Apology: Behind in Everything I Want to Do

late againIt’s about time I stop pretending there’s nothing wrong. If you’re a regular reader of How to Save the World you’ve certainly sensed from my writing that something’s amiss — my writing is shorter, disjointed, unfocused, just not all there. I’m behind in everything I want to do, even though I love what I’m doing. Those I love are not getting enough attention from me. And some of the therapeutic daily and weekly routines I’d trained myself to do diligently lie undone.

I have no stamina. I get interested in things and get wrapped up in them for awhile and then my interest flags and I do something else for awhile. I don’t abandon things (though that’s probably how others see it), I just put them aside, and usually take them up again later with just as much intensity. When I wrote the article about the importance of Doing One or Two Things Really Well, I was trying to provoke and teach myself that very valuable advice, but I often do not take my own advice… Just because you know just what to do, doesn’t mean you’re going to do it.

If the paragraphs above sound familiar it’s because I wrote them in July 2005, in an article entitled Apology. I seem to be back there again. Back then I wrote:

“You’re like a cluster fly”, a girlfriend told me many years ago, “you know, those high-energy flies that come indoors in the spring and the fall that crash into walls, ceilings, lights, windows, like crazed dive bombers, and then spin around noisily on their backs when they hurt themselves. That’s you — no grounding, no focus, just running full tilt at everything until you knock yourself out.” She was right.

I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. But I can’t say the same for the people I touch. Although few are saying it, it’s clear they feel short-changed for my time and attention. That’s why several of my recent ‘thinking out loud’ articles have been about the scarcity of time and attention.

I don’t know what to do. Ideally I should be able to do everything on my Intentions list, and I will, but even though I know how to do them and I’m working on them it’s not happening nearly as quickly or directly as I want, for a number of reasons:

  • I’m spreading myself too thin, not allotting enough time or attention to anything. Trying to do too many things too quickly and at once.
  • I’m not as efficient at doing things, spending my time productively, as I’d like to be.
  • The people I love and work with and network with are also not efficient at ‘using’ my time and attention. They want more time and attention from me than should (I rationalize) strictly be necessary. I can’t blame them for that. I can’t and won’t say ‘no’ to them, because what they want from me is important. That’s why I’m here.
  • I need time off, to relax, reflect, write, exercise, sleep, and I’m not taking it.

I know some people who seem to get so much done, but when I ask, they don’t seem to know how they do it. I observe, and admire their energy, but I just can’t seem to figure out the secret.

Advice welcome. Especially if you (unlike myself) have taken your own advice, and found it to work.

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17 Responses to Apology: Behind in Everything I Want to Do

  1. Daisy Bond says:

    Something like this happens to me, too. In my case, that downtime “to relax, reflect, write, exercise, sleep” is the real key — if I don’t take that time (and I’m someone who needs a lot of it), I’m useless. When I do take it, I’m a better friend, girlfriend, sister, student, daughter, blogger, artist — everything I strive to be. And I’m happier, kinder, more patient. I better better decisions.So that’s my only advice. Take the time you need to recharge; make it part of your routine.

  2. patti digh says:

    Somehow, someway, you have just describe my current state in great, excruciating detail. How is that possible? Toni Morrison was once overwhelmed as you are, wrote down all the things she had to do…pages and pages of to-do’s, then read the list, pulled out another piece of paper and wrote the question, “what must I do or I will die?” and on that list, there were only two things: 1) be a mother to her children; and 2) write. I’ve just recently done the same kind of to-do dump, exorcising all the past-dues, which can be so terribly weighty and paralyzing to me, owning up to all the thank you notes unwritten and deadlines missed, and then making my “I must do or die” list. It is very, very short in comparison.The other best advice I ever got, and try to do myself, is to create a list of criteria by which you will say yes to something. Here’s that essay, in case it is helpful: http://37days.typepad.com/37days/2007/03/make_your_list.htmlSometimes we (where “we” means “I”) say yes to things to be loved, or to be admired, or to be in control. None of those reasons is necessarily bad, but perhaps owning up to the reasons is important as a first step? I want you to succeed at this, because then I’ll know there is hope for me…

  3. Michelle says:

    Dave m’dear! You’re being too hard on yourself!You are BUSY!So what?We all of us between the ages of 30 something and 60 something are slap bang in the middle of the most productive years of our lives. We strive and we yearn.We yearn for the freedom to not have to strive. We strive to get “Everything” done so we get a chance to experience freedom! Sometimes, you just need to let go of expecting you can do it all and let what happens happen. The world doesn’t seem to stop when the super achievers don’t and can’t achieve it all! :)Sure! You absolutely MUST build in time for loved ones but not all those loved ones can be shared equally and most of them will tacitly know that. Loving people is by necessity a prioritized thing. You spend the most time with the ONE or TWO people in your life with whom you are closest and most intimate. Everyone after them, has to fit in around expectations and appointments. It’s not going to kill them or you if they don’t get equal amounts of you as everyone else. Do what you must. You MUST imagine. It’s your calling and your gift to the world. You MUST love the one person you love right now. Let the rest fall into its own time slot and don’t beat yourself up over the small stuff. And perhaps say “Not right now!” a lot more often to many of those intentions. It will kill you with guilt otherwise, if you try too hard to be everything for everyone all the time! -Life flows as it will. Some years are super busy-busy and some years seem quieter and more relaxed. Who knows why this is! One last option; Take a 12 month sabbatical from all your major business and empirical obligations. I did this (within reason being a wife and mother), back about 7 years ago and it was one of the most wonderful years of my life. I RESTED and enjoyed playing with the stuff I liked doing. I also said “No!” to almost every request for my time and attention. That year gave me new friends and so much laughter andjoy, I am still riding the aftermath of its wave 7 years later. :) That year “off” from being a “Super Mum” and a “Highly Organised Person” who crammed too many things into her life, taught me more about simple Joy than any completed To Do list ever could.Give yourself a break. Come to Australia and just enjoy yourself without demanding so much of yourself *wink*.Love you ….and I mean that. (and I do NOT expect you to give me a tonne of your time for you to reciprocate either :)).

  4. Ralf Beuker says:

    .. even though this won’t help you too much, Dave: You’re so right with what you describe! And while I’m at it: Even though Byron Katie is usuall focusing on other areas in life than you describe, her approach she titles ‘The Work’ is definitively worth a look. Her ‘methodology’ is mainly about challenging our ‘thinking patterns’ or ‘beliefs’ by deconstructing that most of what we think of as ‘true, right, ultima ratio’ is simply a construct of our mind. Slightly unrelated, but simply listen to this short conversation: http://www.youtube.com/v/gBFk2TuLFXA

  5. Actually, as often, there are some interesting threads here worth a deeper discussion.Firstly I agree with the people who suggest “recuperation time” and “down time”. After all, it is in the three B’s bath, bed and bar, that the creative ideas come to us.Secondly – and I take it up as a discussion as I don’t know the answers – it seems that you are talking about the “rules of engagement” of dialogue. If I talk to you does it make you duty bound to reply to me, if I give you my time to talk to you, if I don’t get some back there is somehow an inbalance? In this spread out electronic world we can easily get attention split (Chatting to two or more girlfriends at the same time on Second Life is a good example(!)) and we need to develop new etiquette to handle it. Should every e-mail be replied to? The intentional community you intend to set up on SL might be a test bed for the development of such an etiquette – and maybe develop some feedback to software manufacturers on how their ICT stuff should really work. If we all lived in a village we’d meet in the pub, or higher society would meet in the club. The tools available to us today are more “emergency” tools – immediate – like SMS text, e-mail, IM, phones etc. and as such put us on higher “alert”.Finally, I believe all human traits have a good side and a downside. The girl who called you a cluster fly (been called it myself) should have given the positive side as well – if you don’t get worked up about anything you are not going to get new angles and new insights and if you don’t concentrate you are never going to break through. No one can keep that up, and anyway it all takes time to sink in as the unconscious processes it. These are god given gifts which, when applied in a truly effective team, where everyone is pulling together, can do wonders. Saving the World is a lot harder on your own when everyone around you only sees the clusterfly.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Daisy: Thank you. Now if I can only figure out what to say ‘no’ to to be able to have that down time :-)Patti: I’ll try the “do or die” list, which makes sense to me. I suspect my 10 Criteria list would be more selfish than yours, though. Looking at yours, everything I’m doing (and am behind doing) meets most of those 10 criteria. Need a sharper knife, I think.Michelle: You know me well! The hardest part about saying ‘not right now’ is that it kills spontaneity. I love having so many of the people I love in my IM list so that I can chat with them, briefly, when the spirit moves me, and so they can reach me, briefly, when they need me. To me that’s essential to ‘virtual’ friendship and does not allow much room to say ‘not right now’.Ralf: Thanks for the link.Stephen: Absolutely right, that in setting priorities you have to leave room to do your Gifts and Passions well. Both Siona and Nancy White have made this point that we tend to want to try to help everyone we love ourselves, when sometimes the best way to help them is to ask a question that will let them help themselves, or put them on to someone better equipped to help them on that matter — both of which save you a lot of time as well. But that’s a hard lesson to learn.That etiquette would help — a better online protocol for when you are available, when you are busy, and when you are away, so that, just like in the real world bar, people can ‘see’ when it is reasonable to call on you and when it isn’t.

  7. Don says:

    Very thoughtful, honest piece.From one ecologist to another, you might consider your spiritual well-being too.www.evaneco.com/?p=979Grace and peace,Don

  8. Don says:

    Very thoughtful, honest piece.From one ecologist to another, you might consider your spiritual well-being too.Grace and peace,Don

  9. Jon Husband says:

    You do try to figure stuff out a lot, that’s for sure …

  10. Sarah says:

    Do you have a full-time job? (I’ve just recently started reading your blog and I don’t know much about you yet.) Honestly, I think the full-time job standard is one of the biggest inhibitors of general good things, individual and collective, in our society right now. I know you have the vicious/virtuous cycle chart (which I have hanging in my sad cubicle at my full-time–for now–job). But really, even 40 hours a week is a lot, in my opinion. It makes it hard to live a balanced life–it gives you time to either engage in lots of wonderful ideas and books and writing, OR engage with people you love…but not both. And both are important.Last year I worked maybe 25 hours a week, and it was WONDERFUL. I had so much time for everything and everyone I loved. Sometimes I got ahead of myself and ran out of time in the week to do the things I wanted to do, but I never felt the same kind of urgency that I feel now…now I feel like I’m wasting the better part of my day in a cubicle (hmm, maybe because I am?), and that makes the whole running-out-of-time thing that much more urgent and stressful. Does that make sense?And if you DON’T work full time, well, then…I think it comes to a point when you just have to prioritize. And I don’t mean that in a modern-concept-of-efficiency kind of way…I mean that you need to look at what really impacts your quality of life, and factor into this consideration the stress or guilt you might feel about not getting things done or not spending enough time with certain people, and make some decisions and stick with them… It worries me to hear that you are incredibly happy but some people in your life feel like they’re getting shortchanged. Happy or not, I have a feeling that making your loved ones feel this way is the kind of thing you are likely to regret later in life…much more so than missing out on the trade-offs of spending time with them. I also think it’s important to remember that no matter who we are or what we do in life, wewill always end up with a list of things we wanted to do but never got around to…I know how you feel though–this post sounds SO familiar. I hope you are able to sort out what you need to sort out and feel better.

  11. Don Dwiggins says:

    Dave,Your description (and that of Don above about his recent crisis) reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to write up. Start with the last section (Macroshift and Evolutionary Cycle) of a review I did a few years ago, of 3 books: http://home.socal.rr.com/dldwiggins/BookReview.html. (You can see another article of Sahtouris’ discussing the evolutionary cycle at http://www.via-visioninaction.org/html/sahtourisparttwo.html.)What I want to do with this model is to identify it as a process all living systems go through, in particular we humans. Looking at it in terms of learning, we can grossly identify two kinds of learning: the “accretive” type, in which we assimilate new material to our store of knowledge and understanding, and the “bifurcative” type, in which we must break down and rebuild in the face of material that can’t be assimilated. One characteristic of the buildup to a bifurcation is that the system of necessity closes in on itself to some extent (to borrow Sahtouris’ metaphor, think of the pupal stage of complete metamorphosis). During this time, there is nothing more urgent for the system than to work through the process using the material at hand — trying to assimilate more material, or attend to other things, is likely to result either in a retreat from the bifurcation or to a collapse. (I’m speaking very loosely here, and making a lot of assumptions. I really need to work it through more. I also need to acknowledge my large debt to a fellow named At de Lange, who introduced me to this concept.)The reaon I bring this up here is that I’ve gotten a feeling that you’re somewhere in the lower left of your cycle, approaching a possible bifurcation. If so, the best advice I can give is to allow it the time it needs. You’ll know when you’ve gotten through it, for better or worse. (I’ve certainly gone through bifurcations, large and small.)

  12. Gerard Joyce says:

    Your human .You try hard.What more can we ask ?

  13. Hi Dave,As a spectator, I have few conclusions to offer because I don

  14. Todd Suomela says:

    Resolve to be less worried about being a generalist, interested in many things.http://williamtozier.com/slurry/2008/03/03/there-are-exactly-two-ways-one-and-many

  15. Dave, you’ve described me for most of my life, because I’ve always been very low energy, even as a kid. I always wondered where everyone else got all the energy they seemed to have. But even I have at times gotten into a hectic, scattered time when I knew I had to slow down or I would fall apart. There are times when it’s appropriate to slow down and take care of yourself first.When I slowed down from those really hectic times, it was like getting off the freeway in my car and feeling as if I was still moving fast. When I realize I’ve slowed down, it somehow doesn’t feel right, it feels as if I should still be moving at high speed.I once had to work for fourteen days straight, and when I finally got a day off I kept finding myself wondering and worrying what was going on at my workplace. Then I realized it was sort of insane to be mentally at work when I finally didn’t have to be. What did I need a boss for if I was ruining my own day off?During those times I always feel scattered, can’t focus on one thing, and just in general make myself anxious thinking too much about how much I’m not getting done.Maybe you’re going through a velocity adjustment, as a result of slowing down in good, appropriate ways. Or maybe your subconscious is telling you to slow down even more. By the way, I love what patti digh wrote, above, about Toni Morrison and her list. It’s important to do something like that now and then and get our priorities straight.I personally think that we all move too fast in this world. I also think we have a tendency to worry too much about how other people feel about what we do for ourselves and not for them, especially when they haven’t said it’s a problem. I’ve found when something really bothers the people we care about, they tend to say so — rather loudly, even if not in words. People, at least adults, are to some degree at home being self-sufficient and doing for themselves. Even kids can surprise the adults around them by doing just fine at filling their time meaningfully on their own and doing things for themselves. I loved that movie “Home Alone” because I thought it celebrated just that, the power of the self to overcome, no matter one’s age. But how can the people we love enjoy that power to do things on their own if we’re always taking care of them and never give them a chance? How do they get a chance to grow?It’s good to simplify our lives and deliberately slow down for a while, to say “no” to others, or at least to say “not right now”, and trust that they’ll understand and take care of themselves for a while, while we get into ourselves and some good deep thought, or just some good deep rest.Slowing down isn’t bad. But it feels bad when we resist the need to. It feels bad when we don’t manage to just be here now and forget all that other stuff for a while. Sam Keen wrote a book years ago that I reread every few years, called “Inward Bound: Exploring the Geography of Your Emotions”. I recommend it for those slowed down times that don’t feel quite right. I think there’s usually a good reason for them.

  16. Jon Husband says:

    I don’t know where my first comment went, but I think it speaks directly to the most recent post where you point to the essay by William Tozer.It’s a great generic and life-affirming “definition” pof a generalist approach to life (and I believe this Brand-You-specialization nonsense in the modern Western economies is a last-gasp of Taylorism hierarchic division of labour applied to the making of humans efficient when we were not designed nor supposed to be).It comes from the pen (or keyboard) of that great obersver of human life, Kurt Vonnegut, who once said (not verbatim) … “Never let anyone tell you the purpose of life is anything other than just farting around”.We are here just to be here … making everything bigger, better, fancier, faster, out of new-and-improved whatever, is just an artefact of the observation that humans are bricoleurs, and some people started overlaying that natural and socially-organized-by-community dynamic with manmade artificial systems like economics, capitalism, organized institutions, etc.Just fart around .. do the farting around with a focus if ou like .. you and me, we will die anyway. As Alan Watts wrote in The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, humans are just upright wriggling tubes that put stuff in one end and spray it out the other, for a few years, and then they become cosmic dust.

  17. Dave Pollard says:

    Wonderful suggestions — thank you so much, everyone. In case you missed them, the first two links on my Saturday Links of the Week for March 8, 2008 also, synchronistically, provide sage advice for those of us struggling with never having enough time to Get Things Done.

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