Sabbatical overwhelm

March 14, 2017

I’m writing this on a Saturday morning. I did half an hour of yoga earlier. Part of me was screaming, ‘What?! You have no time for yoga! There’s too much to do!’ The other part of me, fortunately, won by reasoning with this madwoman that I really needed to move, stretch a bit and put my mind together to calmly face my ‘to do’ list.

There is a lot to do. I haven’t done a ‘over a cuppa’ for February because there’s just been too much on mind. But be rest assured, I’ve had a cuppa beside while I wrote this post. 😉

Before I leave…

My departure marks a deadline for a research output. I need to write one more literature review and these bad boys aren’t easy. Literature reviews never seem to get any easier, no matter how many I do. A literature review is a piece of writing that identifies key studies, discussion points and developments within a field of study. Literature reviews tells a story of what’s been done to reveal the gaps where the current or future studies will fit. Enough about literature reviews.

Some will know I am chair of an advisory committee to the board of my professional association. My vice-chair and the other committee members will no doubt be fine without me. I’ll be on email, though sporadically. But there’s the 2016 annual report and a review of the committee’s manual, and an update to be provided to the board before I leave. I also need to brief my vice-chair on the duties I can and can’t do while away.

A presentation proposal I submitted to a conference in the UK earlier this year has been accepted. Another task added to the list, as I need to have the presentation almost done so there this not much to do on the road before submission in June. This is a very exciting opportunity to make my first international speaking appearance and hopefully make some new connections. I will be presenting on behalf of the advisory committee and the professional association (Australian Library and Information Association) about the issues around engaging the new generation of library and information professionals into conversation about our practice and contribution to the research literature. What’s perhaps even more exciting is that *the* Librarian of Congress is the opening keynote. I will be in such awe!

Then there’s the bits and pieces of travel planning and preparation, like

  • spanish homework and practice
  • compiling and making copies of travel documents
  • finishing tidying and clearing our house for the house sitter
  • organise money arrangements
  • appointments with the exercise physiologist and physio
  • packing and buying last minute things
  • etc

…and all this in addition to the full time job. Phew!

 Feeling overwhelmed

All this past week I’ve felt I needed a paper bag to breathe into every time I looked at my ‘to do’ list. I haven’t felt this overwhelmed in a long time – too much to do, so little time. And I’m known as a productivity ninja. But over the years, I’ve come to recognise this pattern of overwhelm, or train of thought that happens when I reach this point.

Feeling overwhelmed starts with ‘OMG’, followed by procrastination and distracting myself (cue Instagram, Twitter or anything else that’s shiny and has caught my eye) because I can hardly believe I’ll either 1) get on top of it all, and 2) make a deadline.

The biggest reason why I feel overwhelmed is because I don’t believe. This, together with my insanely high expectations of myself that I can’t see a way to scale them back to a normal and healthy level and focus on the ‘done’. Even ‘done’ takes time to achieve.

Here’s an example – literature reviews. I have a love/hate relationship with the little ba*tards. I hate research when I find myself in tears on the floor of my study because I fear I can’t do the task. I’m frustrated that I haven’t broken through the muddiness of theory and data and nothing makes sense. This is similar to how I feel when I’m overwhelmed.

Breaking through the ‘overwhelm’

I’ve come to recognise overwhelm as a break through point. This point is when I’m about to hit my stride. I finally stop with the snow balling thoughts and pull my head in. When I feel overwhelmed, I try a few different things.

  • Don’t look at my ‘to do’ list every 20 minutes, or just frequently, or try to re-arrange the ‘to do’ list so it looks even more organised. This doesn’t get sh*t done. The list ain’t going anywhere, that’s why I wrote it down in the first place. Unless there are things I can push back or take off that list.
  • Think about why I feel overwhelmed. Is it the volume? Is it my own expectations? A deadline? Combination of all three?
  • Have a cup of tea. It’s amazing how much my mindset can change if I just pause, take a breath and have a cuppa.

When we become anxious or overwhelmed, our minds can start believing our thoughts, and these thoughts, when given more and more attention, can snowball out of control. We start to believe those thoughts. Our thoughts are not facts. So the next time you feel overwhelmed, have a cuppa, think about what’s on your plate with a more rational mind and then proceed with a plan of action to tackle that list.

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