When you have too much to do, setting priorities can be REALLY helpful.
That’s been true for me, especially lately.
Work has been stressful, overwhelming, wonderful, scary, depleting, energizing, and close-to-all-encompassing lately, because (1) I really, really care about it, (2) there are a lot of changes going on, and (3) a lot of feelings from my past have been present for me lately.
Yes, I have been feeling overwhelmed. Big time. To the extent that sometimes I just sit and stare into space, paralyzed by what to do next. Actually, that’s one of the main ways I’m getting down-time these days, because there’s so much for me to do.
There’s always too much to do.
Can I get an “Amen” about that? (Apparently not. I just googled “Amen sound effects” and couldn’t find anything quick enough. And THAT is not a priority for me, right now, so moving on ….)
On Friday, at work, I was looking ahead to the weekend and feeling overwhelmed about today, because there were many things I wanted to do, including:
- Going to the birthday party of a friend from high school, who was also my first “boyfriend” (we’re talking age 6 or 7 here), whom I recently reconnected with through MY birthday party,
- Going to a reception for a photography show my sister is in. (My sister is not a professional photographer, but she takes amazing pictures, and she submitted photos for the first time, and made the show!)
- Preparing more for this presentation I’m giving on Tuesday to a Room Full of Medical Residents, about (a) the groups I’m doing, (b) group therapy, in general, (c) how the medical staff and the social work staff can work effectively together, (d) how to be more present for patients, (e) how to take care of ourselves so we can be more present for patients, and (f) anything else I can figure out how to fit in to an hour, in a coherent way, that addresses people’s needs and interests but also moves My Personal Mission (Improving the Patient Experience in a Medical Setting) forward.
- Go for walks, listen to music, and do other down-time activities for myself, which are more sustaining than sitting paralyzed and staring into space.
You may, perhaps, notice certain pervasive themes in what I’ve written so far, including this:
I’m trying to do too much. (#3 above seems to imply that, doesn’t it?)
So it’s very important for me, these days, to Walk the Walk — and not just Talk the Talk — of the topic of this post.
It’s important for me to set priorities.
On Friday, I did just that, by writing this down:
My priorities for this Sunday are:
(2) The photography show
(3) The party.
That helped. By putting myself first, I was able to start figuring out ways to make Sunday work.
(By the way, I didn’t put the presentation on the list, because I have prepared enough, already. I know I will do more, but it’s good enough already — and I can make it better, if I choose).
I find it difficult to even write or say “putting myself first” (much less do it!) because that sounds “selfish.” I may promote selfishness in my clients and my friends, but I have trouble doing that for myself. (See “The Double Standard Method”, here, for a possible remedy for that.)
However, by making that list on Friday, I came up with a plan that is enabling me, today, to do everything I want to do, and still feel like I’m taking care of myself. (That plan involved setting limits and expectations, which you can read more about here and here.)
Ironically, if I hadn’t put myself first, I might have ended up doing less for the other people involved. I would probably have stayed feeling overwhelmed. I may have felt some resentment about my wishes to “please” others. I might have cancelled some of the activities.
I can find it challenging to balance my needs with other people’s needs.
And I get an “Amen!” from lots of other people about that.
Here’s a metaphor I like to use, in my work:
The Oxygen Mask Metaphor
When you’re on an airplane, about to take off, and the flight attendants are doing their little gig about What You Need To Know In Case of Emergency, and they come to the part about the mask dropping down ….
What do they say (besides “breathe normally” — hah!)?
They say, “Put your own mask first, even if you are sitting with a child.”
I think they say that, every time, not just because of liability, but because it’s so friggin’ counter-intuitive. The urge, OF COURSE, would be to put the mask on the child first.
But, to be more effective for the child, in that urgent situation, the adult has to get oxygen first, in order to help the child.
The Moral of the Oxygen Mask Metaphor
We need to take care of our own needs, first, before we can be of use to anybody else.
Can I get an Amen about that, readers?