I’ve been trying to pack too much into my days; meltdown central. My lizard brain has been driving. There is no upside to being driven around by a lizard, trust me on this.
So I went to the US Library of Medicine to do a little research on meltdowns. Like you do, when you’re busy.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC)—the most evolved brain region—subserves our highest-order cognitive abilities, also known as our higher order thinking skills.
However, the PFC is also the brain region that is most sensitive to the detrimental effects of stress exposure. Even quite mild acute uncontrollable stress can cause a rapid and dramatic loss of prefrontal cognitive abilities, and more prolonged stress exposure causes architectural changes in prefrontal dendrites. *
Right, prefrontal dendrites, the spaghetti-like web in our heads that governs sensible decisions.
Happily, this means there is in fact a neurological reason why when we’re overloaded, we lose the car keys, forget to pick up the kids from sport, and walk to the printer three times to pick up a document we didn’t print. I feel so much better now, you too?
In clinical stress tests to monitor both pre-frontal cortex function and our capacity to make sound rational decisions, it was found that a sense of control over the stressor is a critical factor in success. The sense of control is also known as the Locus of Control.
Subjects who felt in control of the situation (even if this was an illusion) were often not impaired by stress exposure, whereas those who felt out of control were impaired. Once the PFC is reengaged however, whether we perceived we are in control or we actually are, our cognitive capacity is restored, and we can once more be effective.
I Can’t Adult Today
Have you ever felt out of control and found yourself making excuses?
“I don’t have time, I’m too busy, I’m too tired, I didn’t get to it today, I couldn’t fit it in, I’m so tired I need to sleep, I need a drink,” and so it goes again, down and down. Sound familiar?
When we feel we’re losing our locus of control, the pre-frontal cortex shuts down.
In fact the real problem is often not that we’re time poor, but more we’re prioritising poorly and allocating time, which is a finite resource, as if it were infinite.
Let’s get back the Locus of Control
Go find a piece of paper – yes, You. If you’ve read this far is because you can relate to what I’m writing. Want to fix it? Good.
For as long as it takes, dump down everything that’s on your mind. Don’t second guess or censor yourself, here are some topics to get you flowing:
- Side Hustle
- Self Care
- Others’ Health
- Personal Development
- What am I going to do about…?
Unleash everything onto that piece of paper everything on your mind. Don’t worry, take your time, I’ll still be here when you’ve finished.
Done? Ok let’s move on.
Take control of your calendar
With your list in hand, block out time slots in your calendar for the non-negotiables on the page , the must-haves in your life like work hours, driving kids to school, fixed commitments. Be realistic, and allow wiggle room for lost shoes, traffic, stopping for coffee and all the other uncontrollables that could hijack your timings. Put the slots on repeat, week in week out.
I use Google Calendar and share it with my husband so we can keep track of commitments we inevitably forget to tell each other. You might be a Kikki K paper addict, the medium doesn’t matter, just get a calendar and do the blocking.
Schedule Your Sanity
Next, what makes you happy? What keeps your feet on the ground and your head from blowing off your neck? For me it’s meditation, journalling and Me time, if don’t have them I’m a cranky pants. If I’m a cranky pants, I can’t function, If I can’t function I can’t run a high-performing job, business or a family. If you think you can’t have Me time because it’s selfish, get over yourself, it’s selfish NOT to. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
Into the calendar it goes.
And work on down your list…
I’m often asked how I fit my social marketing business alongside a day job and a busy family, and it’s pretty simple. For one, I want success enough to show up when I really don’t feel like it, and two, I break the work down into different activities.
Income producing always comes first:
- Reachouts, connecting with people who’ve expressed an interest in the business or the products.
- Scheduling, booking in time for development meetings.
- Follow ups, keeping things moving
- Client Care, making my clients feel special and valued.
- Training and development
- Team Coaching
I group them into one activity at a time – and do them all at once.
For example, after Monday’s regular online video training call, I might schedule follow ups and/or reachouts while I’m feeling motivated and connected, scheduling is part of that group.
Wednesday evening is another slot and I have other slots scheduled in between travel times in the rest of the week.
I copped some flack for this last week over dinner with friends but I worry about wife-ing. Am I being a good wife? Couple Time – I schedule it in, seriously. Happy husband, happy life.
Feeling guilty about your kids? Give that away (the guilt, not the kids). More research is showing it’s the micro-moments that count, not prolonged periods of uninterrupted attention. Especially once they’re teens. Schedule in the micro-moments.
Who else do you have to support? Ageing parents? So many of us are the meat in the sandwich; caring for both dependant children and parents who need help.
Schedule your parents in advance too, block in a regular slot to see them and spend quality time with them. Perhaps it’s 7pm on a Tuesday at your house for dinner with the kids? When they call and need you now for an ’emergency,’ let them know you’ll still be over at 7pm and can discuss it then or if it can wait, at dinner on Sunday. Of course if it really IS an emergency that’s different.
Woo Woo Cocktail Time With The Girls (or the Boys)
I really need my girlfriends, (come on, I live with 5 males if you count the dog) and Thursdays are nominated girls’ night. When someone calls and asks to catch up, I go to my next free Thursday. Pre-allocating days means less juggling and trying to find space. No more “too busy for champagne,” and besides, less time thinking and diary wrangling equals more brain space for productive things; like champagne and fun.
Book special friends in way in advance so your relationship stays on track and you keep momentum. Next time when you’re together book the next slot. No more “oh we must catch up,” if you don’t mean the see them again spare them the bollocks and don’t say it. If you want to catch up, book it in or stop pretending.
Distractions to make junk animals
I’ve just downed keyboard mid-sentence to assess how best to make an animal head out of a Starburst lolly tub for a year 7 project. I turned it into a micro-moment with my son.
The point is, distractions happen, life happens and that’s ok. If the vital immovable things that need to happen to keep life on track things are scheduled, paradoxically, your brain is freed up to jump between tasks, like making junk animals.
Permission to relax
By scheduling everything, including my nights off, I’ve given myself permission to let go. On nights off, when thinking “oh I must just” I can declare NO, it’s my night off, I will add it to the list to be done in the slot I have nominated Wednesday at 8pm.
I cannot even tell you how much this idea of allocating time blocks has changed my headspace. I’m calmer, more focused, more decisive and clarity has arrived. The Lizard is mostly in the back seat instead of driving. Try it, I highly recommend it.