Overwhelm is debilitating. Let me repeat that, OVERWHELM IS DEBILITATING! What does that mean? Well, it means different things to different people, but according to Merriam-Webster, overwhelm means “1 : upset, overthrow. 2 a : to cover over completely : submerge. b : to overcome by superior force or numbers. c : to overpower in thought or feeling.” None of this has a positive nature. The very last part, can really strike a nerve for some. “to overpower in thought or feeling”…and I would add action. Being overwhelmed overpowers our thoughts, feelings AND actions. Overwhelm happens at different levels to different people. For some, just the idea that two or three things need to be done at nearly the same time, and the “time budget” doesn’t allow for everything is enough to be overwhelming. For others it takes much more. But no matter what level it takes to feel overwhelmed, the end results are the same. It limits our thoughts, limits our feelings, and limits our actions. Whether you are just out starting out as a modern homesteader, or you have decades of experience, overwhelm is bound to hit at some point. I’ve written about Controlling the Chaos before, and thought I would reiterate some of those ideas and add tips that I have learned and have been shared with me by others.
This post is going to be a bit different than many of my posts. There won’t be many pictures….maybe none at all….the words and ideas are too important to get lost in numerous pictures. The world of Modern Homesteading, combined with outside jobs, social commitments, parenthood, grandparenthood, expectations of others, self expectations and host of other things in our society, frequently create a deadly combination. Deadly, may seem a bit harsh…but if the combination of the things in your life create overwhelm, and limit what you do, think you can do, and stifle the desire to do what you’ve always dreamed of, it kills your dreams….and becomes deadly to those dreams. So in that sense, though it may sound harsh, and IS harsh, it is a harsh truth. My goal here is to give you some tips that I have learned over the years that help overcome the dream killing overwhelm that can, and will, hit all of us at various points in our lives.
I’ve created a short list of 7 things that can help with time management in any part of life. The explanations are geared toward the Modern Homesteader, but benefits of each and the lessons learned can applied to any part of life that just becomes so busy and full that it feels like there is not beginning or ending point. The items in this list may not all be for everyone. While I encourage you to try each tip, I also encourage you to use only the ones that work for you, and toss the others that do not fit your needs. I use them all from time to time, depending on the situation and many times use combinations.
- Make lists! Keep them short and manageable. If you have a lot of things that need work, keep multiple lists. One list for general, large scale projects and another for small steps in those large projects, maybe another for ideas to try in the future. The list itself can become overwhelming if you let it, so DO NOT PUT EVERYTHING ON ONE LIST! A large project list might help you to see the big picture of what needs to be done, and should be used to help prioritize projects. It can be a guiding tool to help keep your focus and help keep you moving forward in the big picture of where you want your life to go. The other list(s) should be a daily guide to knocking out those big projects.
Every large project is made up of steps to get it finished. Break down those large projects into short, manageable steps. My daily lists may consist of small steps for several projects. Steps that can be finished in a short amount of time. Steps that guide me through the day when I am struggling to figure out what to do next. One of the most negative aspects of being overwhelmed, is ending up not having a clue what to do next…leading you to do nothing. You don’t know where to start. So….you end up doing nothing, and things pile up even more. It can be emotionally and mentally paralyzing. Use those daily lists as guides to what needs to be done so that you always have a starting point in mind.
2. The idea of lists leads to breaking your projects down into small tasks. Like the old saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” It works the same with larger projects. Large projects don’t get done in one swoop….it takes several small tasks to get the big things done. Use those lists I’ve already mentioned to break the steps down, and focus on one step at a time. When that step is complete, move to the next step. It sounds simple, but can be daunting. It takes practice, but it can be done quite successfully. Let me give you an example. When we had a bunch of tomatoes, I wanted to make spicy V8 juice and can it. Working a 5 day a week a job now has changed my “home time” dramatically. Because it would take several hours to finish this, and I didn’t have several hours at one time, I broke it down. The first evening I picked tomatoes. The second evening I washed and cut the tomatoes and pureed them. The third evening I heated them and added the other ingredients, repeating the puree process. The fourth evening, I reheated the .juice and canned it. Of course, it was stored in the fridge each night. So, yes, it took me almost the entire week to finish the V8 juice, but at the end of that week, I had finished the home canned V8 AND I had still had time to fix dinner, do a load of laundry, and clean up the kitchen each evening. I’ve used the same process for cheese making and many other projects. The secondary benefit to doing things this way is that my weekend is freed up some to tackle other things, spend time with friends/family or do something that I enjoy.
I frequently break these small tasks down and put them on my daily lists to keep my focus and actually REMEMBER what needs to be done each day to actually end up with a completed project.
3. PRIORITIZE your tasks. This one is very important, and perhaps should have been number one. Prioritizing can be crucial to homesteading projects. Let’s face it….when the animals are getting out, the fence HAS to be fixed….when the garden produce is ready, it has to be processed or go to waste….. You get the idea. When time sensitive things appear in your life, they have to be given a priority whether you live a homesteading lifestyle or not. So, pulling weeds in the garden will be a high priority in April-August….but won’t be a big deal September-November….and may completely drop out of the picture during the winter. You may be able to put off some of your projects that aren’t as time sensitive, to a time when the garden isn’t in full swing. This takes some real thought and will vary depending on the needs of your family. What truly NEEDS to be done, and what do you just WANT to be done? The answers will differ at different times of the year, and will differ from person to person. Only YOU know what is a priority in YOUR life, so you have to be very candid and honest with yourself on this one. But, this is vital to making sure your focus is where it needs to be at any given time. Building our raised strawberry beds has been on a low priority all summer, but it is quickly rising on our list of priorities because the time is quickly coming that we will NEED to get this project finished so that the runners can be transplanted and and have a strong root system before winter hits. The garden is dropping on the priority list as summer comes to an end, and it will soon be put to bed for the winter and will fall completely off the list for the winter.
4. A timer may become your best friend when tackling some things on the homestead, or any other part of your life for that matter. There are some jobs that are simply never ending. One example is gardening/weeding in the summer. I swear I could work in the garden all day, every day and never be “finished.” Whether you use an actual timer, or the timer on your phone, just find something convenient to set for a certain amount of time. I take my phone with me to the garden. I set the timer on my phone for an allotted amount of time. I do whatever I need to work on in the garden for that amount of time, and then STOP and MOVE ON to something else on my list. The next day I repeat the process. I accomplish a little bit each day, preventing me from getting too far behind on any one thing, keeping things manageable, and allowing me to feel good about accomplishment. I mean, seriously, if I know I wont’ get finished anyway, why let everything else go just to do more, but still feel unfinished? The one time I break my own rule on this is when I am nearly finished and I know that just a short amount of time (30 minutes or less) will allow me to walk away with a task completed, knowing that it will not reappear on my list for at least a few days. Sometimes that extra few minutes will allow me more time on something else the next few days, and my feeling of accomplishment is even greater. That feeling of accomplishment is very important to me, so let’s address that tip next.
5. Allow yourself to bask in the feeling of accomplishment! This will be more important to some than others. If you have ever dealt with personal depression or anxiety or both, you may have already learned how important that a feeling of accomplishment is. If you haven’t dealt with those issues, this may not be a big deal for you. However, there are chemicals in the brain that tend to feed off one another. Without going into any of the scientific detail about neurons, synapses, serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and the like, let me just say that once a chemical change in the brain begins it takes a great deal to change the direction of that trend. If that change is toward the positive, it is easy to keep that momentum going with small doses of “happy” or accomplishments, but if that trend is toward the negative, it takes work to change the direction of that trend. Small accomplishments each and every day feed the feelings of satisfaction and help to maintain those same feelings. On the opposite side of the equation, feeling like you are never meeting your mark, and feeling like you are constantly losing ground feed those negative perceptions overwhelm can create. By being happy with getting the small things accomplished feeds the feeling of satisfaction and eventually helps one to see what all is getting done. Eventually, those small complete tasks build into large projects getting completed which adds a larger dose of satisfaction to the equation. It may not work all the time, or for every situation, or even each person, but it is amazing how many times this whole concept can change the whole outlook when dealing with many things that need our attention at one time. For me, there are not many things that I find more satisfying than being able to mark things off my list of things to do.
6. Don’t be afraid to downsize! It took me several years to look at downsizing in a positive way. “Minimizing” is in the forefront of social media and the internet. According to Kon Mari (if you don’t know who that is, do a google search and you will get almost 16,000,000 results!), you should only keep the “things” in your home and life that you need or that bring you joy. While some of her messages bring me to heavy sighs and eye rolls, there is something to be said for the basics in her philosophy. Too much “stuff” just clutters our world and has a tendency to lead to overwhelm and discontent. According to minimalists, if we only have things in our lives that bring us joy or fill needs, we will have a much more productive life with much less stress. That is a true statement. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would never encourage anyone to live in any way that makes them uncomfortable, and I don’t believe anyone should sit in an empty room and remove everything from their lives, but as an American society we have put way too much pressure on ourselves to do it all and have it all. It is no different when homesteading (and maybe more so for the modern homesteader that begins to believe that they must do everything from scratch and never purchase anything at all or they have failed). Deciding which components to bring into, or out of, your life is a very personal choice. Unlike our ancestors, most of us will continue to survive if we do not try to incorporate every self-sufficiency skill there is. And those personal choices are yours to make. Never let anyone else decide what should be included on your homestead.
In the past, I have felt that downsizing on the homestead was a sign of failure. It seemed that downsizing was a reminder that I couldn’t get IT right. Not so! Now I look at downsizing as a way to take control of MY life, rather than letting my life control ME. We don’t have to live in an “all or nothing” manner. It is up to you to set your priorities. We’ve already discussed prioritizing our projects, now let’s look at prioritizing the things we have in our lives. Life is a constant changing beast. Things never stay the same. Health changes. Relationships change. Jobs change. Families change. Responsibilities change. It is up to you to change the things on the homestead to match the changes that life hands you. Downsizing is a very simple way to control the things we create ourselves to fit in with the things we have little to no control over. Ask yourself some serious questions and give yourself some HONEST answers. What do you honestly HAVE to keep going on the homestead? Is it absolutely necessary to make and use all home made cleaners? Is it absolutely necessary to have pigs AND chickens AND rabbits AND a milk cow AND goats? Is it absolutely to grow and process ALL your own foods? Is it absolutely necessary to have a full culinary herb garden along with a full range of medicinal herbs? The answers to questions such as these will vary for each person. The key is figure out YOUR honest answers and downsize to what fits with YOUR family. Deciding that something that requires a significant amount of your time and responsibility needs to go is OK. In fact it is a GOOD thing! (No, my CAPS lock is not sticking….These things are vital to long term success).
A great example I can share is my recent decision to get rid of the rabbits on my homestead. I have had rabbits for about 4 years and have really enjoyed raising my rabbits for meat for the family. But I recently realized they don’t serve their purpose the way I had hoped. I have a ton of rabbit in the freezer, and Papa doesn’t like to eat it. I am the only one who enjoys eating rabbit, and I am just as satisfied with chicken at a meal. I finally realized that I could downsize and remove rabbits from our homestead. For the past six months, they have truly served us one purpose: I use their poop in my garden. Why waste time and freezer space butchering something that we do not all enjoy eating? I am letting my rabbits go, and by selling them to friends and neighbors, I know when I need rabbit poop for the garden, I have several resources. My neighbors are getting a meat source that THEY will use and enjoy and everybody wins. (I am seriously questioning myself along these same lines when it comes to my goats, but don’t tell Papa that just yet. 😉 )
Here are some things you might ask yourself. What is the biggest benefit to your family modern homesteading brings? If finances are big concern to you, does it really make sense to spend more on chicken feed each month than it costs to go buy eggs? If your family does not eat kale or cucumbers, why use energy and garden space growing those things? If the satisfaction of knowing you can provide for your family in a very back-to-basics way has you unable to do anything well, is there really any satisfaction? If you are trying to do more than you can manage, you won’t be able to any of it well, which can lead to feelings of defeat. These feelings of defeat have caused many modern homesteading families to give up their dreams completely. Keep things on a level that fit your family and take control. Make sure you are doing the things you are doing because they fit your needs, not because you think that is what you are supposed to be doing. Chores will much more satisfying and the end products will serve your family well. No one, not even you, should find fault for honing the skills needed to care for family well and leaving the other skills to others. Even our pioneering ancestors figured this out. That is how bartering started. Our pioneering ancestors got really good at a few things and traded the end results for other items they needed. Communities sprang up by each member having something special to contribute. Even they knew they each, individually, do it all. If you decide to downsize somethings on the homestead, then good for you for being honest, practical, and sensitive to the needs of your family.
7. The last thing I will talk about today is the creation of routines. Routines are a valuable asset to anyone in their everyday life. On the modern homestead, the creation of routines helps to create habits that help to keep those tasks going that have to be done every single day. Routines help keep organization until those same routines become habits that are just done automatically without thinking about it. A set of routines can be broken down for different times of the day. For example you may have a set routine of the things that you do every morning. My morning routine happens before I leave for work. Another set may be at lunch time. A third could be established for late afternoon or early evening, and a fourth set can be established for that time right before bed. It helped me to actually make a list of the things for each part of the day….yea, I guess I may be a bit anal about lists, but that tool has helped me more than you may ever know! 😉 After following the listed routines for several weeks (I’ve been told that it takes at least 30 days to form a habit) you will probably find yourself doing things automatically, without looking at a list or even giving them a thought. That’s when you know a habit has been established.
Habits are wonderful to have. They get done automatically, without thought, so things get done without planning. These habits that I am referring to should take very little time. Each one just takes a few minutes and then they are finished. Most of my routines and habits revolve around housekeeping. Keeping my house neat so that I don’t cringe when I hear company pull into the drive is the bain of my existence! By making a great set of habits that automatically get done each day, I won’t have to worry about those embarrassing moments when guests pop in. Don’t get me wrong, the house is never perfect, but the goal is that it is never terrible either. My routines help me keep things caught up, allowing less stress at my paying job and more time for things I enjoy.
You know your responsibilities and needs better than anyone else, so your routines will look very different that mine or anyone else’s. Somethings you might consider building into a routine are things like making the bed, feeding the animals, working in the garden, washing the dishes, planning meals and sweeping the floors. Anything that must be done on a daily (or even weekly) basis can eventually find a slot in one of your routines. While routines are set to help us establish habits, they are also a work in progress. They can be as flexible as you need them to be. Use them as guide and make them work for you and your situation. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to really refocus and start over with building habits. I have finally gotten the habit of making my bed as soon as I get up pretty solid in my life. Unloading the dishwasher while cooking supper is another one that is getting easier for me, but I still struggle with doing the dishes as soon as we finish eating. That one is going to take a lot more work on my part, and that’s ok. As long as I am making progress, I am ok with that. Remember, life is ever changing, and so are routines and habits.
It has taken me a long time to learn the things that work well for me. And there are many days that I am still pretty much just a “hot mess”. But the things above have really helped over time. I still have tendency to think way too much about what is not going well and needs to be done, rather than be satisfied with is going well and has been done. But, I’m learning not to focus so much on the negative aspects and focus more on the things that I can call successes. I’m also learning that there is always a way to turn a negative aspect around and make it a positive element in my life. Is life always sunshine and roses? Not at all. But the things that used to seem like an uncrossable ocean, can become just a large puddle to jump over with just a little bit of work.