I'm not Superwoman. Help me get real!
May 25, 2008 8:28 AM   Subscribe

I tend to get very excited about lots of different projects and overcommit myself. I can be happily insanely busy for a while, but then I get overwhelmed, freak out and flake out. I don't want to do this anymore. How can I find balance and learn to work sustainably?
posted by streetdreams to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Being upfront that you're busy and probably won't be able to follow through on everything you commit myself to can help the other person to focus you on the sort of things where they can appreciate what you do manage to get done, rather than be left in an unwieldy situation when you bail.

I also find that always refusing to commit to things initially, but asking to have a thread to them (be on the mailing list, etc), lets me take some time for my initial enthusiasm to give way to a more balanced estimation of how much I can realistically contribute, at which point take that figure and divide by half, then offer that :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:55 AM on May 25, 2008

You might try introducing a gap between the input — having the idea, receiving the offer or the invitation, etc — and the output, ie., deciding whether or not to commit to something. If that involves saying "Can I get back to you about that in a few days' time?" to people, do so. Then, try to schedule a fairly regular point in your week (could be first thing Monday morning, or Saturday coffee, or whatever, depending on how your life works) where you review the stuff you're thinking of committing to and decide, more calmly, what's realistic.

People generally don't mind waiting a few days for you to get back to them as long as you do, reliably, get back to them after a short time. Or maybe these are commitments you're making to yourself, not to others, in which case that part of it isn't so much of an issue.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:04 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Getting things done.

I'd read about it for a while and it was only around late 2003 that something clicked and it finally started working for me. Some folks are naturally organised, but I guess I needed some help.

GTD helps me manage two careers (Banker and part time University Lecturer in Finance), an MBA that I've been working on since 2005, a side business that's been up and running for almost two years, my home (lots tasks - "Honey Do's" Mrs Mutant has assigned) and personal lives.

The important thing about GTD (at least for me) is customising parts of the system so they work for you.

The end result will be a list of activities (mines organised across domains such as work, University teaching, University MBA, etc) with next tasks to drive towards completion. I think in your case this would be a valuable tool as, by your own admission, you're over committing and then getting stressed. And then after you flake out you feel guilty. These are normal (and commendable as some folks just don't care) feelings. GTD can probably help.

My GTD worksheets give me a good overview of near and intermediate terms deliverables. If something new comes up (some research at University, for example), I've got a clear picture of what's expected of me today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc.

I manage expectations about delivery, or can juggle / reassign priorities, involving / consulting others as needed.

Doesn't work for everyone, but it works for me.
posted by Mutant at 9:24 AM on May 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I could have written this exact question a year ago - like you, i started to realize that over committing was taking a huge strain on me and leading to a lot of unfinished projects, so i started doing something similar to what game warden suggested -- I forced myself to delay any decisions even if i was super-excited about something, and if i still felt the same way after a day or two, then I decided whether or not to progress. I seem to have a lot less half-finished websites lying around, so i think it's working!

I also found that setting myself and others around me clear boundaries has helped with this -- instead of just agreeing to do something like "help out," i'll be very clear with how much time i'll spend, what exactly i'll do, etc., so that everyone is on the same page and nobody expects more of me than i can deliver. For me, the difference between saying "i'll help with your website" and "i'll give you 5 hours of my time to build this new feature" has helped tremendously.
posted by ukdanae at 10:50 AM on May 25, 2008

I had the same problem. Then I decided to focus on one big project above all and keep plugging away at it until it was finished. As a result I now have completed a novel and am currently working on a second rewrite. Figure out what's most important to you and go for that, everything else can wait.
posted by Kattullus at 11:37 AM on May 25, 2008

Maybe this sounds obvious but:

decide what you really want to do, and only do that. I prefer not to commit to things that I can't give my full attention to. So at this point, I am committed to finishing a screenplay and making a film of it. My goal is to write at a professional level, not for "fun" or "the experience." I am not OK with letting myself flake out on this project, and I try to act accordingly. i don't take on "fun" writing projects like blogging, because i prefer to save my limited supplies of time and energy for the script.

(I do occasionally take on side web-development projects, but not many and I give them a very limited amount of time. Both I am working on now are for non-profits who i didn't feel like i could say "no" to. If it had just been someone wanting to pay me to build a website, I would definitely have passed.)

For me, this workload is more than challenging enough to keep up with. So basically, exactly what Kattullus said.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:38 PM on May 25, 2008

Also, as I have said before:

one of the biggest (I think THE biggest) fact about being creative that no one likes to talk about is this:

you WILL get sick of your project. having an idea is fun and easy. Finishing it is a pain in the ass. Especially if it's something you've been working on for months or years, you will become incredibly tired of it. You will wonder why you were ever interested in starting stupid Project X, when it's so lame compared to the awesome ideas you had this morning for Projects Y, Z, Q and Q. (Every project seems awesome when you haven't had to try to execute it yet)

The temptation to abandon your project and start a new one becomes incredibly strong at times. You need to resist it if you ever want to finish anything. In my experience, it never becomes any easier. Sometimes you just need to keep plugging ahead, even when it seems hopeless and pointless. As far as I know, this is the only way anyone in the world gets anything major done.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:43 PM on May 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

I'm the same way. The suggestion to buy yourself some consideration time has been the most helpful for me. People are quite happy to hear something like "Wow! I love that idea and really like the idea of helping. I've got a lot of commitments now, though, so I need to take a good look at my schedule to see if this can really fit in. Can I let you know by Friday?"

Often that first blush of enthusiasm wears off, and you'll have enough time to realize you don't actually want another commitment.

Another thing I've had to work on is simple maturing - reconciling myself to life in this world. I'm just flat out not going to get to do, run, create, and experience everything I would theoretically like to. There's not enough time in a lifetime. Once you reckon with that, you can get a bit choosier. If you take things on in an attempt to fill your life with exciting thigns, that's awesome - except that when you start losing ground, getting flaky, becoming exhausted and irritable, and not following through, guess what? You're no longer having a great experience and getting the most out of life. You're ruining the time you do have and dissipating your precious energy. When you look at it from this flip side, it seems easier to say "will this activity really help me improve my life/achieve my goals? Or am I just leaping at it because I'm so eager to have experiences?" If the latter, let it go. Experiences will come to you if you don't exhaust yourself. You do not need to be the one that does everything, and you will live a fantastic life and stay busy without agreeing to do everything.
posted by Miko at 10:09 PM on May 25, 2008

I know where you're coming from.... I can be the same way too. Sometimes I feel like not taking on an another task will make me miss a critical opportunity, or not strengthen a connection with someone (you never know when you need a friend to return the favor!) The suggestions already listed are good ones. I'd add to that by saying the most important thing to do is to pick and choose your battles. Will the project you take on help you to grow in your field, or are you just doing someone a favor? It's always good to do someone a favor once in a while, but by picking the right projects to be a part of... ones that help you grow in your field, that alone could cut down the number of projects you take.

Also, I tend to work on a lot of projects by prioritizing them by due dates. If i have 4 projects going at once, one is due on the 15th, the next on the 23rd, the next and the 28th, and the final, on the 31st, I'm not even looking at the last two due dates at first. I fully concentrate on the one due on the 15th and closer to its completion, I begin overlapping the project due on the 23rd, and so on. This way I can get all the projects done, but with less stress because I'm only working on no more than two simultaneously. If the due dates are too close together to realistically get a good result, then I don't take on the newer project. Hope that offers some insight.
posted by FireStyle at 2:44 AM on May 26, 2008

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