In times of transformation, like shifting from the identity of ‘student’ to ‘graduate,’ it can be hard to allow ourselves a moment to pause. With the constant noise of social media, which only shows us the highlights of our peers and friends’ lives, it isn’t a surprise that we’ve been conditioned to feel like if we’re not working perfectly to plan, then we must be falling behind.
Add in our social lives, work commitments, and daily chores and all too soon we might find ourselves burning our candles at both ends. Personally, I often find myself trapped at the day’s end, stuck having to choose between spending quality time with my loved ones, or pursuing my creative passions. Instead, I end up cutting into my sleep, trying to do it all. The problem compounds, leaving me feeling exhausted.
Much like that proverbial candle though, the flame can’t last when you’ve nothing left to burn. It simply isn’t possible to always put our maximum effort into all areas of our lives without risking burnout.
For me, this happened during the final term of my undergrad. At the time, it felt like nothing was going right. In a matter of weeks, my father was in the hospital, my employment contract was not renewed and my relationship ended. As if that wasn’t enough, I had to move out on short notice and three computers died on me while I was trying to complete my final assignments for my undergraduate degree.
With more and more on my plate, it became harder and harder to get back up after every setback. My assignments fell to the wayside and I had absolutely no motivation to face them.
Emotionally exhausted, my academic obligations loomed over me with an intangible urgency: I had to finish my coursework, but I simply couldn’t, because if I couldn’t be perfect then I couldn’t perform at all. Even simple tasks like eating and sleeping left me feeling guilty, like I was wasting precious time. Deep down, I knew those things were equally as important, but I lacked even the energy to help myself.
Now, I can recognise the signs of burnout, but back then I had to learn very quickly to incorporate resting into my schedule so that I could manage the feelings of stress and exhaustion.
The Importance of Resting
At first, it was no easy task to accept going to bed with tasks undone to gain the energy I needed to face all I had to do but it’s a lesson all can learn from, to practice actively resting during the hard times for when the impossible times come.
If you too have gone through one of these transformative life stages, then it’s likely you’ve also been caught at the crossroads of perfectionism and time management.
You might need to draft an assignment by tomorrow, but you have an interview first thing in the morning. However, you haven’t done your laundry, but you don’t want to run the machine until you’ve been to the gym. On the other hand, you promised to catch up with a friend and you’ve already cancelled once. Oh, and there’s job applications to write, housework to be done, and you need to find time somewhere in your schedule to eat, sleep and of course, rest.
Take heart, though. This task paralysis isn’t a sign of disorganisation or laziness, nor should you feel guilty for finding yourself overloaded. It’s a situation familiar to many traversing those transformative periods, and it’s okay to take a step back and catch your breath. Here are my three tips for how to rest when your schedule is full.
Do It Now VS. Do It Later
Pick your ‘do it now’ tasks and obligations. As a student, I would write a list of all my assignments organised by the due date at the beginning of the semester. I’d include the topic name and number, the grade percentage value and short details like word count and assignment type. At a glance I always knew where I should be focusing my efforts; if multiple assignments were due on the same date, I knew by the grade percentage value to which assessment I should give more of my attention.
That being said, prioritizing is a key factor when it comes to your do it now’s vs do it later’s. For my non-academic tasks, I would write daily lists of everything else I needed to do and give them an alphabetical ranking of priority. These lists included everything from ‘call my mum’ to ‘work on that painting’ to ‘haircut Wednesday at 4 pm’. Knowing what was ‘important’ meant I always knew what I needed to be doing ‘now’ and what could wait until ‘later.’
Do It By Half
As mentioned earlier, doing something is better than doing nothing. Yet, there are still times when we can’t avoid being overloaded with scheduling conflicts. In these instances, don’t be afraid to aim for ‘something instead of nothing.’ I would draft assignments in dot points; opt for a shorter workout and run a smaller load of laundry, leaving the other items for later. Doing these task by half meant that I had the chance to still do everything I wanted to do, along with those essential things that needed to be done. For time sensitive things like job applications, I would organise those opportunites by closing date and work on the one closing soonest.
Though we’ve all heard those old adages that ‘anything worth doing is worth doing right’ and ‘don’t do anything by half,’ they aren’t always practical or even helpful in times when our plate is overloaded.
There are times when we have to accept that doing a chore by half is better than not doing it at all. Simply put, we sometimes need to break large tasks into smaller pieces of ‘something’ in the name of progress, rather than the unattainable perfection that paralyses us into inaction that leaves us with ‘nothing.’
Do It For Yourself
Lastly, don’t neglect your personal wellbeing even if it seems like just another task on a never-ending to-do list. Try catching up with that friend for dinner but skip the following movie invitation. After all, everyone needs to eat, and if we’re quoting adages then we all know of killing two birds with one stone.
Cliché? Maybe, but remember that there should be no guilt in taking care of yourself.
Personally, I like to wash my hair when I’m fatigued. I feel the cleanliness grounds me in the moment, giving me a literal and metaphorical ‘fresh start’ to face my tasks anew. Eating and resting might add to your to-do list but without them the remainder might not get done and something as simple as a hot cup of tea is surprisingly invigorating.
Try thinking of incorporating rest into your schedule as another life lesson. While working under your own self-direction, rather than a schedule dictated by classes or clients, is a fantastic skill to have, remember that your job and university classes weren’t on a schedule of 24/7/365, and neither should you be.
At the end of the day, you do have permission to rest, but you are also the one who grants it. Overloading and burnout are very real, that’s why it’s so important to take a break when your body tells you to do so, before it takes one for you.
For me, nothing brings on a cold faster than being overloaded and nothing compounds the issue like being sick. Likewise, your body will thank you when it’s not running on empty and so will the quality of your work and your resilience.
Remember, you can do it all. Just not all at once.