I’m going to share a quick journal writing exercise for when you’re feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated.
Why? Because those days happen, unfortunately.
Can you think of a day when you felt utterly overwhelmed with too much to do and that nagging feeling that you don’t have enough time?
A day when overwhelm gobbled up every crumb of your motivation.
I can think of a few. Many, actually.
Cozy up as you read this. Let me take you back to three days ago.
It’s one o’clock in the afternoon and I’m staring out of my window.
It’s wintertime, and right now I’m in England.
A thick coat of dense gray is blanketing the rooftops, the brick house next door, the sidewalk, everything.
Or perhaps it’s all a reflection of my mood.
I close the curtain.
Then my laptop.
I crawl into bed.
There are disadvantages to working from home. The bed, couch sofa, Netflix, and no boss over your shoulder are just a few of them.
Curling up under the covers —my Tablet in hand—I know what’s coming next. Netflix or Facebook. Or maybe I’ll bounce around Medium and tell myself I’m doing research.
There’s so much to do my brain decides to just….well…tune out. Diagnosis: paralysis by to-do list. Is that a condition? It should be.
Facing what seems to be too much to do, my mind raises a white flag and walks off the battlefield, surrendering in defeat.
What’s the point?
I don’t know where to start.
I’ll never finish everything.
I don’t feel inspired to write or practice or market or anything.
I might as well do nothing.
A lazy day in bed almost won. Almost. But not quite.
I fold my to-do list in two and tuck it into the sleeve of my notebook.
Out of sight.
Then, I decide to do one thing.
Just. One. Simple. Thing.
In my journal, I have a page titled ‘one simple thing’. It is for days just like this one. The page is a list of things that are gentle reminders of tasks I can do quickly, without much thought or inspiration.
Each ‘thing’ isn’t even necessarily on my to-do list, but they’re still things that need to be done…eventually. That day, I turned to the list and picked one that didn’t seem painful.
Then I turned to a fresh journal page and wrote just two sentences on how doing this ‘one thing’ could be useful for my life.
My one thing? Spending a few minutes on email.
I opened my email and start clearing my inbox.
It felt simple, effortless. You don’t need creativity or inspiration to clear emails. The emails that required more time (or brainpower), I just skipped. Everything else hit the chopping block: Open. Skip. Delete. Next.
After about 35 minutes, I’m on a roll, not quite at full steam, but definitely not tempted back to bed.
I open my notebook, unfold my to-do list. Ah, my old friend, Mr to-do. You don’t look so evil now.
I make a random selection and start….working.
The rest of the day unraveled as usual: no mid-day Netflix or Facebook scroll-a-thon. (It’s okay to have days like that, but it’s better to actively choose them, instead of being defeated by overwhelm.)
Why this works
When you feel like zoning out, giving in to those feelings makes it worse and makes it harder to start working again once you stop.
Taking action (even if it’s simple, uninspired action) fuels motivation.
It sounds like a riddle, but it’s not.
Think of the concept of momentum. An object at rest tends to remain at rest. This is a basic concept of physics. But it’s universal for a reason.
Now, it’s your turn.
I challenge you to do just one thing.
Don’t complicate this. If your to-do list is making you nauseous, remove it from sight. Do something that’s simple, yet productive. We’ve all got things that aren’t on our to-do list, but that need to be done.
*Spend a few minutes clearing your inbox (but only tackle emails that you can spend less than 5 minutes on, leave the rest for scheduled email tasks another time).
*Organize your Evernote or Dropbox or Documents.
*Move (stretch, walk, jog in place, whatever).
*Make a simple craft. I share several simple projects here on the blog.
*Write a letter to someone you’ve been meaning to write to forever (we all have that person).
*Or start your list in your journal (or notebook) fo
Decide what one thing you’re going to do that feels simple. Something that doesn’t need creative inspiration. Don’t take too long with this. Just decide.
Then, do one more simple thing and another and another. Tiny, simple steps.
But first, try doing just one thing. When thoughts of overwhelm sneak back into your mind, remember: do just one thing.
Drown out the other thoughts. Focus on what you’re doing right at that moment.
This takes practice. But it works.
Just one thing. It’s become my mantra.
What one thing will you do? Leave a comment below.
There are more journal writing exercises and prompts in the self-care lounge. Enter your name and email address to get access:
*This post was originally published on my blog: aliciajoy.net and updated here in May, 2019
HERE’S A POST THAT’S SIMILAR: 6 Steps to Stop Feeling So Behind All the Time