By Nora Welch, Senior Leadership Development Associate at Joining Vision and Action
It’s inevitable. Deadline is tomorrow, mandatory social event is tonight, and brain is mush at the moment. The panic, the pressure, the pain. These are very real emotions and circumstances that require real responses—we know, we’ve been there.
As the JVA team works to support the changemakers of the world, we, too, can feel the pinch of too much to do and too few resources to do it with. Goodness knows, we’ve pulled the all-nighter or become a weekend warrior to make sure things got done.
But what about the littler things that can help keep you on track (and not hyperventilating)? That’s what I wanted to explore in this week’s blog. Based on my own experiences along with my colleagues’, here are some ideas on how to alleviate the “OMG, what am I going to do?” moments.
So, when the going gets tough, JVAers…
Get out of there! No, I am not suggesting you absolve yourself of responsibility and take off to Vegas for the weekend. I am suggesting removing yourself from wherever you’ve been sitting and stewing for the past few hours and yet still only have two semi-good sentences on that grant application.
If your seat cushion is perfectly formed to your body, it’s time for a break.
- Freshen up the energy by hosting a little dance party (for one or more).
- Follow Lisa’s lead and make sure you get outside for at least a little bit each day. Doesn’t have to be extensive, but does need to be outdoors. Take a page from the books of Jill, Silvia and Marshall, and take the dog (or cat?) for a walk. You’ll both thank you later.
- Shift focus. Maybe run some errands, if you have flexibility to do so. Sometimes the feeling of accomplishing something (even if it’s just getting that almond milk you need for the next morning’s coffee) is better than nothing. You’ll feel better and get the good juju flowing again.
- Do some jumping jacks, sun salutations or other physical activity to “get the blood pumping,” as they say.
- Take a nap. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?) Seriously, though. Sometimes just a little bit of rest can reset your body so that it’s better able to receive all of those great ideas that are just waiting to break through.
I know, I know. Everyone tells you to do this. And there’s super good reason! Conscious breathing has been linked to all kinds of health benefits, including stress reduction.
Kundalini yoga focuses on the breath, and one of my favorite practices is called the nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. Read more about how to explore this technique and other energizing breathing in this Yoga Today article.
Once you’re done with your breathing practice, pop in a piece of gum to help keep you focused and centered. Sandy does this when she’s about to work on a long editing review. According to a study published in 2013, the chewing action helps to increase concentration and memory.
I am always in awe of Jill’s ability to keep track of everything and get things done so well, especially in the face of high-pressure situations. How does she do it? A list.
One of the easiest ways to get locked into monkey mind is jumping around from “I gotta do this” to “I gotta do that.” When you write it down, you let your mind be free to think of things other than your to-dos. It’s now on the list. It won’t be missed. You won’t forget. It’ll be there when you’re ready to get to it.
Now that you’ve listed what needs to get done, take it one step further. Break some of those to-dos into bite-size pieces so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed. (And you get to build some momentum by checking off items from your list!)
As Marshall shares, “The act of organization helps me focus. If I can populate items to a spreadsheet, then I’ll do that as well. Determining layout (rows/columns) and special attributes to the table also helps.”
Don’t forget to address the mess! Clear the clutter and create a visually pleasing workspace. You can also organize the materials you need for each to-do item. Pile together what you need to accomplish each task so that you can just grab what you need, do it and move on to the next one.
When it becomes tough to push ahead, Katalin creates a reward system. For her, once she reaches a certain spot in the grant narrative, she gets to go for a run. For you, maybe it’s an extra long break or enjoying your favorite snack. Maybe it’s spending some (contained!) time on social media or catching up with friends and family. Whatever that carrot can be to lead you forward, use it to your advantage!
You can also bargain with reality and adjust deadlines in your head. Sometimes you can trick your mind and move up timelines to make sure you don’t get yourself in a pickle if you wait until the actual deadline. Honestly, I’ve tried this one before with moderate success, but maybe it will work for you!
Music seems to be a common thread, with the type of music being the wild card. I tend toward Spanish guitar; Rodrigo y Gabriela and Strunz and Farrah were some of my favorite Pandora stations. I also lean toward lower-intensity electronic dance music (EDM) from artists like Odesza or Colorado’s own Pretty Lights.
Other recommendations from my colleagues include:
- Binaural beats. This was a new one to me, and I’m so happy Silvia mentioned it! I had heard the music before but didn’t know what to call it. While we’re still being honest, it may feel a little “out there” at first … but give it some time, I found that it really helped.
- Want a good place to start exploring? Silvia recommends the phone app Omvana. It has tracks for meditation, relaxation, focus and sleep. Check out the track called “Laser Focus.” You can also find mixes on YouTube, Spotify or Amazon Music; just search “binaural.”
- Classical music. Specifically, Bach helps Lisa focus. There’s a reason we’re still listening to these pieces hundreds of years later … they’re good stuff. Try it out!
Most of the time, music without lyrics is the ticket so that you aren’t distracted by the words, but really, whatever jams get you in the groove are the ones to listen to!
You are a ROCKSTAR. Truly. I know I don’t know you that well, or likely not even at all, but I bet that you get up every day and work toward making the world a better place. That takes courage and commitment. Both of these will help get you through.
Besides, chances are you probably have already been through something tough before. Sometimes this perspective is the greatest gift of our darkest moments. We know that we can do hard things and we can come out on the other side.
You got this. Now, go get it! And let us know if we can help.