09
Mar 17

Create Space to Breathe: 4 Tips to Help You Fight Overwhelm

When the things that need to be done start to pile up, I know I need to create space to breathe.

We’re smack dab in the middle of grading season. Or, more accurately, procrastinating grading season. (Every day I manage to tell my students they shouldn’t procrastinate with a straight face. I have no business doing that.)

Create Space to Breathe: 4 Tips

Normal adult activities like cleaning and grocery shopping have fallen by the wayside because I feel like I don’t have time to do it. And while I may not have time to do it all when I need to get 116 papers off my plate, I know I have time.

I firmly believe that busy is a choice. But I also know that there are times when you have more to do than others. And grading season is definitely that time for me.

In the past, I’ve wasted time feeling like I needed to be cooped up and cordoned off — away from the world and working diligently to get things done. But the problem with staying inside all day and looking at a computer screen is that it very much makes Marisa a dull girl. And if I’m being honest, it makes me hate my job and my students, which isn’t really productive at all.

So, this year I’m taking a more strategic approach and making an effort to create space to breathe. I feel like I have to this semester, especially since I’m teaching 5 classes this time around. I’m also at an age where I can’t be productive when I cut corners. So, fast food isn’t an option since it doesn’t really fuel my body anymore, so much as shut down the whole production while I lay down and attempt to digest. And there are no more all-nighters for me. In fact, I’m in bed at the same time every single night.

I know some of my coworkers can stay up late to get things done and still teach the next day. Or they can fuel up with nothing but coffee and donuts. But that ain’t me.

So here’s what I’m doing to create space to breathe during this busy time.

001: Going for walks.
Through a wellness initiative at my university, full-time faculty and staff received a free Fitbit. And while it’s not he first step tracker I’ve owned (I used to be a Garmin Vivo Fit user) it has definitely made me way more competitive when it comes to getting my steps in. Not only do I see my friends and all their steps within the Fitbit app, but I also see everyone on the university’s fitness portal. Because of this, I know how much more other people are doing, and I want to do more.

Now, there are only so many hours in a day, so it’s not like there is plenty of time for me to walk all over the place. Instead, I’m using my lunch breaks during the work day and walking around campus. Thanks to global warming, it’s been so unseasonably warm, and that has definitely made it a lot easier for me to traipse around campus during the day.

Not only is the walk good for me, but it enables me to take a moment away from the computer. I truly get to use that time to decompress from grading, lectures, and emails. It’s perhaps the most relaxing thing I do all day.

002: Eating my lunch outside.
I’ve got a bad habit of holing up in my office and eating lunch in front of my computer. I know this isn’t good, but it’s so hard to make myself go elsewhere. Plus, it’s not like I want to be the irrelevant old professor who rolls up in the cafeteria and tries to strike up a conversation with students in hopes that they let me sit with them.

I’m a 100% introvert, so I need time in my day when I’m not interacting with people. That’s usually why I eat my lunch in my office with the door closed. But the other day, I walked to my favorite spot on campus after I purchased a sandwich. I was delighted to find that no one was sitting on my bench, and very few people were passing by.

Naturally, I parked right there and enjoyed my pastrami on naan sandwich with an over-sweetened iced green tea. The best part? I could hear a choir rehearsing in Carpenter Hall.

003: One-on-one talks with good people.
I’m very fortunate in that I’m surrounded by a lot of deep thinkers. We can discuss a lot of things, and I never feel like I’m stuck in very surface-level conversations, which I HATE. It may seem counterintuitive, but when I’m stressed out, it’s nice to talk through some difficult concepts. If we stuck to just the small talk, I think that would stress me out more.

Over the course of this past week, I’ve talked about writing pedagogy, race relations and the biases we carry, whether or not a Ph.D. is actually worth it, and why we buy into the systems and institutions that we do. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I live for these kinds of discussions. And by taking time to have them, I feel better through the day because I’ve interacted with a human on a meaningful level, and haven’t stared a screen all day.

004: Turning my brain off by 8 PM.
I’ve found that the best way to be productive and get through a really busy time is to clearly delineate how I will use my time. By that, I mean I need to set aside time for work and time for shutting down and relaxing.

I mentioned that I’m in bed by the same time every night, But I also have to start relaxing and winding down at the same time so that I can get to sleep more easily. At around 8 PM ever night, I put away all my school stuff. I may write or blog or journal, but mostly I’ve been too fried to do that. Instead, Chris and I cuddle up on the couch with Rosie, and we’ve been watching Twin Peaks (I totally hate this series — sorry nostalgia fans) or Desus and Mero (bar none the best late night show on the air).

Oh, and yeah. I’ve had a big ol’ glass of red wine each night.

 

So there you have it. That’s how I like to create space to breathe when I feel overwhelmed. What do you do when you’ve got a lot to do? How do you create space to breathe?


20
Dec 16

Busy Is a Choice

Busy is a choice you make.

When I worked for the Institute of Reading Development, we had a very intense pep talk from the head honcho. It was intense because he read some amazing literature to us, and because he dropped the sort of knowledge that I don’t expect from bosses. (Granted, I have worked for all the worst companies in Oklahoma. You can read about the job from hell here.) Essentially, he told us that we had to be on time for the job. But what’s more, he said that being on time is a choice. And I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with anything more.

The reasoning behind it was that you know what time you have to be somewhere. You know how long it takes to get there. You know that there are factors that could inhibit you actually getting there. So you do the math and work out when you have to leave. And sure. This should be a subconscious process. Everyone should be capable enough to arrive on time. Except, think about how many people you know who aren’t.

I’m not talking about the people who are occasionally late, because we all are. What I’m talking about are the people who are ALWAYS late. These are the people who have never figured out how to calculate the time it will take to get where they’re going.

I believe this sort of lack of awareness is pervasive. For surely as there are people who are always late, there are people who are always busy. And these are the people who do not understand why they happen to be that way.

Busy Is a Choice

Now, let me explain. I understand that everyone has a lot of things going on. Balancing work and life is hard enough. In fact, there are days, perhaps weeks or months when that balance is non-existent. But we’re capable adults. We make things work. And we get through the busy times because we know there will be time off soon. And without those busy times, would we fully appreciate the time off? Would we still marvel at the novelty of sleeping in, or reading a book from cover to cover one Sunday afternoon, or enjoy a Friday happy hour with friends? I maintain that we would not.

Without those busy times, would we fully appreciate the time off? Click To Tweet

And I don’t want anyone to walk away thinking that I don’t acknowledge that some people are busier than others. I do. In fact, I will also acknowledge that if your busyness is a choice, it’s probably because you possess a privilege that others don’t. After all, if you’re working two jobs to keep the heat on through the winter, then it probably doesn’t feel like much of a choice.

If you are that person, I hope something gives and you’re able to live comfortably without having to work so much.

But I suspect the majority of my readers aren’t that person. I’m not that person, and that’s why I can proclaim from the top of the mountain that busy is a choice.

When We Don’t Choose Busy

I’ve been cutting way the heck back on my busy lately. I think a lot of the need for busy I felt came from a place of anxiety. For so long I had to work multiple jobs to keep the wheels from falling off. And for so long I had gone to school full-time while working full-time. My brain was apparently incapable of existing in a world where it wasn’t busy to the point of exhaustion every day.

I don’t do that anymore. I’ve significantly cut down on the amounts of extra things, especially since I spent the majority of the year as a writhing burn out monster. And I do that for my sanity. I do it so I can write what I want to write. I do it so I can devour a book or more a week. I do it so I don’t constantly feel that fight or flight stress. I do it because busy is a choice.

So, if you’re always busy and you have yet to analyze why, ask yourself what choices you’re making. Are you busy, or just manic? Can you cut something out for the sake of your sanity? The answer is almost always yes, and you almost always should. If you feel behind, constantly overworked, or like you’re spinning your wheels, remember that busy is a choice. No one else can get you out of that but you.

I think, by now, the pop psychology of the day has instilled in us the notion that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. So, I would like you to apply this to busy. Are you saying yes to busy because you’re saying no to a manageable lifestyle? Are you saying yes to a second job so you can afford something that you might not actually need? Are you saying yes to helping someone even though it means saying no to working on your own stuff?

Are you busy? What can you cut out right now to choose a less busy life? Click To Tweet

To bring it all back around again, just as we all know that person who is perpetually late, we also know that person who is perpetually busy. I used to be that person. I refuse to ever be that person again.

Are you busy? What can you cut out right now to choose a less busy life?