I have come, somewhat belatedly, to the conclusion that I’m not a machine. I know, I know — I was shocked, too. For the better part of 40 years, I have frustrated myself. I know what I need to do. I want to do it. I provide myself all the tools to do it. And then…well, I do it, but never as quickly or as well as I’d intended to.
If motherhood intensified this issue, the pandemic has put it under a microscope.
I thought you were going to do the thing? my kids say to me. Usually when I am on deadline, on the phone, on the toilet.
I’m just following up on that project you were working on, my emails say. Need anything from me?
Don’t forget the thing, says the calendar.
And these, say my push notifications.
Bing, says the microwave, the oven timer, the doorbell. Bzz, say my text messages. Blocked call, says my phone. (Most of my calls are telemarketers.)
Remember that one pop song? says my brain. I forget the title and almost all of the lyrics, but that one line ended in a trite yet catchy turn of phrase. Who wrote that, and what have they been up to for the past 17 years?
I bounce from demand to demand all day, every day. But — and here’s the kicker — even when I have a blank stretch of time to work on one thing at a time, I never do. I lay out my exquisitely organized agenda, which accounts for every possible snag and obligation, planning to do X, Y, Z, A, B, C, D. And my days invariably look more like XAYE8FZBPCQ#morecaffeineplz. By the end of the day, I’m exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed in myself. Why can’t I just do the thing I want to do when I want to do it and be done with it?
I’ve tried productivity apps. Accountability journaling. Productivity and goal-setting social media sites. Paper journals and online journals and apps and calendars. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I really am doing the best I can with what I have to work with.
The reason I can’t finish tasks one at a time is because that’s just not my life. It’s nobody’s life. I can think of no person for whom responsibilities line up in an orderly fashion. Not me, not my coworkers, my friends, my husband, my parents, my kids. Life is not baseball; it’s dodgeball.
Even when I block out time for completing work in an orderly fashion (which these days entails getting up long before dawn), my brain struggles with settling down for long stretches. I’ll get an idea, have a breakthrough on an existing project, or remember something I’d planned to do. And boom — I’m back on the multitasking train.
This isn’t ideal, I admit, but…I don’t take breaks. I sit down in front of the computer at 4:30 in the morning and I don’t leave (other than, y’know, bio breaks) until at least 4:30 in the afternoon. I don’t take meal breaks. I don’t go for walks. I’m here, at this desk, doing the things. It’s part of the reason I’ve required physical therapy for repetitive motion-related injuries twice in two years. I know this is bad for me, and I’m trying to get to a point where I can stop, but for now? It’s just the way things are.
So when I take a small detour from my gotta-dos to Google song lyrics or jot down a paragraph in a blog article (hi), rather than feeling guilty, I tell myself it’s my process. I’m not slacking off from this big project: This is my process. I will take a 5-minute brain break, then get back to the things.
And they all get done. Maybe not before someone asks after them, but they all get done.
So from here on out, I’m going to do my best to trust the process.