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When I worked in the corporate world, invariably I would receive tasks on a short deadline, even when I had a lot of other things on my plate.  They’d explain how critical and urgent my response was–there was just no way they could wait.  So I’d go nuts trying to get everything done, on time, only to have my contribution gather dust on their desk long after I’d turned it in.  Apparently it hadn’t been that critical or urgent after all.

I used to get really frustrated by this, because it happened fairly frequently and it was causing a lot of stress in my life.  I couldn’t figure out why they were willing to overburden me when nine times out of ten, they didn’t need the response or project by the date they said they did.

One reason is that despite all the complaining, I usually met those short deadlines, so the people doing the tasking assumed I was just crying wolf.  Another reason is because they know most people wait until the last minute to do it anyway, and I am no exception, so why not do it now?  If the deadline is too far out, it’s not uncommon for the someone to forget about it all together.

But the big reason for short suspenses is most people are insanely impatient once they figure out what they want.  This was the insight that gave my empathy a boost, because it turns out the very worst offender of impatient tasking of my time is…me.

In the weeks since I returned from BlogWorld, the direction I want to take this blogging/writing gig of mine has come into diamond focus, as my friend Robin Dickinson likes to say.  I have goals, I have a clear idea of what I need to do to achieve them, and my time-lines for getting there are completely unrealistic.  Unless, of course, I like being tired all the time.  Based on the responses I got to my post on the value of standing still, I have a feeling I’m not alone.

Chris Guillebeau recently wrote a brilliant post where he wonders about the very existence of time management.  In his words

You can’t manage time; it exists independently of any choice you make. I tend to think more about managing energy and managing projects—as for time itself, that’s another story altogether. […] Time is a jealous lover. If you mistreat it, you can start over, but you never get it back.

The idea of managing energy levels really appeals to me.  Some people read that last bit about never getting time back and use it to drive themselves to greater efficiency and productivity.  I see that line and think, “When are you going to just enjoy this?”

Maybe if much of your time is lost in a 9-to-5 job you could care less about, you might fee guiltyl about watching TV instead of making progress on your personal to-be list.  One of the dangers of becoming an freelancer or entrepreneur is nearly everything on your list not only feels like personal progress, it feels vitally important.  But does it really matter if I get to 1000 subscribers after ten months or fifteen?  The answer is no–those suspenses are arbitrary at best.  So why am I trying so hard?

Turns out it’s not just impatience–a lot of it is fear.  When you start with a starvation mindset, it’s hard to switch to one of moderation.  When you first begin a big project, you’re excited but you also feel so behind.  Life feels like a race, albeit a fairly thrilling one.  You worry if you let an opportunity pass you by, you’ll never get it again.

Truth is, many opportunities are the result of relationships, not luck, and those aren’t going to vaporize just because you force yourself to a slower pace.  Once you get some momentum, opportunity knocks a lot more frequently than it did before.

You need to prioritize the tasks for goal accomplishment, as well as time for relaxing and socializing.  Not only is it good for your mental health, but you need that time to nurture the very relationships that spurred success in the first place.  (As an aside, your family probably won’t like it much if you refer to your get-togethers as “networking.”  Just saying.)

As Jon Morrow once said, “Achieving greatness in blogging is the same as anything else.  You have to work your butt off.”  And that’s true.  You do.  Just not all the time, and not until you are so tired your passion becomes an opponent.

Make the choices of how you spend your time, each day, deliberate. Give yourself a bit of back talk when the short suspenses descend from your gray matter: Are you kidding me? Why the heck is that so important?

And before you do another damn thing, make sure you have an answer worth working towards.

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26 Responses to Are You Trying Too Hard?

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  2. Great post Jennifer! I needed the reminder. I’ve been working non-stop on a couple of big projects and now I’m stuck in that gotta get it done, gottagetitdoneNOW! mode…. Time to take a deep breath, put the computer down, and back away slowly.

    • Katie,
      I know, it’s really hard to scale back when you see yourself making progress. It’s a good thing in a sense. Everyone always talks about how to get into that mindset. It’s just that you also need to know how to step out for a while too! Good luck with the projects–and your breathing exercises. :)

  3. Tremendous! You raise so many important questions about self: self-management. self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-ish-ness. I have struggled with every point you raise here and even though I know that I’m doing it, I continue to. Why? Because fundamentally, I believe I’m competitive with, ah yes, my self!

    A lot of this over-extending, meeting repressive deadlines, and endless striving is the impatience to answer my own question: Can I do this? Can put new prinples into practice and make them work? Can I figure out a way to succeed at something foreign to me?

    It takes a lot of discipline to control a mind that races with the possibilities and a heart that races from the adrenalin. Some days I can and other days I succumb. Your terrific post will continue to remind me that I must take time to breathe! Thanks, Jen! ~Dawn

    • Dawn,
      You’re right–a lot of it is trying to see what we’re capable of. And that’s a good thing!

      I have always considered myself to be very disciplined when I wanted to be (as I mentioned elsewhere, it’s always just a matter of me deciding to do something), but clearly I have issues controlling “a mind that races with the possiblities and a heart that races from the adrenalin.” A part of me probably does not want to control that, which is why I have so much difficulty with it. Genius!

  4. I completely agree with the points you raise here, Jennifer. And I’m so glad to see you raise them.

    As soon as my business became operational (paperwork was filed in late ’09; operations commenced Jan ’10) I found myself in a constant– excuse the word, but it means precisely what I want it to mean!– tizzy. Nothing could be done fast enough, or well enough.

    Tasks that I couldn’t afford to deal with (in terms of energy, time, or money), tasks that stayed on the to do list, would cause me to wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. Add to that the fact that I had just sold my home of 3 years and moved 1,000 miles to a new city, and you can imagine what I felt like. I felt terrible. I felt guilty, for having subjected myself to something I was so clearly “failing” at. And I was profoundly unhappy.

    Turns out, an old therapist of mine was right: 90% of your perception of life (which, by the way, is entirely subjective) is decided by you. Cognitive therapy was the only thing that ever worked for me when I was an anguished 16-year-old: actually breaking my thought patterns. Changing the words I used in my head. Changing the words I used out loud, with partners and friends.

    Re-imagining your own life is hard, but necessary. And it is an act of imagination. I love the quote from Chris– that’s exactly right. We can’t manage time, but we can manage ourselves.

    • Lindsey,
      Re-imagining your life IS hard, and hopefully those sharing that journey with me can feel a bit better they aren’t the only ones struggling to get it right. I think this is especially true as the lifestyle design community continues to push people towards entrepreneurship. As you suggest, once you’re working for yourself, it’s very easy to become the worst boss you ever had–not the intent! All we can do is keep supporting each other and, as you suggest, change the way we look at work. Thanks for your insights!

  5. Fantastic post, Jennifer … and your timing is superb! I find myself in the oddest space these days. I must give attention to my current job while I am in said job, yet I’m beginning to research alternatives, which means, I’m *busy*. I know what my REAL PLAN is (I want to own LOTS of land in northern New England and own/run a Yoga and Hiking retreat resort!) and am laying down some of those initial small stones toward building that. But I also must continue working, for myriad reasons. My impatience — and my fears — sometimes have me spinning because I want to have it all RIGHT NOW, and so I try to do everything right now. And, of course, all that does is leave me overwhelmed, tired and stressed. So, thank you for the reminder. Taking a break, taking a few deep breaths and remembering that doing it ALL right now won’t actually manifest what I need and want any quicker or better. I certainly don’t want to arrive in my living dream exhausted and miserable! :) Deep breaths … and scheduling some down-time.

    • Oh goodness, Deb, I SO remember those times. I was sick with impatience and I only had to maintain that “double life” for 6 months! I hope you can push through those roadblocks to your true passion quickly. I love this reminder: I don’t want to arrive to my dream exhausted and miserable. Indeed! We’re here for you any time you need a retreat.

  6. I just put this quote on my white board in my office and it seems appropriate. :) “Do the difficult things while they are easy and the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” Lao Tzu Another way of saying what we’ve all been saying. :)

  7. Ha! I laughed out loud when I saw the picture. That was so me last week. An abberation since I have learned, like you, to manage my energy (not time) much better as I’ve gotten older. But last week just about did me in. Not just busy, but very stressful. And all the meditation and deep breaths just barely held chaos at bay. Whew! And now here comes the holiday season! I’m doing it much differently this year. More fun, less expectations. Thanks for the wisdom and a good laugh.

    • Galen,
      I can’t claim to have learned how to manage my energy yet, only that I realize I need to do so. Like you, I’m using the holidays as an excuse this year to relax a bit. Maybe we should write your slogan on our cars: More fun, fewer expectations! I like it!

  8. I recently left the corporate world and one of the issues was the insane work level and the pressure to get it done yesterday. I left due to the stress and anxiety the job caused.
    Now that I am working for myself, I still tend to push and go go go, but at least it is for myself! I do need to be careful that the things I am working on are the important things and make the concious decision to spend time on it.
    Great post!

    • Congrats on making the switch, Bernice. I made mine in July and am obviously still searching for just the right balance. I remind myself that even overworked, I’m very happy with my new life. Great to have you here and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you with your transition!

  9. I agree with everything you’ve written and had the same experience in “corporate America”; but I took a different route to force myself to manage energy levels – but more importantly, as you inferred above – to BE present.

    I decided I would face the “fear” of what was hardest for me – saying NO to people – head on. I started my own business; and being an entrepreneur, had no desire to turn down a project, proposal, or work especially if there was a significant challenge involved. So, I forced myself to say “NO” to 2 ‘offers’ per week. It may sound ridiculous – like, “how could you own your own business and turn down money?”, but for me – money wasn’t the issue or the goal. My time was.

    I had heard the cliche, “stop and smell the roses” numerous times and had always agreed, but still rolled my eyes a bit. Once I started turning down work, I found time to be present not only in current work situations, but more importantly, in my personal life. When I was with my husband, the phone was now turned off as opposed to checking it every 30 minutes to see “what was next”.

    I had forced myself to become disciplined; and while it is still something I struggle with, the whole, “JUST SAY NO” concept; I have learned to just enjoy ‘smelling the flowers’

    • Oh gosh, Jamie, I still struggle with saying NO. It’s not that I’m afraid to tell them no, just that nearly every project sounds interesting to me at first blush. And I love working with people, so collaborations come naturally. So I think you’ve brought up a critical point that I missed, and perhaps is the underlying reason I struggle to solve my “overwhelm” issue. I need to say no more often, even when I want to say yes. :)

    • On
    • November 24, 2010 at 10:13 pm
    • Sandra Lee
    • Said...

    I’m so glad you are addressing this topic as I see so many bloggers falling by the wayside from working too much. You’ve articulated the challenges well and have hit upon a core issue ~ impatience. This resonates for me! It’s funny because I don’t need to have a successful blog, but still old habits die hard. I have a tendency from the past too push myself and set unrealistic timelines, which I don’t need to do at all now. I’m also working on learning moderation. I cant’ tell you how much I really appreciate your encouragement here!

    • Sandra,
      It’s good to know I’m not the only blogger writing herself into the ground! LOL And you hit the nail on the head: old habits die hard. I did take a good break over the holidays and if it were not for a cold, I think I’d be back up to full speed now. I realized I didn’t need a lot of time off per se, I just needed permission to quiet my mind.

      And hey, encouragement is my specialty. Happy to help–and to have you here! :)

    • On
    • November 29, 2010 at 2:07 am
    • Walter
    • Said...

    You have feed my mind here Jeniffer. I do admit that I’m I have been trying hard lately to accomplish my goals, and the effect is that I feel bored and stressed. I think I need to reconsider my approach. :-)

    • As the saying goes, “Admitting you have a problem is the hardest part.” I think it’s good to remember you aren’t likely to “solve” this problem as much as you need to make continual corrections to how much energy you’re expending. Glad you liked the post. Hope to see you around again!

    • On
    • November 30, 2010 at 5:05 am
    • Rosemary
    • Said...

    “When are you going to just enjoy this?” ‘

    I love that line. I started this blogging adventure because it looked like such fun…but it’s very difficult to escape the feeling that you’re in some kind of race to the top of a mountain…one that seems insurmountable at times. And then when you take time out to get it all back in perspective you feel guilty. Grrrrr! The last thing we want to do is to turn our passion into the enemy! So thanks for a great post Jennifer! :)

    • You are not alone, Rosemary. Just keep reminding yourself of that. Then do what the rest of us should be doing–enjoying it. The mavericks usually have it right anyway.

    • On
    • November 30, 2010 at 8:03 pm
    • Deetsie
    • Said...

    I can totally identify myself here. Wanting to pursue a passion and working in a corporate world at the same time is tricky for me but I still somehow manage to stretch myself and do enjoy doing both. But sometimes I find myself stepping back and losing focus.. and yes, feeling guilty about it. The question: “When are you going to just enjoy this?” struck me. And thought that makes a lot of sense.

    • Yep, sometimes all we need is a nudge to get us back on track. I think it’s terrific you’ve found a balance between your passion and a corporate job. I get concerned about the message we all need to quit our jobs and make our passions our paychecks. It works for some, but I really think it’s a minority. And there are many corporate jobs worth having.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Hope to hear more!

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