Five Tips for When You Fall Behind
It's May, 2021. I start off the month feeling good about life. I've just uploaded the first five videos to my new YouTube channel, scheduled to release over the next five weeks, and done so without compromising any of my other goals such as reading a book each month. My bedroom is clean, I've just gotten my second COVID vaccine dose; everything in my life is in order. Grandma has just arrived from out of state to stay with us for a couple weeks, so I plan on putting off my goals like reading and filming next month's videos to maximize the time I can spend visiting with her.
Fast forward a couple weeks, Grandma leaves, and over the next few days I resume life as usual. On Sunday I go to church for the first time in months, since I'm fully vaccinated. And I get a cold. Not a bad cold, but enough that in the evenings I'm too tired to do much.
Combined, the good and the bad prevented me from really getting anything done in May. I didn’t read a book and I recorded the first June video for my YouTube channel on the last day of May. My room didn’t get cleaned and became a huge mess. Tasks backed up in my to do list. Last minute filming in June threatened to throw off my upload schedule on the second month of my channel’s existence. Everything was a month behind schedule.
We’ve all fallen behind at some point in life. Actually, if you were to monitor my to do list, you might think I make a habit of being behind, an unfortunate reality that is likely due to my weekend plans most often being to experience a super-human burst of energy and efficiency and accomplish two-dozen tasks without any obstacles.
Today, though, I'm essentially all caught up.
My task list is at a reasonable level. My cleaning and other chores are done. All this month's videos were released within the first week, leaving the remaining weeks to start the videos for next month. I haven't gone back and read books for the time I missed, largely because I was already ahead, but I am ready to start reading again. I've even had a bit of time to continue the Stardew Valley game I started while I was sick.
When you get behind, how do you get back on track again? Here are 5 tips:
1. Acknowledge the situation
Your state of mind is very important as you try to get caught up: if you're discouraged, you'll give up, but if you're calm, organized, and motivated, then things will go well.
Before you start anything, take a few minutes to think. If you've ever practiced meditation before, I recommend actually doing this in a meditative state. Pick a comfortable spot, for me this is lying back on my bed, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and relax, clearing your mind. Then let your mind ponder the current situation and the tasks at hand.
Start by acknowledging the situation, without laying any blame. Often times we aren't even at fault for getting behind in things, but, honestly, it doesn't really matter. Even if your tasks are overdue because you've just been too lazy to do them, who cares? It makes no difference going forwards.
Next, acknowledge anything that's holding you back, especially things that are holding you back because of stress or fear. This in particular is why I prefer to do this in a meditative state, because I find that I'll often not realize what is holding me back until I am relaxed and free of distractions.
Acknowledge the situation, without laying blame, and anything that is holding you back, particularly because of stress or fear.
2. Prioritize the work to be done
Now that you've had some time to think, it's time to make a plan. Put the tasks in order, and, if you can, assign times to work on them.
At the top of the list, put the tasks that are holding you back. If you're worried about a task it's going to hang over your head and slow you down. To maximize your productivity, you need your mind to be free and calm, so start with the tasks that are stressing you. A phone call you're nervous about making, something with a nearing deadline, or anything else that you identified as bothering you; get that out of the way so you can move on.
After that the ordering is a bit more subjective, and can change with your mood. Sometimes it's good to make yourself do something you don't want to do, particularly if you don't expect you'll ever want to do it. For me, this is cleaning the bathroom. I'm never going to want to do it, so I've got to just pick a time and make myself do it anyway. But other times you don't feel like doing something today that you might want to tomorrow. This, for me, is filming. Some days I don't want to appear on camera, while other's I've got a story in my head I want to tell.
3. Focus and get things done
The planning is over, now it's time for the doing. There's no real way to glamorize this, sometimes you've just got to roll up your sleeves and do the work. There are a few things you can do to make it easier, though.
4. Cut distractions
Try to cut out distractions and things you're likely to send too much time on. You know what they are.
It's okay to take breaks, in fact, it's good to take breaks. You're human and you can't just do all this stuff without stopping. But, at the same time, watch out for taking too many breaks or to too long of breaks.
When I first started college, I took a lot of breaks, and I allowed them to be relatively long. In a way it made sense, I was doing work that was harder than I ever had before and I just wasn't ready to sit down and tackle all that homework at once, but as you can imagine this also resulted in my homework taking forever to complete. What I learned over time was that as I took more breaks, I wanted to take more breaks, and my mind felt tired sooner. But as I challenged myself to work on something longer I gradually didn't feel the need to take a break as soon.
Space out your breaks at reasonable intervals for optimal productivity and keep track of time on your break so it doesn't derail your work. It's easy to watch a couple TikToks over your break, but it's just as easy to keep scrolling TikTok forever.
Dedicate some work time, close your door or whatever you need to be left alone, and turn down anything that's going to take you away for a long time, whether it's a notification or an invitation to play a game or just Netflix. You'll never get caught up without doing the work.
5. Avoid burnout
At the same time, you'll never get caught up if you get burnt out and don't complete the work, so as you're focusing on work, also make sure that you take enough time for yourself.
The easiest thing to overlook when I'm working hard on something is sleep. When it's time for bed but I'm doing some work it's very tempting to stay up and work longer, because I assume more time will mean I get more done. But you have to factor in productivity, not just time. By staying up an hour later I might get more done today, but with less sleep I'll get less done tomorrow. Staying up can be helpful to finish something before a deadline, but in the midst of something that you plan on continuing for several days it's counter productive when you consider the future loss of productivity, and the resulting exhaustion from a few late nights can be a huge contributor to burnout. Given that, I would say that the most important thing you can do to help yourself get caught up is to consistently get a full night's sleep.
The most important thing you can do to help yourself get caught up is to consistently get a full night's sleep.
You can probably see where this is going, but my next tip for avoiding burnout is to ensure you get plenty of food and stay hydrated. Our impression when we get behind is to think that self-care is less important until we're caught up, but in reality it becomes more important, because you're expending extra energy to do this extra work. Keep a bottle of water handy, eat some snacks, and get regular meals, even if you work during some of them.
Make sure your workspace is comfortable. Keep it a good temperature, if you can, particularly in these hot summer months. Nothing frustrates me more while I work than being too hot.
I like to give myself little things for motivation and comfort while I'm working. For example, if I'm going to sit down at my desk for a while I might make a cup of tea or coffee or a nice snack. When I can, I'll put on a show, podcast, or music while I work.
And, even though I just talked about regulating your breaks, make sure you take some breaks too. Sometimes you need to step away from something entirely to get a fresh view. This is another place where a bit of meditation or even just some deep breathing can be a useful tool to stay calm and clear your head for a bit.
Falling behind can feel like a death blow to your to do list, schedule, and dreams, but it really doesn't have to be. Hopefully these tips will help you to get back on track in no time! You've got this!