If you’re anything like me, you know this situation all too well. As soon as the summer finally arrives and the first proper sunshine hits your skin, nothing else matters anymore. All the chores and responsibilities, everything that others rely on you to do, all that jazz fades into insignificance. The heat is all I care for. But sooner or later reality, also known as autumn, hits me in the face and suddenly I find myself in dire need of catching up on life.
Believe it or not, the end of summer always comes to me as a bit of a surprise. As if the world was going to change out of the blue and deliver eternal sunshine instead of gloomy Novembers. It’s probably the only area of life I am genuinely so naïve about – the thought that summer does not have to end.
And now we’re back to the gloomy time of summer slowly ending, less abruptly for me this year, sure, but still inevitably sad and the catching up on life session is in order. One thing is certain – all of the unaddressed issues need to finally be addressed. But how?
Take things easy
The first advice on how to efficiently approach this whole catching up on life business may sound counter-intuitive but hear me out.
When we are overloaded by old to-do lists, the temptation remains to kind of… just deal with all that stuff at once. Makes sense, right? As soon as we tackle all the issues, we can move on to regular life. But whenever I try to implement this do-it-all-at-once-tactic, I find myself curled up on my carpet and crying within abound 15 minutes.
Getting overwhelmed is the biggest threat to any amount of catching up on life.
You need to avoid it at all costs.
Taking things slowly may sounds like a really bad idea, but it’s the only way to get anything done at all. Not only because working on too many tasks at once never works anyway… Like absolutely never. But just after the holidays when we are simply not used to doing so much stuff that does not involve mojitos or ice cream, our brains need a softer start.
So, let’s just all be gentle and kind to ourselves, and things will slowly but steadily fall into place, I promise.
Double-up on prioritisation
The next tip comes straight out of the land of software support. Not kidding you. Observing people who deal with customer support, or deal with customers in general, can give one the best ideas about time management there are.
The thing is, prioritisation is not a simple task of going in and deciding what is important. There are so many factors that make things more or less worthy of our time, especially when we’re going through things as crucial as quickly catching up on time. A simple ‘yeah, maybe’ may not be enough.
At the same time, we don’t want to spend too much of our efforts on deciding what to do… As someone who always falls into this trap, I can say with full certainty: overthinking is never worth it. Never ever.
So instead of guessing or getting too detailed, I go with the simple strategy of assigning things according to two criteria: how time critical they are and how useful they are in the long term. The software world calls it the Urgency-Impact Matrix, not a name that rolls off the tongue easily, but it works rather well.
This distinction between things that matter and things that need to be done NOW gives us an opportunity to actually face NOWs – especially in the digital world, where everything is instant, here, immediately, and, in all fairness, probably 90% of all NOWs could wait at least a week.
Remember to take breaks
My productivity advice is always a bit… lazy, so catching up on life cannot work for me without a bit of laziness and my grand advice on the importance of taking a step back returns: remember your breaks.
Breaks are super important.
When we are busy, and stressed, and overwhelmed, and surrounded by urgency after urgency, the thought that maybe we could do things quicker if we just keep pushing ourselves is a tempting one. It doesn’t work.
Strained minds do not work properly. If you skip on sleep, walks, any forms of entertainment or human contact – you are not only bound to drive yourself off some metaphorical cliff, but also simply to screw up whatever you are working so hard on achieving.
I am a real master of last minute pushes – my brain seems to thrive under a tight deadline. But even I remember a great many times when I woke up after very little sleep to proof read pieces of work I finished at 5am the night before and being terrified at their lack of quality. Sometimes too much is too much and it is important to stop.
If you struggle with getting a break and are not allergic to fur, just get a cat. A cat will sort out the proper break times for you. Anytime. All the time.
Good enough is good enough
As a perfectionist I do struggle with my catching up on life times a bit more than others; and I know I must sound like a broken record sometimes when I talk about it, but there is just something I need to drill into my brain: good enough is good enough.
One would think that, when faced with piles of things that need to be done by tomorrow, I would discover my rational side and compromise on delivery quality just a little bit. You know, finish 10 things 80% instead of finishing 1 thing 100%. Hahaha. Don’t be naïve. 80% doesn’t happen in my Bunnyland, it’s all or nothing here.
I know it shouldn’t be.
Technically I am very well aware of the fact that sometimes pushing oneself past the good enough mark is not the best idea. But reality often finds me doing the exact opposite and, trust me, nothing can ruins a good catching up on life routine as effectively as trying to fulfil all of the old to-do lists to the letter.
My boyfriend is a very good judge on when to tell me to quit, but I cannot just burden him with it, can I? Also, I am very good at sneakily carrying on with obsessing over small imperfections behind his back, so that’s not a long term solution. So instead I am trying to work on changing my attitude, it is just… a slow process. Way too slow for someone as impatient as I am.
Just start it
And finally we arrive at the real catching up on life hack – just going along with it.
Things are always scarier before we experience them and the same goes for our due tasks. The longer we spend obsessing over how many things we must do, the longer we must wait until we are over with it. It’s as simple and as hard as that.
The truth is, these things are not going to just magically disappear. They are going to bite us in our bums. The sooner the bite, the sooner the pain goes away too.
It’s all very much easier said than done and I understand that. There are just so many things I am postponing ad infinitum now – learning Spanish, packing, scheduling future blog post (What? You didn’t read that!)… But these things will never be done unless I stop being scared of them and just face my fears properly. Because it is not laziness that paralyses us that much, it is, at least for me, the fear of unknown effort.
So, whatever it is that overwhelms you – just do it. Embrace it. And if it does really hurt, you can always get yourself a Well-Done-Me cake afterwards.