April: No New Things

Over the past month or so I’ve been feeling an ever-increasing sense of overwhelm with no obvious cause. Sure, work has been a little busier than usual, and a little more stressful, but not enough to cause this feeling I’ve had. My volunteer commitments have stayed relatively constant, and I’ve spent the usual number of weekends out of town visiting family and the boyfriend. Nothing changed significantly from February to March, except that I suddenly felt like there was too much happening and it was happening all at once.

It took me awhile to name this feeling, but once I started paying attention to it, I noticed that most of my anxiety and stress was centred around the commitments I had made to other people. I’m what Gretchen Rubin classifies as an Obliger: I find it much easier to meet other people’s expectations than my own. This often works out well for me since I’m able to reliably deliver on the promises I make to people. The downside is that I’m too quick to offer my help when I know how to fix a problem. It is very easy for me to become overwhelmed with these kinds of commitments, and I have a hard time saying no to new ones. Once I’ve agreed to do something, it is almost impossible for me to let that person down. This can lead very quickly to a state of overwhelm.

Now that I’ve recognized that I’m getting overwhelmed, I want to do something about it! As tempting as a few weeks in an isolated cabin are at the moment, I don’t actually want to drop everything and retreat from the world for weeks. I also don’t want to back out of anything I’m currently committed to. Instead, I’m trying an idea I’ve used in the past: I’ve declared April to be a month of No New Things. This means that anything new that comes up during April gets put off until May. This could include an idea I have for a new craft project, or an interesting book that I hear about and suddenly want to read. If anyone asks me to take on something new (outside of work) I have to say no, or at least “not now”. Work is an exception since I don’t have a lot of control over those tasks, and they tend to stay nicely bound within work hours anyway. I keep a running list of things that I’ve put off so that I can review it in May.

I’ve taken a few key actions to implement this idea:

  • I paused all my holds at the library
  • I’ve deleted all the “interesting” events from my calendar that I hadn’t already committed to attending.
  • I started list on my phone to capture all the ideas I have this month. That way I can review them in May and I won’t feel the need to start them immediately

It’s not easy to stick to this plan. I’ve already failed a few times, and spent a few hours on things that aren’t my responsibility. Still, just deleting the events from my calendar brought such a feeling of relief that I know I’m on the right track. I’m trying to stay mindful and repeat “no new things in April” as often as possible. My hope is that I’ll be able to stay focused this month, finish off a few commitments, and start May feeling lighter and less overwhelmed. If not, I might just extend the “no new things” rule another month! I’ll let you know how it goes.

P.S. I’m not quite satisfied with “no new things” as the name for this idea. It’s descriptive, but it doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue. If you have any better suggestions, please let me know! I have a feeling I’ll be doing this again in the future.

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