Tag: overwhelmed

Avoiding the Task

So often, I find myself avoiding tasks I don’t want to do. Most often, this is dealing with emails. Sometimes it’s writing a story or doing the dishes. Whatever it is, I can find lots of excuses not to do it.

It’s so easy to be busy. I own more books than I could read, and I have enough art supplies to keep me busy for months. On the internet, there is an endless supply of interesting articles to read and instructional videos to watch.

And yet, there are things that really should be done first. If I don’t assign different levels of importance to the items in my to do list, there are things that won’t get done at all. Setting deadlines for important tasks helps too.

Once, when I was struggling with feeling anxious and overwhelmed, I went more than a week without checking my email or phone messages. I felt like I just couldn’t deal with it, and felt like I deserved a break from the things that were stressing me out. It seemed harmless.

When I finally checked my messages and emails, I found out that a close friend had been trying to contact me. Her father had a stroke, and she needed my help. I called her right away, but she didn’t need me any more.

I still feel guilty about that.

I learned that even though I don’t want to do something, that doesn’t mean that I can completely abandon the task. At least not for that long. And I can’t ignore both my phone messages and my emails at the same time. Ever.

There are compromises and work-arounds. Often I can talk my husband into listening to the phone messages. I can skim over the subject lines of the emails so that I can make a note of what I need to read later.

And what if I’m avoiding doing creative work? The consequences for avoiding that seem less severe. It’s not like I’ll miss an important message or have a mountain of dirty clothes or dishes to face later.

However, there are consequences. Not only would I get out of practice, I would be missing out on the mental and health benefits that come from doing art. And I would miss it terribly. As a result, I try to keep creative work as one of the more important things on my schedule.

So, when I find myself avoiding writing or drawing or painting, I do my best to find a work-around or compromise. I tell myself that it doesn’t have to be very good, it just has to get done. I tell myself I only need to finish part of it or it can be smaller or shorter than I originally planned. Bribing myself works too. It is continuing the journey that matters most to me right now, not trying to make the work I do perfect.

Do you sometimes find yourself avoiding creative work? What do you do to keep going? What is one thing that you refuse to skip?


Some people thrive on deadlines. Other people find them overwhelming. It’s important to know which you are, so that you know how to handle them, because deadlines are a part of modern life.

I do pretty well with deadlines for the most part. I get more done when I have a deadline in mind. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to put things off. I usually create a timeline, break things into smaller tasks, and give each task a deadline of its own. That’s when things work well.

The problem I have with deadlines occurs when I have too many at once or too many things happening at the same time as the deadline. At that point, I feel overwhelmed and the deadline becomes demotivating. I start procrastinating and putting off even thinking about the deadline. Nothing gets done at all. As I miss the smaller deadlines, the work piles up and becomes even more overwhelming. I can usually push through and get things done last minute, but the work quality is low and I hate every minute.

When I have outside deadlines, I try to compensate for this possible problem by giving myself an earlier deadline and build a timeline to make that work. I try to sneak in small tasks as often as I can, so that I don’t put them off. That way, I have extra time to convince myself to complete everything if things go crazy partway through. I also plan in a lot of bribery. It helps to imagine how nice it will be to get everything done early and be done without any last minute craziness.

Personal deadlines are trickier. I know that they are self-imposed and there is no penalty for not completing them. It’s easy to let the deadline go when there are so many other things to do. Some measure of outside accountability helps. That’s how I haven’t missed a day posting on this website, or how I have daily sketches in my sketchbook, even if I don’t always work on either one every day. There is strength in meeting other people’s expectations or “not missing a day,” at least on paper.

I have been thinking about this recently after talking to Kathy Decker about some of her personal deadlines and how that helps her create larger works of art. It seems like such a big step to go from spending a half hour or an hour on an illustration to spending days and days on a painting. Would giving my self a deadline like joining a scheduled amateur art show or creating a Christmas card to send out each year help? I don’t know.

I’d like to start to work on bigger things. I just need to make sure that when I’m ready, the deadlines will be motivating and not demotivating. I think it may take some planning.

How do you feel about deadlines? How do you motivate yourself when you’re running out of time? How do you motivate yourself to work on larger projects?

The Cup Theory of Stress and Me

The cup theory says that your ability to handle stress is like a cup. As things occur during the day, good and bad, stress fills your cup. When your cup fills and you keep adding things, your cup overflows. That’s when you melt down.

When you start the day already overwhelmed and worried, or in pain, or depressed, or otherwise stressed, then your cup starts out partly filled. You can handle less. Even if it’s good things, or things that you normally can handle without too much difficulty, if your cup is full, you can’t handle it today.

That’s why there are some days where you can’t make yourself do one more thing, even if it’s something that would only take five minutes. That’s why there are days where you have to hide away so that you don’t snap at people for laughing too loud. Have you ever felt out of control and it scared you? This might be why.

Adding new things to your schedule can be difficult on stressful days. On those days, you may be struggling to complete your normal schedule. That’s okay. Worrying about what you can’t do will just add to your stress.

So, what does this have to do with me and my art? Well, as an introvert, days and weeks where I’ve had to socialize a lot are stressful. I have to recover from them. Even when it’s people I like and I’ve enjoyed the social event, it’s stressful. Good stress is still stress.

While I’m recovering, something has to give. I can fit less into my schedule. The easy thing to give up is my art. Learning something new is more stressful than a familiar activity, and so dropping it temporarily is such a relief.

Yet, just because it’s the easy thing, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing. If I find that I’ve been dropping my art or procrastinating it and running out of time for more than two weeks, I need to take a close look at my schedule.

It’s not good to be regularly stressed and overwhelmed. If that’s happening, I may need to give some things up, even if they are good, positive things. Or I may need to ask for help. Either way, I need to find a way to lower my stress levels and bring my life back in balance.

In this way, my art practice can act as an early warning system. If I’m too stressed to do something that I want to do and enjoy doing, and it keeps happening, something is wrong. It’s good to have that warning before I get sick or start snapping at people.

I once went to a talk by Nancy Young. (Her family runs this remarkable website:
https://www.alyoung.com/ and publishes the Storybook Home Journal.) She said that she knew she’d been away from home too much if her little laundry room started overflowing and her youngest child became clingy. They were areas in her life that could not absorb neglect. She said it was like a barometer, measuring the pressure on her home and family. When she saw the signs, she knew it meant that she had to cancel some outside commitments and spend more time at home.

What are the signs that you’re under too much pressure? What areas in your life cannot absorb neglect? Have you ever felt like your cup of stress is too full? What do you do to bring things back in balance?

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Taking Breaks

Sometimes, I get sick. Or life gets crazy busy. Or I’m feeling really overwhelmed. Life has its ups and downs, and that’s okay.

But, when it takes me a lot longer to do less, and adding one more thing to my schedule seems impossible, something has to give. Knowing my limits is important. Otherwise, I can burn out and that takes a lot longer to recover from than a yucky cold or a few busy weeks.

There are two difficulties when I decide to take a break. The first is deciding how much to put on hold. The second is keeping the break temporary.

If I have to take a break, it’s usually not just with my art. In many areas of my life, there are things that can absorb neglect better than others. I can put off doing laundry for a week if I have to. I can’t imagine skipping brushing my teeth unless I can’t move at all.

Some things I just don’t feel comfortable skipping. I will continue posting to my website, even when school is starting or just before Christmas. I will continue drawing a face a day and doing my other drawing practices. However, I may put off my art studies for a week or two if I need to. I might put off copying cartoon ideas from my various notebooks into the appropriate sketchbooks. I might not read any art books or watch art videos.

Sketches from Christmas break. Everyone is enjoying some relaxing time off around here.

And even though that isn’t skipping much, taking something out of my schedule seems huge. I feel like the rest is so much more manageable.

And when crunch time ends and I’m struggling to recover, I may wait an extra week to put things back in place. Recovering isn’t easy. There’s so much make up work to do. Dishes, laundry, emails, phone calls…

But when I feel like I have my schedule back without feeling like I’m constantly scrambling, the break is over. It’s time to pick things back up. If it’s hard to do, I use the methods I wrote about a few weeks ago for finding motivation.

What do you do if you pushed too hard for too long and you feel completely burnt out? When you just can’t get yourself to start anything at all?

My advice is to be gentle with yourself. It’s going to take a lot longer, and you’ll have to start smaller. Instead of trying to jump back into your old schedule, find something you can do. If you can’t paint, can you sketch faces? Can you doodle? Can you color in a coloring book? Can you go to a museum? Can you go on a walk and look at fall leaves or interesting clouds or flowers or birds?

Find something that sounds fun and do that. Then do something else fun. Can you do something fun once a week? Once a day? Give it some time.

Are you still feeling burnt out? It may be time to redefine your goals. Are the goals you used to have what you really want to do? Does something else sound better? Really imagine what it would be like to achieve different goals.

If you have a goal that you really want to achieve, how will you get there? What skills do you need to develop? How will you develop those skills? What do you need to practice?

Now, try to find motivation, like I talked about in my post a few weeks ago. If that doesn’t work, go back to finding simple, fun things to do. Try again later.

Recovering from burnout isn’t easy. Instead, take breaks when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Set aside enough tasks that you can feel the relief of letting those things go temporarily. Then, when you’re ready, pick them up again. Take care of you.

When you return from your break, things might not come as easily. Things you draw may look funny and wrong. Go easy on yourself. It won’t take long to get back to where you were if you stay consistent. You’re just a little out of practice, that’s all.

If you feel like you need someone’s permission to take a break, you have mine, for what it’s worth.

Sloth from my story, “Sloth Picnic,” published on 12/5/18.

Do you sometimes take breaks? How does that work for you? Have you ever felt burned out?

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