December 7, 2016

All The Things Syndrome

When you've got too many things on your plate

Whenever someone signs up for this newsletter I always ask them this question:

What are you struggling with?

While the responses always differ, one common theme is people struggling with how to juggle multiple projects. We tend to bite off more than we can chew.

If you're anything like me, having one project at a time isn't enough to fulfil you. But having too many can quickly be unfulfilling too.

We're often optimistic about the amount of work we can achieve at any given time. I bet your daily to do lists never get fully completed, yet you continue to assign yourself the same amount of tasks each day. Why don't we learn that sometimes it's just too much?

We all have ideas and opportunities that come along. If it's important to us, we also have the ability to make time for the good ones.

However it's often too late when we realise we've taken on too many.

Recently I received this question from Celeste – a newsletter subscriber:

"I feel like I have so much to do and think about that I am just exhausted all of the time and stressed, resulting in rushed work and feeling drained. Any advice on how to deal with this better?"
– Celeste

Sound familiar?

I like to call this All The Things Syndrome – that innate desire to want to do everything, often because we're afraid of missed opportunity.

The danger with ATTS* is that it lacks clarity and focus. It quickly leaves you feeling rushed, overwhelmed and overcommitted.

With so many things to juggle, our time and priorities are poorly planned as we end up spreading ourselves too thin.

‍I know – I should quit and become an illustrator, right?

Spinning plates theory

The Spinning Plates Theory is the idea that each priority in your life is represented by a spinning plate. Each plates requires your individual and undivided attention and concentration every now and then in order to keep spinning.

While you may be able to keep up with it at first, over time your concentration and energy will begin to deteriorate and your plates will start to fall.

There's only so much we can divide our attention and focus to before we begin to deteriorate.

This is exactly where Celeste is. She has so many plates that need her attention that she's having to run from one plate to another and can only give them a few seconds of her time before she has to rush to the next one.

Narrowing down the amount of plates that require your focus doesn't mean letting them crash to the floor. With care, pick up a plate and place it on the table.

At any point in which you feel you have the capacity to bring it back, do so. Pausing projects is ok if it means you're able to refocus and reenergise.

How do we stay on top?

I’m going to be honest. I don’t have a cure or one-size-fits-all solution for overcoming ATTS.

Everyone's situation is unique and only you can make a judgement on what's important and must continue, and what you could let go or refocus on later.

The problem with ATTS is that even when you cut out existing projects, you'll feel a desire to fill that gap with a new project or opportunity. Why do we do this? If we know we’re already struggling with our current workload, why take on more?

Maybe you have a strong internal drive and motivation. Perhaps you find fulfilment in being busy, or haven’t learn how to say no.

The temptation of starting a new project is exhilarating, but can quickly become burdensome if it means other parts of your life start to suffer.

If you already have too many plates the only time it's OK to say yes to a project is when you say no to another. Invite that new project into an empty space. Don't try and balance it on top of another.

Here's some suggestions for how to overcome ATTS:

Refer to your goals & purpose

Last week we talked about finding purpose. When considering whether something is worth adding to your workload, refer to your purpose and goals. Will this new project help you get closer to your goals? Goals can be achieved in different ways so be careful not to be blindsided by one path. For example if your goal is to create three courses next year, it doesn’t mean you have to create them all at once. Divide your time up into even, focused chunks spread throughout the year.

Say No

The hardest but most important person to say No to is yourself. Saying no can be difficult especially when it's a good opportunity. However, we need to say no in order to say yes – just like we need to put down a plate before we can pick up another. Don't say yes out of scarcity mindset either. Good opportunities will continue to come along. Saying no to one opportunity doesn't put a permanent plug in the pipeline.

Power of focus

Break up your time into more focused sessions. Trying to achieve everything late in the evening after a long day is not the best use of your time or energy.Dedicating some focus time in the morning can help you get the most important thing done first thing in the day. This allows you to spend the rest of the day focused on less important or other other tasks, meaning you can come home to relax and recharge.

Embrace neglect (temporarily) 

Putting a project on pause may feel like you're neglecting it. Sometimes a project might need to be temporary neglected while we refocus and plan our next move.If you’re struggling to do that it might be time to take a mental or creative break from that project and come back to it at a later date.

Don't compare yourself to others

It's hard to ignore the insane amount of talent, passion and drive that exists in the world. Seeing others achieve the impossible can put you down.Take a step back and remind yourself that you're on your own path. The people you compare to are likely further along on their path and have probably had help along the way.Instead, channel your energy into comparing to your past self. I guarantee you'll feel good about how far you've come.

It can be difficult to put some of the above in practice. For some perspective, I was chatting to my good friend Raff about this very topic and one thing he mentioned really stood out to me:

"Those who agree to everything, end up making nothing"

If you're trying to juggle all the plates, eventually they're all going to fall. Choose a few so you can really give each of them the time and attention they deserve.


* ATTS = All The Things Syndrome

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