Piles of Paper & Delayed Projects

Piles of Paper & Delayed Projects

FREE WEBINAR! I recently gave a webinar for ADDitude Magazine: “How to Get More Done… With a Lot Less Stress.” If you weren’t on the call, you can listen to a replay by clicking here – it’s free until July 4, 2018! (I was blown away that almost 9,000 people signed up!) I’d love to hear your feedback.

The following challenges were brought up during a recent TUIT Project Group Webinar. I think the topics (dealing with piles of paper and getting to delayed projects) are concerns for many people, so I’d like to share the strategies we discussed.

How do I deal with avoidance, when it comes to tacking my piles of paper?

  • Work on one pile at a time. Start with the more recent ones, as you’re more likely to find some time-sensitive discoveries.
  • Don’t tackle a big pile – just the thought of it is overwhelming, which automatically creates an avoidance response. So, take a handful of papers at a time, and bring them somewhere else if you need to separate yourself so you don’t have to look at the intimidating ‘master pile’ (or piles).
  • The goal isn’t to shuffle the piles (which is what often happens), but to create workable units of related items that can be reviewed more efficiently than if the categories were intermingled. Remember, your goal is to process the papers, not just organize them! However, organization is the first step.
  • Start by separating the papers, by category, into smaller piles as you go through them. It is a waste of time and energy to transition your thinking from issues concerning the house… to kids… to work… to finances, etc. The same applies to sorting piles of paper at work. The popular OHIO method (only handle it once) doesn’t make sense if it means having to constantly shift focus to deal with different categories and different priorities. Stack all papers relating to a category in one pile or folder (put a blank paper at the top with the category name, so you’ll remember). Then, either go through and process all of the papers in a specific category (do now, do later, do whenever, delegate, discard or file), or continue adding to your sorted categories by taking additional handfuls from the master pile.
  • Don’t think you’ll just get around to this. Knowing you have or want to do something has little to do with getting it done. (Especially for ADDers, who are less motivated by reward, consequence or even importance.) Create a Task-Appointment (time on your calendar to do a specific task) for sorting the master pile, sorting the category piles, acting on the category sorts or filing (if you don’t set a time for filing, it’s unlikely to happen, which will just add to the future piles).
  • You can do this for just 15 minutes a day. You won’t get it all done, but the piles will decrease. A good idea is to make it part of an existing routine. Eat lunch, then sort/process for 15 minutes while the food digests.
  • If there are important items in the master pile, then you might want to focus on pulling those out so they ‘go to the top of the list.’ Systems are designed to help us achieve goals, but don’t overlook what is urgent while working on whatever is more interesting.

What is a good approach for getting to a long-desired but delayed project?

  • Realize that even when you aren’t in action on a project, if it’s something you’ve been thinking about, you have made some progress. The problem is that, without putting your thoughts down in writing – in one designated and labeled place/folder, you are ‘reinventing’ the wheel every time you think about it, instead of moving forward. So get your thoughts in writing to solidify and remember them. Consider that you aren’t starting fresh; you have the benefit of the thinking you’ve been doing. The difference is that when you get it out of your head and onto paper (or computer file), it clears your head and frees you up for action.
  • Define the project – create a Project Sheet. This is the difference between Planning Time and Doing Time (Taking Action). Without clearly planning out your actions, you’ll be less efficient and perhaps less successful at reaching your goal. You have probably spent an incredible amount of time over the years thinking about that project, so you’ve made progress, but haven’t yet taken concrete action towards getting it done, other than maybe a few false starts. Use just the one master folder (or file) where you’ve consolidated your thoughts. If it’s a big project, you may have subfolders or files. If you have old notes you’ve accumulated over the years, but aren’t sure where you put them, decide whether it’s worth the time and energy to find them, or just start fresh. (The ‘looking’ is often an unconscious way to delay beginning.)
  • Think through the sometimes hidden factors that have contributed to the delay in getting started. In this example, Jane Doe had spent a great deal of money on window treatments that never looked right. A major factor delaying replacement was her fear of making another expensive mistake by once again choosing the wrong items. What can you do differently to help ensure success? For Jane, hiring a consultant (a good interior designer) for a quick review would be well worth the expense, as it would alleviate her fear of re-doing it ‘wrong.’
  • Look at the benefits of proceeding (or not). In this case, Jane has to look at her ‘mistake’ every day, so it is a constant reminder of her poor, and costly, choice. That’s a negative impact statement and reason enough to make a change, if it is financially feasible. Note: This is only important because it was affecting the person who was looking at her perceived ‘mistake’ for 10 years – someone else might not even have noticed, so it would be a non-issue.
  • Get specific about those issues that have complicated making a change. Jane wasn’t sure as to which style, materials or colors to use for the replacement window treatments, whether they needed to be custom made, and if so, by whom. There are more resources available now than 10 years ago when she made her original purchase, and it’s easier to explore options on the web (even showing possible window treatments as they would look in the actual room).
  • To help narrow down the choices when making a complicated decision, use basic Decision-Making strategies, like a Decision Matrix, where you create a grid. Across the top, list the factors that affect your decision-making (these are your criteria), which in this case would include things like cost, appearance, quality, availability, maintenance, etc. Down the left side list the options. Then weigh each box by assigning a number. I like to use -3 to +3, with 0 being neutral. So one option, silk drapes, would get a +3 for looks, but a -3 for affordability/cost. Another option, wood blinds, would get a +1 for looks, but a -1 for maintenance. You get the idea. Some factors, like cost, might carry more weight than others. Maybe not. When you total the numbers, it helps determine your best choice, given your criteria and options.
  • By getting your thoughts out of your head, and creating a plan of action with specifics, you can get that long-desired, but not urgent, project accomplished without too much intrusion (time and energy) into your already busy life.
Go To Sleep!

Go To Sleep!

We know that sleep is critical for effective functioning. Sure, we can get by on almost no sleep if the need is great enough (cram for a major test or deadline report, new baby in the house, binge-watch Game of Thrones, etc.).

However, keep up the sleep-deprivation and there’s no getting around the consequences:

  • Feeling tired with a lack of physical energy and slower response time (driving hazard).
  • Low energy, making it harder to activate on tasks (whether work-related, going to the gym or even doing the dishes!)
  • Mental sluggishness, so its more difficult to make decisions, problem-solve or transition between activities.
  • Physical, not just cognitive concerns. Research shows that sleep helps repair our cells, tissues, hormonal and immune systems, so lack of it creates links to many chronic diseases and conditions—including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and depression.

Unfortunately, for many people — especially those with ADHD — sleep can be problematic. Sleep challenges include staying up late to finish the stuff you didn’t get to during the day… or because night is your most productive time… or you crave some ‘down time’ or quiet time… or you find it difficult to fall asleep because your brain keeps working… or your stimulant meds haven’t left your system… or you are tired, go to bed then get a sudden burst of energy… or you have an out-of-sync circadian rhythm, where you get tired later and may really struggle with getting up at the expected time.

You might have sleep-onset insomnia (I’ve read that 50% of adolescents with ADHD have it), or sleep-maintenance insomnia (difficulty getting a restful night’s sleep). There’s even a disorder called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, aka The Night Owl Effect (my term for DSPS, coined as I write this at 2am <g>).

If you live in a bit of a vacuum and can set your own schedule to get up later, sleep variances are not as problematic (although some research shows this still affects health and weight). However, most people need to get to sleep in order to get up by a certain time. Creating healthy sleep hygiene, or rituals, helps create better sleep, with all of the benefits. So here are a bunch of tips and strategies to help.

TIPS & STRATEGIES to Get to Sleep

Start by setting an intention that getting to sleep at a specified time is actually something you want to do. Talk is cheap when weighed against, “I don’t feel like it.” Think about the benefits you’ll gain (from feeling more alert in the morning to time for a comforting nighttime cuddle with your partner), so your focus is positive (gain, not loss).

Decide on a realistic bedtime. If you tend to stay up until 3am, setting a 10pm bedtime is less likely to be successful than gradually weaning down the hours.

Create a consistent bedtime ritual. Figure out what you do to prepare for bed, and standardize the procedure. Make a list to create an SOP (standard operating procedure), so you won’t forget the details. Link new habits to ones you already have (like brushing your teeth then getting into bed and reading for 30 minutes before mandatory lights off).

As part of your bedtime routine, reduce morning stress by making sure you have everything ready for getting out of the house on time (if that’s an issue for you).

Note: Parents need to be firm about enforcing their child’s bedtime, while making time for their nightly bedtime ritual (bath, books, hugs, etc.). If they are young, create a page with illustrated steps and post it where they’ll see it.Try to keep the same bedtime and ritual on weekends, with only occasional exceptions.

Avoid sleep disturbing activities. These include late-day exercise (although some people say that helps them to sleep), heavy meals and screens.

  • Numerous studies show that, apart from the mental stimulation the activity creates, the blue light emitted by computers, tablets, TVs, phones, etc. is itself stimulating. So turn off the electronics an hour before bedtime. If you can’t, use screen software or glasses with special lenses that eliminate blue light.
  • Some people believe that eliminating ELF electric fields and magnetic fields during sleep is important to optimize cellular regeneration, so turn off those devices or move them out of the bedroom.
  • While having an alcoholic drink before bed may help you go to sleep quickly, realize that it is a depressant and affects REM sleep, so you won’t sleep as deeply.
  • If you think medication is keeping you awake, tell your doctor. Perhaps an adjustment can be made in dosage, timing or type of med. Caffeine can affect sleep for up to six hours. However, for some people with ADHD, a low dose of their stimulant or caffeine can sometimes help them to sleep by slowing down their overactive minds.

Consider natural sleep aids, like certain herbal teas such as chamomile, or blends specifically for bedtime. Some people occasionally take melatonin or valerian root to help them get to sleep, but these are not right for everyone. Most melatonin supplements contain much more than is needed, and a half or third dose is said to be as effective. Tart cherries have similar properties. GABA and CBD (cannabidiol) oil are recommended by some nutritionists to improve deep sleep.

Breathe deeply and stretch before sleep. Dr. Andrew Weil suggests using the “The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise,” also called “The Relaxing Breath,” to promote better sleep. This is based on pranayama, an ancient Indian practice that means “regulation of breath.”

Comfort your senses. Many people are sensitive to:

  • Sound. “White noise” can be soothing and block out other sounds. Use a fan or white noise machine. Listen to environmental sounds (available online, but find ones that work for you or they can have the opposite affect!). Try listening to music or guided meditations specifically designed to assist the sleep process.
  • Light. Consider room-darkening shades and dim LCD displays.
  • Visual. Think of a few enjoyable and peaceful images you can visualize as you drift off, or buy a calming graphic and hang it near the bed. Associate these with sleep.
  • Smell. Scents like lavender are very relaxing for some, so experiment with scented oils on your pillow or use a room diffuser.
  • Touch. Are your sheets comfortable? How about your pillows? Do you prefer a heavier cover (some people find this soothing) or a very light one? Is it time for a new mattress? You spend a lot of time in bed. Make it as welcoming as possible.Temperature. Sometimes an adjustment (heat, air conditioning, fan, open window) makes for a more comfortable night’s sleep.
  • Environment. People tend to sleep better in an uncluttered, clean environment. Try to keep ‘stuff’ out of the bedroom (think of it as a sanctuary, if possible), and make a quick pick-up part of your evening routine.

Quiet your mind, and the body will follow.

  • Begin your bedtime routine with conscious relaxation: take a walk… enjoy a bubble bath… read inspirational books or a good romance… practice mindfulness… or whatever works for you.
  • Use the bed for sleeping (or sex). Avoid working in bed or watching TV (at least not for 60 minutes before bedtime). Try the Pavlovian approach: See bed, go to sleep!
  • Discourage conversation and engagement. Right before bed isn’t the time for phone calls or text conversations. Certainly not for checking Facebook or any social media. If your child (or spouse) picks lights-out as the time to converse, don’t buy into it (unless there’s some important emotional issue going on that can’t wait). Avoid discussion: just state that you’ll talk about it in the morning, when you can give them your full attention. If mornings aren’t going to work, set a time that will. Then follow-through.
  • If bedtime is when you tend to obsess about anything negative that happened during the day, take a few minutes to write it all down – then try to let it go, at least for the night. Research shows that when we give brief thought to a problem before sleep, our minds often work through the answer while we get our rest, so a two-for-one benefit! (A good study tip as well.)
  • Make thinking about things an early part of your bedtime ritual. If bedtime is the first time you have a chance to just think, it can keep you awake. So before you actually get into bed, sit and allow yourself time to review your day and plan for the next day. I highly recommend making a habit of review and planning to increase productivity and decrease forgetfulness! Keep a pad or planner handy to write down your thoughts, or dictate a memo into your phone with the things you have/want to do. Writing things down clears your brain and facilitates getting tasks accomplished. Allow yourself 15 minutes to obsess over them, or over any problems, real or self-generated. Then wave your magic wand (use a back-scratcher in a pinch) and take a page from Gone With the Wind – “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
  • End your day on a positive note. After you’ve done your ‘mind dump,’ take the time to write down three things you ‘did good’ that day. It’s easy to remember where you messed up, but it’s worth the effort to remember those things you did well, or at least better than you did in the past. Sometimes, just getting out of bed and taking a shower is an accomplishment. Now, look outside of yourself and add three things to your gratitude journal. Seems minor, but this small action can have a monumental impact on your mood, and lead to better sleep.

Enjoy a restful, energizing sleep tonight!

If you’ve found ways to make sleep your friend, share them in a comment!
If you’d like to discuss your specific situation with me, click here to schedule a no-cost or obligation 20-minute coaching consult.

Very best,
Susan

Feel free to share this post, with attribution to: Susan Lasky – Productivity, ADHD, Career and Organization Coach – www.SusanLasky.com

Turning Goals into Reality

Turning Goals into Reality

An unrealized goal is nothing more than a dream.  It’s your choice:
Keep it a fantasy or work towards attaining your goal.

Dreams Can and Do Come True When:

  • Desire is strong enough and not in conflict with your basic life values 
  • Goals are clearly defined and at least partially grounded in reality
  • Planning is realistic, taking your resources and motivation into account
  • Effort is real, as is your belief that you can do it, so I want’ becomes ‘I will!’

We all talk about making positive changes, and that’s great. But ask yourself how often those changes actually happen. Good intentions aren’t enough — you need a plan, and it has to be one that fits with your life. So set yourself up for success by following these Eight Steps to Turn Your Goals into Reality!

 Set a realistic Long-Term Goal. This is a goal that is meaningful, but not necessarily easy. It will take work, and time, to accomplish, but it is do-able.
You may want to be rich, and you might get there (if you’re not already). That could be your long-term goal, but it would be easier to work towards a goal that seems more attainable, even given your current circumstances. Link your goal with a positive, emotionally motivating benefit. State it as a desire, then remove the possibility of failure and state it as a fact. Here’s an example:

“I want to be more financially secure. I will be financially secure.”

 Establish one Interim Goal. What is one thing you can do that will contribute towards the success of your long-term goal? Buying lottery tickets is one option, but the odds of success are minimal. A better goal:
“I want to/I will manage my money better so I’ll have more of it.”

 Consider what gets in the way.  Examine your life and be honest with yourself as you ask, “What issues in my life are making it difficult to achieve this goal?”
My expenses are very high… My income is too low… I already owe on credit cards and back taxes… I don’t spend enough time on financial matters (it’s easier for me to ignore things and hope they work out)…

 Isolate specific actions that you can change (now or in the near future). This is where you explore anything that you can do or change to help attain your goal. Here are some options for better money management:
I can stop eating out almost every night… I can plan my wardrobe better and buy during sales… I can move to a less expensive apartment… I can look for a better job… I can pay my bills on time and avoid late fees and interest… I can pull my paperwork together and file past taxes to minimize penalties… I can renegotiate my mortgage… I can get a better handle on where I spend money… I can create a budget that includes regular savings…

 Justify (buy-into) each option, or table It as unlikely to work. Ask yourself what are the benefits of making a specific change. Put it in writing. As an example, here are reasons to support the specific action of not eating out every night:
Eating out every night is expensive… It loses the “fun factor” and is time consuming, so I have less time for other interests… It promotes drinking, which is a problem and additional expense… I spend more on gas or car service… It is more difficult to eat healthy when I have all of those menu options in front of me…

Examine the down side of change, isolate potential problems and explore creative solutions. Don’t just ignore the possible pitfalls, or your plans to change won’t last very long. Continuing the ‘eating out less’ example:

Problem:  Eating out is my main social activity. I don’t want to give this up!
Solution:  I’ll eat out on Fridays and Saturdays, and really plan and enjoy this.
Note: Give yourself permission to act with forethought and moderation, rather than overreact by completely eliminating eating out. 

Problem:  I never have anything good to eat in the house.
Solution:  I’ll use an app to set up a simple meal plan and block in time for a weekly shopping expedition — especially for foods I like… or I can shop online and have the food delivered.

Problem I hate to cook and don’t want to spend my time in the kitchen!
Solution:  I’ll check out services that prepare and deliver meals for a week. It’s probably still less expensive than always eating out — and healthier!

 Take steps to make these changes happen! Ask yourself: What can I realistically do to solve this problem? List each specific action you are willing to do in order to make your new plan work. Turn your project into do-able tasks.

How and when will I do it? Assign a specific time to each action, and schedule it on your calendar as a Task-Appointment. Without an assigned task and time, it is likely to remain a fantasy! So if you plan to eat out only on Fridays and Saturdays, schedule a time to confirm with friends or family in advance… make restaurant reservations, if necessary… download coupons or Groupons to save even more…

How can I make this easier/self-motivate? What can you do that will make staying with your plan easier?

Build in immediate rewards:

  • Combine your grocery-buying with a special event (getting a massage, meeting a friend for coffee, etc.)
  • Link it to something you already do each week. “After yoga class on Wednesdays I pass by Whole Foods, so I’ll go food shopping.”
  • Associate doing it with giving yourself permission to spend time on something else, guilt-free. “I’ll shop after work every Tuesday, have fresh store-made BBQ chicken for dinner then spend the evening catching up on my favorite TV shows.”
  • Create a ‘fun factor’: “I’ll invite a friend over on Sunday and we’ll both prepare meals for the week”… “My partner and I will have a mini-date night making dinner together”… “I’ll take a cooking class at the Y”…
  • Reinforce your goal: Bank the money you’ll save by not eating out, and use the time you’ll gain to join a book club, paint, play guitar, or do whatever brings you joy!

Build in reminders:

  • Visual: Have a photo that represents your long-term goal as a screen-saver.
  • Physical: Keep a money jar to represent your savings (dimes instead of dollars?)
  • Emotional: Post an attractive affirmation of the benefits you will get from your actions… Mention that ego-boosting self-respect you’ll get from working towards something that is important to you!
  • Auditory: Have set times to listen to podcasts on topics related to achieving your long-term goal.

 Monitor Progress. When we begin something new, we are high on the excitement, challenge and novelty of the project, and eager to see results and reach our goal. So we stay interested, but, sigh…, not for long. Frustration kicks in and other priorities and new bright and shiny objects will take precedence, unless we reinforce and frequently encourage our commitment. If we’re serious about change, we need to track progress (or lack of) to keep it in the forefront.

Track your actions. Write down everything you are doing, or have planned to do, to help reach your long-term goal. Then track how often and how well you are actually following through with those actions. Studies show that people who want to lose weight do better if they write down everything they eat – this is the same concept.

Maintain self-awareness. Tracking your actions isn’t enough. You’ll want to determine how well they are serving you in reaching your long-term goal. Ask yourself, “What am I doing?”… “How am I doing?”… Be honest in your feedback. Ask “What can I change for the better?”… Take time to consider whether your plans need to be modified, delayed, delegated or deleted. Note: Build this review into your regular Planning Time (weekly, or at the least, monthly).

Prepare for dead-ends. It is difficult to maintain actions, however well-intentioned and thought out, over an extended period of time. Sometimes we are fortunate, and actions become sustainable habits or routines. But not always, so be prepared to switch directions when what was working stops being effective, and substitute a different strategy.

Give yourself creditEven for those baby steps you take to make progress towards your long-term goal. If getting there wasn’t a challenge, you wouldn’t have had to put so much effort into making it happen. So be your own best cheerleader for what you’ve done, instead of critically focusing on what you haven’t yet accomplished.
Hint: Don’t strive for perfection; it’s a set-up for failure!

Get help. It is easier to stay on-track when you have outside ACCOUNTABILITY! Consider working with an accountability partner (preferably, not a spouse or partner) or a supportive coach. I can offer you a terrific online accountability/action group, The TUIT Project, or individual coaching to help you clarify your goals, determine the best strategies to achieve them, and provide support to make this process easier and more successful.

Summary of the Process:
Turning Goals Into Reality

Long-Term Goal:  “I want to be more financially secure; I will be financially secure.”
One Interim Goal:  “I will manage my money better!”
One Short-Term Goal: “I will cut down on expenses.”
One Action Goal:  “I will stop eating out almost every night.”
One Action Step: “I will check out price options for home delivery of meals.”

Work From Home on Snow Days – Productively!

Work From Home on Snow Days – Productively!

SNOW DAYS – For many, it means working from home.  Great for avoiding hazardous roads, but when it comes to productivity, there are some built-in hazards you’ll have to negotiate.  Remember these three words to make your work-at-home days more successful. WORD #1: Preparation –   Yes, follow the Boy Scout credo and be prepared

Snow Day in Ossining, Westchester NY by Susan Lasky

Snow Day in Ossining, Westchester NY by Susan Lasky

Always have a work-related contact list and critical info (passwords, etc.) at home – snow day or not.

  • If possible, sync your office computer with your phone and laptop or tablet.  Don’t depend on being able to access your office computer remotely; the internet may go down in bad weather.
  • As an extra precaution, print out the contact list and other critical information.  (Do this periodically.)  It is possible the electric may fail, especially in areas with snow-laden tree branches and exposed wires.  You may need the printout to make an emergency call or two. (Keep your cell phone charged and have a spare, charged power source in case it does – consider investing in a solar-powered charger.)

If you have advance warning of the snowstorm, give thought as to what you can work on at home that would be the most productive use of your time.

  • These may be tasks that will help you finish an important project you are working on now, or a project you’ve been meaning to get to that you haven’t had time for in the office, or it may be a good opportunity to do some planning, away from the urgency and interruptions of office life.
  • Gather any materials you’ll need to do the work from home.  Again, don’t count on being able to remotely access office computers, assuming your company even has that technology available for your use. (Take note, company execs – given this year’s weather, it may be time to review your policies on secure networks and remote access).

WORD #2: Expectation –  Be realistic, this is NOT another day at the office There is a limit to what you will be able to accomplish – choose carefully – don’t promise (even yourself) more than you can reasonably deliver. Realize that you WILL have distractions – house chores will call to you (especially if the work you plan on doing is less than fully engaging):  “Straighten up … clean … cook …  patch the hole in the wall …  organize the closet … ” PUT ON THE BLINDERS.  If you were at the office, you wouldn’t be tempted. You will probably receive, or have to make, some personal phone calls.  This is not a day for chatting, although others who are stuck at home but not working may think it is.  Limit the calls, as you would at work, “Hi, how are you? I’m okay, but working… will call you back.” Children – they are home as well, and DO need your attention.  Build in time to spend with them – you can’t work a full schedule unless they are older or you have in-home childcare.  Take an hour and go out sledding with the children.  You can be just as productive – even more productive – for having taken a play break.  Then don’t worry if you use the TV or a video to babysit part of the time.  Consider a project they can do nearby, while you do yours – have some ideas in advance (Preparation!). WORD #3: Clarity – Know what to do, and when to stop Be VERY specific in terms of what you will work on – the more focused you are, the more productive you’ll be in what could become a very distracting environment.  Begin the day with a clear and detailed written outline of what you have decided to accomplish.  This helps to maintain a focused work ethic at home (and gets you back on track after external or internal interruptions). Create your own benchmark – have a goal that, when achieved, will make you feel you had a fulfilling stay-at-home workday.  Reach your benchmark and STOP WORKING.  Celebrate with a cup of hot chocolate, or maybe some tea, laced with rum and spices (I think they call that a hot toddy ).

Not So Much Holiday Cheer? Coach Yourself to Cope!

Not So Much Holiday Cheer? Coach Yourself to Cope!

Tips to Conquer Holiday Anxiety Disorder

Magical holidays? Not for everyone. We’re supposed to feel festive… energetic… excited! We’re supposed to look forward to the New Year with anticipation and, well, happiness – it is ‘Happy New Year,’ right?  So, why does this time of year create so much stress and anxiety? Why are so many people exhausted, even depressed under their cheery façades?

Since the first step in working through a problem is to recognize, define and accept it, let’s face it – the holiday season CAN be fun, but it can also be incredibly challenging. Especially this year, with the intense political discord and the many natural disasters. So give yourself a break!

Sure, there are tons of positive things about the holidays, including the window displays, the festivity, the spirituality and the family bonding. But there are also tons of stressors, like the time and effort of preparing for family gatherings, parties, travel arrangements, shopping, the additional expenses, rush to complete work projects, etc.

First it’s the Thanksgiving gathering (if you have people with whom you gather, and if you don’t, you might feel a sense of isolation). Having people over, for the somewhat disorganized, can be a time-consuming quagmire. It isn’t just the meal prep; it’s clearing the paper clutter off the dining table and finding hiding spots for the various piles of stuff. And the traveling doesn’t help – especially if stuck in holiday traffic (I admit it; I’ve skipped family events to avoid a two-hour traffic jam).

Thanksgiving Day immediately segues into the holiday buying frenzy, with its extra expenses and the stress of gift-buying, magnified by the pressure of getting those perfect bargains during Black Friday and Cyber Monday (now week-long, or longer, events). This is further complicated by the anxiety caused by FOMO – fear of missing out, whether it’s the sale of the century or that special party invite. Who has invited you where (and who hasn’t)? How should you reciprocate? What should you wear? And woe if you’ve gained or lost weight and don’t feel attractive in the holiday clothes you have! Even the lack of sunlight can darken the mood of people with a degree of SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

Then there are the interpersonal issues.  Whether it’s home for the holidays and dealing with complicated family relationships, or the feelings of loss when you think about missing loved ones or the lack of a significant other with whom to share a New Year’s kiss. There is also the double-edged pleasure of having children home from school, especially if you still have to work. And magnify the difficulty if you have children who get easily overwhelmed or overly excited by a disruption of their routine.

On a more subtle note, there’s a sense of judgement. The year is about to end, and what have you accomplished? Sometimes it’s external evaluations at work, which may, or may not, include raises and bonuses. But often it’s an internal sense of “I planned to do more…“. Unfortunately, we tend to dwell more on what we didn’t do than celebrate everything we did accomplish. Like a birthday, the upcoming New Year is a passage, and an opportunity (welcome or not) to pause and look at where we are in life.

I can go on, but now that it’s really clear you have valid reasons to feel Holiday Anxiety Disorder, let’s switch to what we can do differently to have a better, more fulfilling holiday season.

Let Go of the ‘Shoulds’

Many of us dwell in a mental world of how things should be. Relationships are warm, fuzzy and supportive. Money is not a concern. We’re easily able to leap tall buildings, which represents any obstacle, whether preparing a holiday meal or completing a work project early and under budget. Our children are always a joy, and our parents are never a problem. Realistically, we know that’s ridiculous. But there’s a part of us that wants it to be that way, and thinks it should be that way. Until we embrace imperfection and still delight in ourselves and others – despite our failings, and theirs – we’re doomed to feel like failures.

Practice Intentional Rejuvenation

Schedule in ‘ME’ time. Consider it as My Energy; time to recharge. It might mean a massage, distraction-free time to read, draw, play the guitar or go for a walk – whatever recharges your sense of self, so you’ll have more to give to others. If you spend too much time alone, working or taking care of your family, plan get-togethers with friends. Let go of the guilt that comes from having too little time to get things done or take care of others, so you give even less to yourself. As the airlines say, ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself before you worry about others.’ Keep in mind that self-care is not the same as ME time. Things like going to the gym are important for self-care, but there aren’t ME time, unless you love going to the gym!

Put Your Health First

Alas, that includes getting enough sleep, eating right, staying hydrated and exercising. These are all critical for real self-care. They take effort, but the payoff is that you’ll have more energy, and feel a lot less stressed. And for those of us with ADHD, depression or anxiety, these have proven, brain-based benefits. Studies show that spending some time in nature, even in winter, helps positivity. Get outside, even if it’s cold. Use natural daylight bulbs. And consider appropriate supplements, like Vitamin D and Omega-3.

Give Yourself Permission 

It’s okay to decline an invitation. It’s okay to serve fewer choices at a meal or have less elaborate holiday decorations. And it’s okay to ask for help.

Set Limits

This might be the dollar amount or the number of gifts you’ll purchase. It might mean how much time you’ll spend shopping (maybe the online purchase isn’t as perfect as something you’d pick out in a store, but it’s a lot easier!). Also, consider how you can say no to unacceptable behavior, whether from a child, friend or family member. This also applies to work. Learn to say NO to yourself! Perfectionism destroys productivity. Be realistic in terms of what you can accomplish in a given time, and what you can’t. Have clear priorities and learn to self-advocate.

Journal

Write down your frustrations – it’s better than taking them out on others, or yourself. Keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of what you have, and what you’ve done.  Keep a list of what you can do differently next year, and a reminder of what you’ve done that works.  (Don’t count on remembering anything, although do try to remember where you keep your Journal and lists!)

Pause – Breathe – Appreciate

Life is a collection of moments, so capture those moments by being truly present. Mindfulness is a way of staying centered, and when we’re centered in the moment we can’t be disappointed by the past or anxious about the future.

Expect Breakdowns 

It’s extremely rare when everything works as planned. Stuff happens. Being flexible and building in the expectation that there will be occasional breakdowns and meltdowns makes it easier to deal with them when they (inevitably) happen, and increases the likelihood that your holidays will be successful!

Focus on the Positive

In my 7-Step PowerPlan to Success™, Step 3 is ‘Believe in Possibility, and that you always have the Power of Choice.’  When you truly believe that you will have a wonderful, fulfilling holiday season, and that the upcoming year will be your best one yet, you dramatically increase the likelihood it will be. Positive thinking is critical to successful action. How we think absolutely affects what we attract in our lives. 

Plan for Success

A positive attitude is essential, but achieving goals is more likely when there’s also a plan in place. It’s helpful to have clarity as to goals and priorities, and the steps you’ll take to reach them, whether it’s planning for December 25th, New Year’s Eve or the upcoming year. If you need help with your Success Plan, let me know!

Have the Happiest of Holidays!!!   
What are your tips to conquer Holiday Anxiety Disorder?  I’d love to see them, so share them on my blog.

This article may be reposted, only with the following attribution:

Written by Susan Lasky, Productivity, ADD/ADHD, Executive Function & Organization Coach. Susan Lasky Productivity Solutions, www.SusanLasky.com.  Used with permission.