The Things in My Head


One of the things that I struggle with is how to not stress and freak out about all of the little tasks that run through my head all the time. It seems as the piles of tasks big and small continue to crop up and have a tendency to overwhelm me, so that I go into “shut down” mode and just stare at the wall for a while. Now where there is some benefit to staring at the wall, I don’t think that’s where I generally want to be as a pastor or a person.

So how does one Get a grip on all of the stuff of life so that they don’t fill your mind up? Overstimulation is one of the big causes of mood change for me, and there’s no doubt that if I am weighed down and anxious about the growth of the physical and mental piles building up, something has to give in the process.

So to that end, here are a few tips. I’ve gleaned some of these from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, and others I’ve picked up along the way:

  1. Write it down. God gave us paper and computers for a reason. There is absolutely no need to try and juggle everything in your head. Why waste energy on remembering WHAT to do when you could be actually DOING it?
  2. If it takes less than two minutes, just do it. This one has become completely liberating for me. My general mindset has been “if it takes less than 2 minutes, I can do it anytime.” The problem is, you don’t do it anytime, and so what really is a little pittance becomes a great mental debt.
  3. Don’t allow the tools to become the craftsman. This is really important for me, since I am by nature a techno-geek galore. It is very easy for me to sit and fiddle and tweak and stare and doodle on the computer, and forget that I have certain things to do. The tools are there for me, not the other way around.
  4. Schedule relaxation time. This is really, really hard. I can pack every waking moment with stuff to do, but if there isn’t built in time for playing with my kids, watching a movie, golfing, or whatever it is, then the little tasks become the sole reason for existence.
  5. In the same vein, schedule time for prayer and meditation in the Word. Sometimes I am tempted to use my freedom in the Gospel as an excuse for not praying. There are a lots of reasons why it is hard to pray (there’s a nice section in the book on this, btw), but if I schedule it so that this is a part of my identity as a husband/father/pastor, then it works its way in as a habitus that will have staying power.

That’s what I’ve got for right now. How do you stay ahead of the piles?


14 thoughts on “The Things in My Head”

  1. I have the opposite problem. The work is there for me to do, but I don't want to do it. I have no problem finding time to relax. Wanting to do the things that need to get done is a chore. I don't like doing them, especially dicey interpersonal things (calling people, making decisions with possible bad ramifications, etc.). I avoid them like the plague, but they have to be done.

  2. I always used to have no trouble when it came to remembering all the tasks, and getting them done. I've never had to write anything down, I just remember it without a struggle. Now though, my brain is foggier. I still remember things usually, but sometimes I'll blank out, or completely lose track of it all. It's so scary to be, because I used to be in complete control of that.

    My big problem now is that I find myself THINKING about what I need to do, but never actually doing it. At work these last few days, I find myself thinking about what I need to do, and then my mind goes off from there, and I completely lose track of time. An hour later I'll come back to myself, and realize I haven't done anything. Sometime it's like I imagine I've been doing it, but I don't actually. It's really scary, because Ive never been one to fall asleep or zone out like that, and now I can't seem to stop.

  3. I have plenty of piles that build up– given that I have been single for almost four years. Right now, my life consists of
    pray-breakfast-take the dog out- work-work-work – lunch (sometimes)-work-work-work-dog out-dinner-work work-work-fall asleep at computer- dog out-pray -sleep

    Not enough time to serve the Lord– which really frustrates me


  4. I think another important step is asking for help. I tend to think that it is totally obvious that I feel overwhelmed and out of control, and then feel furious because no one (i.e. my husband) is helping me. In reality no one sees that I am struggling. I also fail to delegate, thinking that it is just easier to do everything myself. Doing it all is impossible, and then I am back at " “shut down” mode and just stare at the wall".

  5. These are all good points. For me, I often spend so much time processing WHAT to do that I rarely get around to actually DOING it. That includes asking for him when I need it, relaxing, and praying.

  6. I have been studying up on Attention Deficit Disorder and I am starting to think is the root of alot of my struggles with depression. But anyhow it has led me to some books and stuff that have helped me alot in this area. I tried to read the book you mention which in itself sent me into overload! But at the same time I picked up the books You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! and ADD-Friendly ways to organize your Life and they helped me breathe a sigh of relief and comfort. I really never would have considered myself ADD in school had no troubles not hyper personality but all the thought racing etc, and other symptoms of ADD seem to be me. I am also very interested in this link to ADD and depression because I teach 4th grade and every year I have had at least 1 diagnosed on medication ADD student.

  7. Surely there's a store in Diagon Alley that sells pensieves. Surely. I hope. Can somebody give me directions to Diagon Alley? Please? I NEED a pensieve.

    But until that day, the paper and pen, the marker-board on the fridge, the checklists on the cupboard doors, these are the things that keep my brain empty enough of clutter that I have some small chance of coping with the days. And YES yes YES to the "just do it." I can spend so much mental energy stressing over the 79 little 2-minute jobs that I do none of them. In that vein, I also have to tell myself that doing a poor job is better than not doing it at all. Now, sometimes that's not true and somebody could fault me for it. But it's better to quickly run the car through a car wash bay than to leave it dirty for months because I can't properly wash and wax it. Better to wipe up the juice spill on the floor than to leave the floor to get sticky because I can't mop and rinse the whole thing. Better to contact the hurting friend and give them a two-minute "hello, I'm thinking about you" than to ignore them because I don't have the energy to give them a whole day of my attention.

    Now if only I could do something about scheduling myself relaxation time.

  8. I appreciate Jonnab's comment about ADD. Once he points it out, it seems so obvious. The blessing of ADD is the creativity as the person thinks outside the box, goes on tangents, makes connections that other people don't make, etc. But that's also the curse of it. Too many tangents. Too many ideas to pursue. Too much to keep track of. It becomes overwhelming and then leaves the ADD person with a boatload of "failures" for not having followed (and completed) all those different lines of direction.

  9. This was excellent and I appreciated it very much. I 'cut & pasted' your words about overstimulation to an email for my wonderful husband so we could discuss this problem. Also, #'s 3 & 5 as he really struggles n these areas. Your words said it so well!!!
    Keep up your honesty & sharing! -HveHope

  10. This was excellent and I appreciated it very much. I 'cut & pasted' your words about overstimulation to an email for my wonderful husband so we could discuss this problem. Also, #'s 3 & 5 as he really struggles n these areas. Your words said it so well!!!

    Susan – what is a pensieve?

  11. In the story of Harry Potter, the wisest wizard and headmaster of the boarding school is Dumbledore. Dumbledore has a pensieve in his office. It's a basin where he stores his thoughts and memories. He can extract memories from his head (they look like silvery threads) and cut down on the clutter in his mind. It also allows him to look at the thoughts more objectively and make associations and solve problems, but without having to have it all with him all the time. I'm jealous. I want a pensieve.

  12. I have a lot of ADD symptoms also. I used to able to hyper focus even as a young child which can be a sign of ADD. However, when my bipolar was at its worst, I also suffered, for the first and last time, from an anxiety attack. Because of this, the psychologist at the hospital took me off of the ADD medication. This is understandable, but I miss it.

  13. Oh and Pastor you did ask about the piles? A few random thoughts: 1. If i am having a particularly hard time I pick one or two tasks that really should be done that day write them down and when i do them i get a reward a new song from itunes something like that. 2. Some days i try to write down what i did do vs. what i should do. I tend to get so down on what i didnt do that it helps. 3. I try to remember when you are in a people serving type job you are never going to be finished with all your piles. All working life I worked as a nurse's aide, daycare, teacher, etc. but one summer I did a temp job as a cashier for a pop delivery company. I had to reconcile all the drivers deposits and make a big deposit every night. I had never had a job where i was finished like that! It was so cool to get that feeling of completion every day. So maybe you do have to remind yourself that the piles will always be waiting in some way or another. maybe that is why the Get'er Done book was stressful to me.

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