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As a highly sensitive person prone to anxiety, SO much of my life has been about trying to control my circumstances to make it easier for me to relax and feel secure. (I recently wrote about the connection between perfectionism and being a highly sensitive person, which you should definitely check out if you haven’t).
If I get too unconscious I can still easily slip into feeling overwhelmed and out of control. But after reading this blog that I wrote 4.5 years ago I realize I’ve come a long way, considering I don’t relate to most of this anymore (at least not to the hardcore degree I was accustomed to back then).
At the time, I wrote about the daily struggle to cross everything off of my to-do list because I was in the thick of the struggle. Now, I share it with you in case you still are in the midst of that same purgatory!
I’M STRUGGLING TO FEEL LIKE I’M “DONE”
Nine times out of ten, I feel instant anxiety when I wake up in the morning.
Most of the time, my daily to-do list starts playing on repeat in my mind before I’ve even consciously realized I’m awake. Which means that before I’ve even stood up, I’m feeling overwhelmed. Behind. Frustrated. Anxious.
And because I definitely don’t want to feel that way, the solution seems simple: Get moving, and get working so that I can cross off some of those to-dos and alleviate the pressure.
Which means, in an attempt to feel productive, I’ll open my inbox before I’ve even eaten anything. I’ll rush through my breakfast. I’ll be distracted while walking my dog, all so that I can get back home and start working so that I don’t have to feel anxious or behind anymore.
Half the time, I feel like I’m running a race, the theme song of which goes something like, “Once I get this done, then I can relax. And take a break. And breathe. And actually live my life.”
EXCEPT I’M WRONG. SO INCREDIBLY WRONG.
Why am I racing to respond to all of my emails, exactly? When as soon as I clear the inbox out … it’ll fill right back up.
Why do I feel pressured to check “write a blog” off my to do list … when a new blog idea is waiting to take its place?
Why am I willing to keep saying, “I’ll just do one more thing before I go to bed,” when there will always be something else to do?
Because “done” is so tempting, isn’t it?
“Done” would have you believe that once you’ve finally reached its shores, there lies a warm, sandy beach full of balmy relaxation and blissed-out nothingness where you get to finally do what you want, guilt-free.
Except “done” is more like a hazy mirage … as soon as you’ve almost touched it … it moves 50 yards into the distance. And the price for getting that close? A heap of guilt and worry about what you could or should be doing with all of that time you’ve “earned” from being “done.”
The uncomfortable, borderline-terrifying thing that I’m learning is this:
“DONE” DOESN’T EXIST
There will always be more emails. New projects and new deadlines. Another load of laundry. More dog walks. Another meal to be cooked.
You’ll sweat blood in your fervor to cross everything off of your to-do list … and it’ll fill right back up tomorrow. Or next week. Eventually, you’re guaranteed to have to start all over again.
Which means that the new truth that I, and I’m thinking maybe you, need to accept is this:
You will NEVER be “done.” And that’s OK.
I told one of my close friends (who also happens to be a coach) about this a few weeks ago, and she said that her husband was dealing with something similar. Every day, he’d come home and worry about all of the things he wasn’t able to get done at work.
Her response went something like, “And isn’t that great? Because that means you have a job to go to tomorrow! If there was no more work to do … you’d be unemployed.”
I would never have thought to be grateful for not being done, but it’s true. If I didn’t have any emails left to reply to or clients left to coach, I wouldn’t have Clarity on Fire anymore … and that would be exactly the opposite of what I want.
So, not only can I actually be appreciative of not being “done,” I’ve also got to …
REALIZE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “DONE” AND “COMPLETE”
If “done” is a place I’ve been trying to reach, then I think what I’ve been trying to feel in my frantic quest to be “done” is … complete.
For me, “complete” feels like wholeness. Peace. An ability to breathe deeply and clearly. It’s a warm state of nothingness where I get to just be and not feel bad about it.
The twisted thing is, I’ve been stressing myself out so much to be “done” (in an attempt to feel complete) that I totally sabotage my ability to ever feel the way I want to feel.
If there’s always more to do then I’ll always keep working, and I will never feel the peace of being “complete.”
Which means that the other big, uncomfortable truth I (and you) need to learn is:
“Done” isn’t a place you reach after finishing a to-do list. “Done” is a feeling. “Done” is a choice.
LET’S CHOOSE TO FEEL COMPLETE
“Done” isn’t going to happen. It’s an unwinnable race whose finish line just keeps moving.
So, it’s time to decide to be done and choose to feel complete … regardless of what’s going on around us.
For me, that means I’m not going to check my email first thing in the morning. I’m going to be present when I walk my dog. I’m going to enjoy my meals and not work while I’m eating. I’m not going to check my email compulsively in the evenings, after work is over.
I’m going to commit to one or two important business tasks every day and trust that the quality of what I do will far outweigh the number of items I check off a list.
I’m not going to sacrifice exercise or other things that feel “less productive” but that I actually love (like reading or watching a good show on TV) in the name of being “done.”
I will be grateful for the opportunity to never stop growing, learning, and evolving, because I would never want to be “done” with any of that.
I’m going to choose to feel at peace and “complete” with who I am and what I’m doing, because not only is what I’m doing more than enough every day, but I am good enough and I deserve to feel complete, no reason needed.
I will actually live my life right now instead of being someone who constantly promises to live life after she’s “done.”
This will not be easy for me. I doubt it will be easy for you, either. So I really want to know how this blog resonated with you. Come tell me in the comments.
Rachel (& Kristen)
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I love this! So so true, thank you for sharing 🙂
I feel like that at work alot so I’m going to try this and slow dooown 😀 x
Skate or die — ride or die — live ’till you die. When we are done, we are dead, so let’s pick living instead. I used to wake up with dread every single morning. I found that morning rituals give me strength: simple, clear morning rituals. Also being grateful for the space and safety for my rituals allow me access to a higher conscious.
If you’re truly “done” with anything, then there is no point in living. That means your life is done.
If you think about it in terms of goals, once you’ve achieved a goal, you make a new one so that you strive for something as you continue to live. Daily goals/tasks/to-do lists are exactly the same. But you shouldn’t put too many things on that list so that you never reach them or are constantly moving them to another day. They need to be attainable and personalized to each individual.
Ultimately I think this stems from women in particular trying to “do it all”. You only need to do enough to make you satisfied with your output. And if you have exaggerated expectations, then that’s what needs fixing.
I think this is especially tough in the first year or two of trying to get a new venture off the ground. I tend to look around me at all the successful people who are doing what I want to be doing and say “If I ever want to be as successful as _____, I have to sacrifice some things to get there (like enjoying my favorite TV show or sleeping in a little on a day when I’m super-exhausted and need extra rest). I have to keep constantly reminding myself that yes, I want to be that successful SOMEDAY, but that it didn’t happen overnight for those other folks, and it won’t happen overnight for me either, so there’s no point in trying to do everything on my list all at once. It’s not a race. Thanks for this post, it reaffirmed everything I’ve been feeling the past few months!
As a mother to a preschooler and someone trying to get my blog off the ground, I definitely struggle with feeling like I need to be “done”. This post helped me realize that i can never be done, but i can COMPLETE the things that need to be completed now. And when I do manage to complete something, I sit back and give myself a little credit instead of just crossing it off the list and moving on. Thanks for the perspective!
I really appreciate the time you take to address these issues, you make some very valid points and I always enjoy reading your posts. I most definitely can identify with this one in particularly because I too struggle with the never-ending “TO-DO” lists. I am always concerned that I have forgotten some important task that needs to be accomplished, and 9 times out of 10 there is something I missed. However, I have learned to just add it to the next days “TO-DO” list. So, Thank You for your words of encouragement and PLEASE PLEASE keep the posts coming!
I really relate to this; I can never express just how much it feels like time only ever decreases, all while the e-mails pile up, and the schedule you thought had some free time in it suddenly is absolutely bogged down. I am currently attending a university, and we are on a week break, which although it should be good I have not been able to stop the fight between wanting to relax and wanting to just get everything done possible. I was telling my girlfriend that I am glad I have taken a few days to relax and sleep in, but at the same time I just really wish I had stuck to catching up on everything. Thus this was a perfectly-timed read, and I do need to focus on the excitement of having more to do rather than how daunting it is. I am at least proud that all of the laundry got done this week!
I LOVE this! Lately I have found myself sacrificing some things that I really love and want to do (like exercising) because I feel like I have to keep going in order to get everything done that I need to get done. And then, sometimes that snowballs and makes me feel more anxious and paralyzed, and then I get nothing done at all! I am so worried about getting things done, that worry stops me from doing anything well. And that’s just not good for anyone. Thank you for this today! Great message!
Hey Jessica! You articulated that Catch-22 really well — Sometimes, when you’re so stressed about getting things done, you get so anxious that you actually *can’t* get things done! What a vicious cycle. I hope this message gave you a new possibility to embrace! 🙂
Great post, as usual! I too have had the same feeling; even on the few occasions that I finished my to do list, I still felt that I either missed something or felt unsatisfied.
I get the greatest satisfaction from prioritizing and always making sure to do my morning exercises before I check e-mails. This helps keep me grounded and I then review and prioritize my to do list.
I also try to meditate during the day and just before going to bed at night. This practice is very helpful to me and I would heartily recommend it to everyone.
Hi Richard — From the way you describe how you spend your days, I think you’ve made a great point about the need for structure in our lives, particularly if we’re tempted to do things until we’re “done.” Having a pre-determined 30 minutes to check emails, or an allotted time to meditate each day, are great ways to keep yourself in check and not allow the propensity to keep doing-doing-doing to get out of hand!
For me, my priority is my 5-minute meditation and start of deep breaths while laying on my back before I get out of bed before my cats jump on me before checking email, then I feed the cats, then my 30 minute walk in my immediate neighborhood while taking much deeper expansive breaths in and out feeling my shoulders relaxed down and back, inhaling to expand the chest up and then out to the sides, focusing on the in and out. It dispels my anxiety. When I’m calm, I can look at my to-do list with greater clarity. That very deep breathing counteracts the panicky shallow breathing.
Then I have my lemon water then my coffee then email etc.
When I sleep, I invariably end up sleeping on my side, caving in my heart and lungs. This is why my morning breathing process is so vital to me.
At night, I do a 30-60 minute yoga to lengthen my spine to relieve my neck and lower back again the expansive breath and let the thoughts come into my mind so that I can release them each non-judgmentally on the exhale.
I encourage you to focus on having compassion for yourself first by attending to your self needs before external worldly matters…just like on an airplane, adjust your oxygen mask before attending to the needs of others in a calmer focused detached manner.
Hi Susan — This is really great advice! I think so many of us (myself often included) forget how important it is to have a solid, healthy foundation for our day. And it’s a great reminder how powerful something simple, like focusing on our breathing, can be! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Some really comforting pointers there; I’ve included ‘quality not quantity’ in my daily to-do..
Thanks and regards!
You’re welcome, Jayat!
Thank you for this post today! Needing to feel like I am “done” with my work has caused me so much stress and anxiety, and has definitely pulled me out of beautiful moments in my life I could be enjoying. Thank you for reminding me that the QUALITY of life matters more than the QUANTITY of life! 🙂
I’m glad this might help you lessen your stress and anxiety! 🙂
I have to say, this is one of the best blog post I have read this year on the mindset to handle day to day work.
I totally agree with your conclusion and have “clipped” it as my daily reminder.
Thank you for such an insightful post.
Thanks for reading, Simon! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
It was so good to read this today! I’ve felt anxious about what to do next in my business all week. There’s a panicky, frenetic feeling that I barely keep at bay. But this reminds me, I don’t have to reach some future-place to feel a sense of accomplishment and “right-ness.” Thank you!