Not Enough Time? Maybe You Just Think You Are Too Busy!

Often, stress arises when we feel we do not have enough time to do everything we’d like. The problem is not that things do not get done. The problem is attached to the things we tell ourselves.   Such thoughts are often not very pleasant. These negative thoughts are what creates the stress, not the unfinished task.

The out of control feeling  we have when we walk through the house and realize that not everything is perfectly in place, or the disappointment we experience when we look at our lists of things undone, is tied to perception. We attach meaning to things that are neutral. So someone else might look at the stain on the rug and think “so what,” but every time you walk by, you remember that your neighbor’s kid dropped the grape popsicle and you should have bought the stain resistant carpeting and you wonder about the warranty and whether using shampoo will void it.

That’s one example of a re-run, a thought we have many times per day. Most of our thoughts are re-runs. How often do you have these types of negative thoughts? First, realize that your thinking is creating the stress and chill. Relax because now is all you have, but you needn’t give up on getting things accomplished. Oh no. Not at all! If you are procrastinating and that is causing anxiety, begin by analyzing the tasks.

There may be reasons that lurk behind the procrastination, or maybe it is mere overestimation. You may think about a project and believe that it will take too long to accomplish now, so you wait for a time when you have a gap in your schedule. Of course, such a time never arrives, so you continue to put it off.  What is the answer? You must make time to do it. Realize that we tend to overestimate how long a given task will take.

Get started. Plan to go at it for an hour and revisit the task during another scheduled time next week. If the task includes multiple components, make a list of possible steps. For example, Step 1. Call the carpet manufacturer and find out about the warranty. Step 2.  Research ways to get grape popsicle out of the rug  and so on. The next time you walk by the spot, you will know that you are taking care of business and the mind clutter is gone. Once you get started, you gain momentum and may go beyond the planned hour, or you may realize that the task was not as time-consuming as you thought. And when you accomplish one thing, it is easier to finish other things. What’s next on the list? Yes, that is what you will be thinking as opposed to feeling overwhelmed.

We like Nike’s advice: just do it. When you just start your tasks rather than either over thinking or ignoring them you get the satisfaction of achievement without the mind clutter and without the angst.

How much responsibility do you really have?

When we talk about responsibilities, we generally equate them with bill paying, working at a job, the upkeep of a home, and the maintenance of vehicles. We wrote about clutter files in our post The Great Big Filing Cabinet in Your Mind when we explained that dealing with mental clutter can be just as challenging as handling physical clutter. And while we told you to just file your unwanted stressful thoughts, we realize that sometimes, it seems like the whole world is on your shoulders.

You may be reluctant to just file the clutter—as we say—because the thoughts are overwhelming and the responsibilities feel huge. But how much responsibility do you really have? Think of this: we are all in different positions. It is impossible to compare one set of circumstances to another. We are individual human beings and can only do so much. If you think that you have more worries than your neighbor, think about the responsibilities of President Obama. The president does not have to perform the same mundane tasks we do like paying bills or making sure the laundry is done, but it helps to remember that he probably has more commitments than anyone in the world. Still, he is just one person living his life, taking care of the responsibilities on his plate, and you are taking care of yours. Imagine: If he can manage the country, we can certainly manage our lives. Knowing that others have significant obligations helps to alleviate some of the angst, but we still have our own worries. How can we get to a better feeling place?

Imagine if the ordinary tasks of daily life were just done for you. Forget about the bills for a moment. Forget about the phone calls you have to make or the food list sitting on the kitchen counter, and mentally file them. Do it now. And then think: what would I do if I did not have to do any of those things? Your mind would be clear to focus on what you want to do, not what you feel you must do. You may begin to realize that the stress you feel has nothing to do with your specific responsibilities, but with how you manage your thoughts, and your time. When you take care of business, you feel good. So do take care of your responsibilities, but clear time to do the things that make your heart sing. It is a balancing act perhaps, but it is life, and we are all in this together.

When did you stop skipping?

Children are always moving. They run as a form of play, not as a way to lower their blood pressure or to make strides toward an impossible goal, but rather, just for the fun of it. And while running, bicycling, or kicking a ball around can be an activity enjoyed by children just for the heck of it, skipping is something equated with feeling good. It is almost magical. Look at a child who is skipping and you will see someone whose attention is in the moment and who does not have a care in the world. They skip to express joy.

Children skip and they do a lot of other things, but at some point, the skipping stops. So when did you stop skipping?

Skipping is a real activity, but we can think of it as a metaphor. So you may not skip, but do you smile a lot, or do you have that “everything is fine” feeling often? Because many people are under stress today, it is more likely that you are clenching your jaw than smiling. You are likely in survival mode, walking around from stress-induced physical ailments that would make literal skipping impossible. So what can you do to change this situation? What will allow you to either mentally or physically skip again? Work on changing your mind.

It is perhaps impossible to carry your clutter files around and skip at the same time, so the next time you are feeling stressed, and your body feels tight, get clear. What you need is clarity about your life. As Power of Now author Eckhart Tolle says, forget about your life situation, and instead, just pay attention to your life. The point of this rhetoric is to bring you to the present so you realize that you are a being who is independent of the situation you are experiencing. You are only experiencing a temporary situation, even if it seems like it has been forever, or that it will go on forever. As a spiritual being, you know better. Life is transient. This present moment is melting into the past, and the future is just a millisecond away.

The Buddhist saying “winter always turns to spring” reminds us that nothing ever remains the same. So why not spend some time in the present? Stop thinking about the future, the past, your responsibilities, and what other people do or say (Use our free File It Worksheet to remind yourself of that). Just be in the present. Stop. Breathe. Reset. Then go do something you want to do.

Making Space in that Cluttered Head of Yours

Your mind is really a concept. After all, where does it exist? You cannot point it out in a chart. You may have learned about it in Anatomy and Physiology class…well, no, you didn’t, because the mind is nowhere to be found. It is conceptual. So if the mind is not real, what is all that mental clutter you carry around, and what effect does it have on you?

It is often the case that mind clutter makes it so we can’t think. It stifles us. We look at the stack of bills, the unfinished projects, the list of things to do, and instead of making progress, what do we do? Often, we procrastinate. Sometimes, we just sit and do nothing. We deny our problems. We substitute positive action with things that seem to put our minds at ease: alcohol, Xanax, chocolate, a movie, a shopping trip. You get the picture. Situations become larger than life so we try to avoid thinking about them. But the thoughts return. They take over so we can no longer think clearly. This is why making space in your mind can help.

Practice making space in your mind by eliminating less useful thoughts. This leaves room for more relevant, productive thoughts. Doing so leads you to raise your awareness and make conscious decisions to create new productive patterns. Rather than ruminate over things you haven’t done, you can start that new project or engage in a hobby without that mental clutter. This is something that can lead to greater satisfaction.

Mental filing is just one method of creating space. If you find yourself in a place where your thoughts have stopped jumping around, and you have filed the worries and are ready to dust the crevices of your mind to create more space, there are other methods: mindfulness breathing and meditation are excellent ways to create room in your mind. When you create space, you allow new things to come into your experience, and that is when life gets really really fun.