo-Fr, so I have that not as a next action but as an item in the calendar with no specific time slot (mistake?) but it appears Mo-Fr. I have MANY MANY other actions like that that HAVE to be done each and every day. but I am digressing a bit...

    My main problem is that I have way too many things happening on the calendar in the same time slot and I SIMPLY DON'T KNOW HOW to pick 1, say, out of 5 WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY over giving up the others...

    I absolutely have to go to bed at 10;30 pm tonight. I am sick and tired of not getting enough sleep and this is something I cannot give up. I AM NOT staying up late ANYMORE (sorry, I am sort of talking to myself in this last paragraph...)

    So, it's 9:30 and I have an hour. There are 5 things on the agenda tonight I HAVE to do and I CAN"T decide which one to pick cause obviously I can't do them all in one hour remaining. I could stay up till 2 and have them all done, BUT I have to get up early tomorrow and so I would be much worse off if I go that route.

    Please someone respond and tell me I am not a lunatic.
    Possibly, I am an overachiever. I ABOSLUTELY cannot understand when someone says they are bored. I have so many things I could do - I could never be bored!

    Anyhow, this is the end of my ramblings for tonight at least. I just felt like I needed to get it out of my system and talk to someone who could relate...

    In the meantime, I am going to pick one-two things out of that list of 5 and feel guilty the rest of the night

  • #2
    Don't get scared though... I am OK... things are just gonna be pushed back to tomorrow and things for tomorrow will be pushed back. I can't cancel anything I am stressing over... maybe I just don't have the will power to cancel certain things...

    One way of dealing with this is pretending that I just died and so these things now seem trivial... everything does... the only thing I don't feel bad about right now is that I tried... very hard...


    • #3

      Earlier in the year I was pretty much in the predicament you're in now, although most of my pressures came from my small business. It sounds like some of yours may be self-directed activities?

      Anyway, I basically got fed up with being worn out and having the quality of my work suffer and STILL being behind all the time.

      There is no easy answer. Or rather, the answer is easy but doing it is hard. What I did was simply stopped taking on new projects. I knew that my business would suffer more in the long term if I continued to let my quality slip as opposed to bringing in new jobs. I committed to finishing the outstanding projects I had, no matter what. During this time frame, I also willfully limited personal projects that could be done later.

      At first, this seemed to be more of the same. I was still working insane hours. But as I continued to slog through next action after next action, I realized that the projects were beginning to clear out. In a little over six months I went from about 30 active client projects (in the traditional business sense) to about 5.

      It was very hard for me to turn down new opportunities. I was used to just agreeing to anything came my way. I figured the more business I got, the better. But getting more business than you have the capacity to handle (individually or organizationally) is really worse than having too few things coming in; when you are running a little bit lean, you will be prepared and willing to seek out the really good opportunities. I basically had to learn to say, "no, I can't help you with that; I'm booked up through the end of the year."

      While this was hard at first, by the end of the six months, I was feeling good about work again. My response time and quality were way back up. I felt in control of my situation.

      And now I feel like I am prepared with a better sense of what my ideal capacity is. I feel like I am in the driver's seat and can evaluate opportunities instead of just saying yes to every one.

      Bottom line is: I had too many ongoing projects, and I had to stop the incoming flow and finish up the ones I already had. The power of the next action is that it will keep you moving on the slowest of projects; I was moving way too slow anyway, but at least after my committment I was slowly moving things toward completion. And this rate sped up considerably as I cleared my plate of projects.

      Obviously, not everyone is always in a situation where they can completely cut off the flow of new stuff, but I think people can do it more than they realize. I found that some projects simply had no real stakeholders left; no one cared if they died or not, so I let them die. I started giving clients the real time frames, which would have previously seemed ridiculously long to me, but it was actually much better to give them a true sense of how long it would take. Some of them couldn't wait that long, and I let them go. I also made the decision about which clients were most important to me and gave them the majority of my efforts. I didn't kill every personal project (I had to get married during all this!), but I tabled enough of them that I could really focus on clearing out existing commitments.

      Also, I'd suggest always taking the time to relax and get a clear head. Read the part in GTD about managing commitments. Willfully destressing and coming at the problem from an angle other than in the thick of it really gives you a boost of motivation. You'll realize that most of what you have going on doesn't involve the end of the world and you'll regain a sense of control.

      Good luck!


      • #4
        As a short term approach - you've got 5 items - limited time - and can't decide. Close your eyes, point your pencil and do whichever one you hit. If you can't decide, then they are all equally important to you. After doing one, you'll only have four that you'll have to choose from next time. Plus, I often find that once I've overcome the inertia of not being able to decide, I can sometimes "blow through" more than I expected.



        • #5
          On a psychological level, its obvious that you are making too many things MUSTS. (Analyze your text, you say you HAVE to do these things, i MUST do it TODAY, etc). (says who?)

          If you study REBT, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, created by Dr. Albert Ellis, you will see that your MUSTS are making you anxious, frustrated, panicking, etc. Ellis calls this Musturbation.

          Now i don't know if you are a follower of Tony Robbins, as Robbins tells everyone to make everything MUSTS!!! Which is the exact opposite advice of the state of the art scientific knowledge in Cognitive Therapy. So to be frank, Tony Robbins is wrong in this regard, unless of course one WANTS to create frustration and anxiety and inhibit performance.

          If you have 5 one hour tasks to do in one hour, it is IMPOSSIBLE to do them, unless you can delegate them. To say you MUST do this, is like beating your head against a brick wall over and over.

          I think you are misusing the Calendar, if you are filling it up with too many things, that cannot be done in the time allotted.

          It makes you accomplish LESS to overload yourself, as advised by Tony Robbins.
          Pick ONE thing, and start on it.

          If you are having serious problems with Avoidance, please consider going to see a REBT or a GOOD Cognitive Behavior Therapist. They will help you focus on doing ONE thing at a time, and also transforming those Thoughts-Beliefs of yours that are CREATING your frustration.
          Remember, the Tasks are not creating your frustration. Your brain is, by your Cognitions.
          And you can manage your Cognitions/Thoughts/Beliefs, and thus lessen your frustration, and panicking.
          Last edited by CosmoGTD; 03-26-2006, 01:01 AM.


          • #6
            too many next actions

            First, the large majority of people working on improving their time and work management are faced with the same problem and for most of us it is an on-going, life-long problem requiring different solutions at different times. Now I am going to give you a few ideas that may help or may be totally irrelevant, in which case just ignore them. You might want to ask yourself what will happen if you do the N/A and what will happen if you do not do it---for each of your five options. Each person has his or her own preferences for what is a positive outcome and different tolerances for what negatives are just too burdensome. Most would agree that it is better not to run out gas and return rented videos late but at least one person will have a different set of preferences. Some people will choose the task that reduces their stress the most or if tired, or is the least demanding at that moment, but others will try to summon the energy to meet an urgent deadline. At some point, you may also want to put something like "reduce decision making stress" or "clarification of this year's goals or program of study" (or whatever time frame you need to work with) on your Project List or your SDMB. When have time to brainstorm that Project you might consider such topics as finding a mentor, a coach, a spiritual advisor, career counselor or a psychologist to help you. GTD is a tool that can help you consider the use of other tools than what you currently have in your tool box or even go to your metaphorical "store room" and bring out a tool that you have not used in a while, maybe forgot you had or misplaced the instructions. Finally, I have read some research on gifted people and one of their recurring problems is too many choices (should I play bassoon, clarinet, piano or cello?) and it appears that chance, opportunity or petty little preferences that would seem insignificant to another person are factors in determining which talents get developed, such as finding a teacher with a great personality, cello being offered at better time of day. a friend gives you a score for a piece of music you love, you like the purple lining of the clarinet case and don't like the green one in the bassoon case, etc.


            • #7
              Manage your commitments

              You have taken on too many commitments. I used to do this until I realized that I wasn't doing myself or my team members any good appearing to do it all and failing them. You end up stressed and defeated and others see you as unreliable.

              It requires discipline to pick a few things and focus on them to appear really really good. People will see you as responsive and in control. They'll never notice you're doing a quarter of what you used to do.


              • #8
                I just want to say that I appreciate everyone's responses. I am trying to read and re-read what you all wrote and think about it over the course of the next few hours as I am trying to decide what I should change in my life. I will respond later with some how you might have changed my perspectives and what I intend to do about it.


                • #9
                  Do you use a someday/maybe list at all? If that's an option you may want to consider it. It freed me up considerably.


                  • #10
                    Re: I am on the brink - need urgent help


                    My main problem is that I have way too many things happening on the calendar in the same time slot and I SIMPLY DON'T KNOW HOW to pick 1, say, out of 5 WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY over giving up the others...

                    I absolutely have to go to bed at 10;30 pm tonight. I am sick and tired of not getting enough sleep and this is something I cannot give up. I AM NOT staying up late ANYMORE (sorry, I am sort of talking to myself in this last paragraph...)

                    Well, GtD says that you have made a commitment to each item on the list and the ones that are not time-sensitive are equal. The ones that are time-sensitive belong in the Calendar. If the Calendar is too full, then you may need to say "no" more often.

                    It's funny that you use the word "guilty". If you are anything like me, you probably feel guilty about your perceived responsibilities to other people rather more than about postponing the items on your list that are for yourself. Perhaps the most effective long-run thing for you to do is to go to bed now and get the sleep that you badly need - oh, wait, you can do that in an hour so you can use your bonus time to do (any) one of the 5 now-not-best things first. Self-talk is everything



                    • #11
                      MUST, CAN'T, HAVE TO


                      I would like to echo some of CosmoGTD's earlier comments about your language. (See also his very good comments in the "Another Verb" thread just below this.) It really struck me seeing all of that helpless, overwhelmed, powerless language in capital letters. Not only is it making you miserable, but it is also interfering with your ability to think creatively about what you are doing. If you HAVE TO do something because you MUST do it and you CAN'T get out of it, you probably won't even consider alternatives for delegating, delaying, or just plain refusing to do it.

                      However, something I learned from Tony Robbins (sorry, Cosmo) might be of use to you. One way to reform the disempowering ways you represent your situation to yourself is to start actively questioning yourself when you start talking to yourself this way. Ask yourself questions like:

                      Does it have to be done?
                      What other ways can I accomplish the same outcome?
                      Does it have to be done now?
                      What other times could it be done?
                      Do I have to do it?
                      Who else could or should do this?

                      Asking yourself these kinds of questions can help deflate this kind of self talk and lead to many useful insights.

                      Another question you might consider using is:

                      Do I want to do this so much that I am willing to compromise my health and sanity?

                      This might help you learn to say "No" or at least "Not now" to some of the things your are driving yourself so hard to accomplish.


                      • #12
                        Thanks for your suggestions everyone!

                        I am slowly coming to a few realizations about myself.
                        I have serious self-esteem issues that I need to resolve.
                        I tend to think that if I drop one of the things that I put on my plate I will somehow be a lesser human. I know it sounds rudimentary but that's the nature of addiction, even a positive addiction...

                        I am not ready for a long reply yet but possibly in the next few days...

                        The thing is... I could drop some commitments but putting them on the Someday/Maybe list won't help... I already have quite a few things like that on that Someday list and I do have some peace of mind about those... But those things are more Maybe than Someday.

                        I have made some great progress in the last couple of years with one aspect of my knowledge gaining in one area of life and I suppose that's a double-edged sword that basically tells me that I can go after other such commitments. And yes, feeling guilty is a big part of dropping something... I am also a product of the Soviet school system as I was born and raised in Russia... I'll explain later


                        I might need some counseling. I am beginning to recognize the fact. However, I am not ready to give up on thinking that GTD can answer some such questions for me just yet.


                        • #13
                          I am on the brink - need urgent help

                          The thing is... I could drop some commitments but putting them on the Someday/Maybe list won't help... I already have quite a few things like that on that Someday list and I do have some peace of mind about those... But those things are more Maybe than Someday.
                          Maybe you should view this situation as renegotiating or deferring commitments as opposed to the word drop, which seems more negative. In my opinion, there is no magic maximum number of items that should be on your Someday/Maybe list. If you wish to act on the commitment in the future or feel you may want to track an item as a "maybe", why not put it on the list. If you do the weekly review, you can always delete items which no longer are relevant. By using the list, you can free your mind of the item and focus on next actions which you have deemed to do at the present time.

                          Many of us struggle with keeping our commitments in perspective and within reason. Rarely is a commitment a life or death event. The worst outcome of a missed commitment is not worth the extreme personal stress we sometimes can place upon ourselves. Missed commitments should be viewed as opportunities to learn from and correct mistakes in our personal self management process.


                          • #14
                            I've managed to convince myself that perfectionism is a flaw. For example, it would be better (i.e. closer to perfect) if you didn't study Swedish five days a week, but maybe three. Or none for now for that matter. Because then you would be less of a perfectionist, and therefore a better person. Maybe this sounds like a joke, but it's only half a joke (which doesn't make it half bad - it's good to laugh at yourself once in a while). I still draw the line close to perfection though. But it's good to ease up on the pressure as much as you can.

                            When I put my commitments down on paper, I was completely dismayed by the total number, and even though I've organized them all outside of my head, many of them are still not getting done. However I didn't make them all overnight, so they won't all get sorted out and finished overnight. I'm better off now than I was before.

                            I have seven languages to learn on my maybe/someday list (including to speak Spanish better, even though I've spoken it pretty well since childhood). The others are Russian, Italian, French, Japanese, Arabic and Farsi (in the order of how well I already speak them). German and Portuguese would be nice too - where's that list? By the time I die I might not know them all, which is a fact of life and not a big tragedy. I might know one or two better than I do now, maybe more. I just don't know which. By the way I'm studying Russian right now when I feel like it. I studied it all through college. It's still on my someday/maybe list to learn it better, but if my Russian friend wants to translate a poem for me and print it out, I take it and read it when I feel like it. Sometimes my Russian coworker reads me a news story from the internet, and I try to understand it. It never makes it onto the project list because it's still a maybe, but that doesn't mean I don't work on it.

                            I don't put daily things on a calendar. I put them on index cards and go through the cards each day. One could probably use a list as well. I allow myself to skip certain things such as practice flute because even though I want to do it daily, some days I can't. Other things like running the dishwasher at night are easier to do every day, so I don't skip those most of the time. But the point here is, even though I still have a reminder of a commitment to my daily tasks, I have permission to let some things go. When you put something on the calendar it is as if you're not giving yourself the option of letting the thing go, and you should if you don't have time to do them all. It's as if you're making an appointment to see five doctors at the same time, then not showing up to four of the appointments. The answer is to not make those appointments. You didn't say what the five things were, but I'll bet they're not the same as making an appointment to see the doctor. If they're things like studying Swedish then you should make them optional and just do the best you can.



                            • #15
                              I am on the brink

                              Take the time it took you to write your post and the time it took to read the replies and
                              the time it took everyone else to read it and the time it took everyone to write their replies
                              (without typos) and ask yourself what was my outcome?

                              Could any of that time be used to accomplish what "I am on the brink" said I "must " accomplish?

                              Describing something may have nothng to do with actually resolving it.

                              I wonder about the choice I made to even take the time to respond to this post.
                              Can I debate with myself about the value of responding to things like this that don't
                              further my aims? Opps, I think I just did. Am I really being helpful by offering advice or am I just being driven to distraction?

                              You may want to think about this before you reply but don't think too much.

                              This has been a post from Garfield