Focus on the Trees—Staying Sane When It All Piles Up

When life piles on more than you think you can handle, it can be tempting to just shut down. I favor a different approach: grab a chisel and start chipping away at the mountain, one boulder at a time.

This isn’t the way I expected the new year to start out, but as the old saying goes:

When it rains, it pours.

Good Intentions

I don’t do resolutions for the new year—the statistics are staggeringly against people keeping them—but I’m not above some aspirations. Maybe let’s even call them—intentions. I like the idea of a fresh start. I wrote about winter’s endless potential earlier this month, and I meant it.

I intend to read twenty books this year (should be a no-brainer for a writer, but hey, I’m busy and tend to pick long books). I intend to write my next novel this spring. I intend to get back into running. I intend to locally source most of what we eat.

Et cetera, et cetera.

And I intended to be a lot farther along with some of these things already—especially the writing and the running.

But then life decided to pile it on these last few weeks, and for the better part of this month I haven’t been able to tell up from down. And a lot of it started with a fairly simple—

Good Idea?

Our condo is pretty small. It’s perfect for the two of us and the cats, but not horribly conducive to hosting extended guests. There’s just the one small bathroom, and not enough space to have a guest room and an office and a dining room. That’s not the biggest deal, and we knew that when we were buying the place three years ago. But this is our home, and we like it when people come to stay, so it was important to us to have a place to accommodate them.

So we bought a sleeper sofa for the living room. Since overnight guests are rare, it made more sense to have a dedicated dining room and a dedicated office, as these spaces would get more regular use.

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Revenge is better with a side of bacon. . . 

The arrangement has worked out alright, but we both felt something was a little off. The dining room was cramped. The office was uninviting. The sleeper sofa was a nightmare to sit on.

Then Brian had the brilliant idea of switching up the office and the dining room. I suggested moving the sleeper to the new (bigger) office and getting a new (actually comfortable) sofa for the living room.

Seemed like a good idea. A perfect plan. And it is. So just a few days into the new year we made the move.

But of course, nothing is that simple.

The old office/new dining room was a cool blue color that neither of us found very appetizing, so I started repainting it last week. And the new sofa won’t be here until probably Valentines Day, so the old dining/new office is incomplete, and the house was just feeling…

Finally finished…

Unsettled. Rooms torn apart. A mess everywhere.

That’s been tough to deal with, though a fairly minor annoyance in the long run, except…

Then More Stuff Happened…

The kitchen is absolutely the heart of my home. It’s my favorite room. It’s my safest of safe places. It’s happiness and warmth and sustenance.

And right now, it is betraying me.

The dishwasher went first—the two-year-old, gold-standard, super quiet, ultra-efficient wonder machine that I have treated more delicately than I might a human child. It fills. It drains. In-between? Nothing happens. I’ve scoured the internet. I’ve taken it apart and put it back together. I’ve cycled the power. I’ve run the diagnostic cycle eighteen times (no errors reported). I even got my hands on the super-secret technicians-only diagnostic guide.

Nothing.

My counters have gone from pristine and clean to covered in drying, hand-washed plates and glasses and mixing bowls laid out on frustratingly non-absorbent kitchen towels.

So, whatever, right? First world problems. Just wash them by hand for a while until you get it fixed or get a new one.

Right, no big deal, except…

The faucet went next. Yep. The two-and-a-half-year-old kitchen faucet that I installed when we moved in. Except, I didn’t know it was the faucet at first. One day there just wasn’t any hot water pressure when I turned the knob. Of course, I didn’t dream it could be the faucet’s fault. The water heater is getting old, so that was probably it.

I dragged my feet about calling a plumber. The stream of hot water shrank to less than the thickness of a pencil. Try washing all those dishes in that. Pretty soon I was going to have to start boiling water on the stove just to wash up.

And we’ve had some tough family issues to deal with. And our dear friend’s cat just passed. And the blue-green algae is back in the fish tank. And I need to paint the trim in the new office before the couch comes. And I need to put up the new barn door we ordered. And I need to write a blog post. And they need me to take an overtime shift. And I desperately need to get a haircut. And… And….

Enough Already!

And… It was all very overwhelming. Okay, again, nothing life or death here, but everything was off-kilter. The volume of stuff that needed to be done was suffocating. I wanted to shut down and maybe sleep until March. But instead…

I painted. All last week I painted, long and slow. It was the one thing I could do to regain a little control. If I finished that new dining room—if I got it put together again and made it absolutely beautiful—then I could take it off the list.

In the end it probably took about twelve hours, which is absurd for such a small room. Of course, the trim was going from a tired varnish to a brilliant white, but I was still horribly slow.

But the pace didn’t matter. It was the feeling of moving forward—of making measurable, observable progress—that was important.

With help from Brian, I finished it Monday. And it’s beautiful.

And once that was out of the way, everything else seemed easier to tackle.

We figured out what was wrong with the hot water, and I’ll be installing a new faucet this weekend. Twenty minutes and it’ll be done. Easy peasey.

We’re going to take one more deep dive into the dishwasher, and if we can’t fix it, we’ll start thinking about a new one. Expensive, but also, a solution.

Then I’ll think about painting the next room. I’ve got some time.

And I’ll start writing the book. It’s all coming together. I just have to remember…

There’s Always Another Project

And there’s no rush. I think I get stressed because I’m not an efficient multitasker. I focus intensely. Laser. I set an objective and work toward it to the exclusion of all else. It’s a strength and a weakness; a strength when I don’t have much on my plate, and a weakness when it piles up.

Worth the effort … Worth my sanity.

So I just have to take it one step at a time. See the forest, focus on the trees. Ignore the shock of the mountain in front of me and chisel one boulder at a time.

I’ll keep to my aspirations—my intentions—and be glad they aren’t resolutions. They might just take a little longer to get to.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a little chiseling to do.

Share your thoughts! How do you handle having too much on your plate? Do you rise to the occasion? Shut down? Clear the extraneous? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks as always for reading,

Gregory

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Aimer Boyz - January 18, 2018

You wrote a post about procrastination a while ago, and I’m a fan of sitting back a bit. When your to-do list piles up on you and life is being particularly annoying, sit back. Take a breath. If you wait long enough, some things fall off the list because they just don’t seem that important anymore…I really should remember that when I’m looking at crap online and pulling out my credit card 🙂

Reply
    Gregory Josephs - January 18, 2018

    Yeah, absolutely true. I’m feeling a lot better about everything, and I think just sitting back a little is helping. Always trying to rush… 😉

    And yeah, put down that card! 😜

    Reply
Larry - January 18, 2018

Always start with the little stuff! I get that same forest-for-the-trees focus with work, and I know if I start with one task and focus on it, the rest will work itself out. Although your kitchen sounds like it’s seeking revenge! Good luck!

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    Gregory Josephs - January 18, 2018

    Thanks! I know … poor kitchen! I do push it pretty hard with all my baking and fermenting and sauteeing. Maybe it just wanted a vacation?

    Reply
Stef - January 19, 2018

I’ve been feeling this way too, Greg. I’m usually a great multi-tasker, but lately so many things happened at once and I just sort of shut down. I’ve been doing more yoga, reading and journaling and NONE of the projects I had in mind for this winter. I guess that’s ok sometimes too. Your paint job looks great, can’t wait to see it! Love the white trim!!

Reply
    Gregory Josephs - January 19, 2018

    Thanks Stef. Yeah, I feel like you’ve had to deal with more than most recently.

    I suppose I can multitask, I just really don’t like to.

    Regardless, this winter will be behind us before we know it. And next time you come, you’ll have a proper room to sleep in, with white trim and a sliding door. 😉❤️

    Reply
Michael Barton - January 19, 2018

Your post reminded me of when I had to get our house ready for sale when my wife and I were separating. I had to take everything in small pieces because I was so incredibly overwhelmed. Sometimes it is best not to look at the big picture and just to whittle away at the list piece by piece. Your dining room looks great!

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    Gregory Josephs - January 19, 2018

    I Michael,

    Yes, I agree. That’s funny to me, because this is something I think I’ve only recently realized about myself. I feel like I’ve always been a big-picture kind of person.

    Maybe it’s enough to simply hold that picture in my mind, and then get to whittling away? Thanks re: the dining room. Wishing you all the best. 😊

    Reply
Marcus Lopes - January 24, 2018

Hi Greg,

I hope things are settling down for you. Like yourself, 2018 has not started off for me in the way I expected. I’m trying to take it in stride, but I think it may have gotten the better of me.

There’s a lot on my plate right now, and it just overwhelmed me. It’s turning out to be a good thing. It’s forced me to take a hard look at my life. What’s working, what’s not … do I feel I’m where I belong? Let’s just say, I think 2018 is going to be an interesting year after all.

Hope all is well.
Marcus

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    Gregory Josephs - January 24, 2018

    Hi Marcus,

    They are settling, which is good. A new dishwasher went in today, a new faucet went in over the weekend. The massive painting project progresses…

    Creatively? Well, I’m getting there.

    Keep your chin up, and all the best!

    Reply
itsmyhusbandandme - January 25, 2018

I’m an interior designer. You should have called me, I’d have come right over.
JP

Reply
    Gregory Josephs - January 26, 2018

    I’ll send you an e-ticket next time I’m headed to the paint store! 😜

    Reply
The Living Room Floor – A Love Story – Gregory Josephs - February 13, 2018

[…] When we decided to flip-flop our dining room and office at the beginning of the year (and paint all our trim white) we finally had an opportunity to rid ourselves of that stiff old behemoth (kind of). We thought we’d move it to the new office, because it’s a sleeper, and the bed inside is ridiculously comfortable, and then get a new, smaller sofa for the living room. […]

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