How To Reclaim A Bad Week

How To Reclaim A Bad Week

It’s been one of those weeks. You know the kind. The perfect storm of awful. One innocent little thing sets the dominos in motion and, suddenly, you can’t stop the cascade failure no matter how hard you try.

On Monday, the grocery store is extra busy, which puts you behind schedule. But it’s no big deal; you can catch up on Tuesday. But then on Tuesday you realize you left your purse in a coffee shop on Sunday. (Yes, I actually did this.) And because your bank cards are inside, you can’t exactly wait to fix the problem later.

For the first couple days, you figure you can fix it. I’ll take the afternoon on Wednesday to get it all sorted out. But then you and your husband ends up exchanging a long string of texts about an unexpectedly hopeful house. And suddenly it’s Thursday evening, you’ve hit a dead end on the house hunt – after rearranging your whole schedule around it, of course – and you’re so behind, you have three days worth of work left to finish in one day.

It’s Easy to Get Overloaded

In a society that values high productivity and constant activity, it’s easy to get overloaded. I’ve written about this before. As I’ve struggled to find a writing and marketing schedule that works for me, it’s become a topic that’s close to my heart. It’s easy to get buried in a list of pending tasks, and hard get back on top of them.

But as time goes on, I’ve learned to manage a lot better than I used to. Certainly I no longer allow a day to go south as soon as the going gets rough. But you reach a point where you simply have to accept that matters are beyond your control. That no amount of determination and focus is going to fix a three-day backlog of your work schedule.

It’s important to learn the signs of burnout, but not just so that you can stave it off. If those symptoms keep cropping up on a daily or weekly basis, that’s probably a good indication you need to make a change that will keep burnout at bay on a more permanent basis.

It’s an unfortunate reality that falling behind on one aspect of workload inevitably spills into a cascade failure, putting us behind in other tasks. Especially when you work for yourself. Getting caught up is a noble goal, but it’s also one of the fastest ways to summon the fires of burnout.

How to Turn A Bad Week Around

Step 1: Don’t Panic
If you get upset or flustered, you’re just going to get turned in circles and put yourself further behind. Resist the urge to throw everything out the window at the first sign of trouble. You’re strong. You’ve got this.

Step 2: Compensate
Look for the flexibility in your schedule and slide a few tasks around. This is easier for small tasks, and more difficult for larger or time-sensitive ones. But a few minutes to think about it usually reveals an opening, especially when it’s the first thing to crop up.

Step 3: Take a Break
Actually, you should insert this step anywhere in the process you need to, but I usually have to walk away around the third thing that goes wrong, or the second time I reschedule something. If you’re getting frustrated, it’s always a good idea to get some distance and a few deep breaths. Make a cup of tea, read a chapter of a good book, have a night to relax, then dig back in.

Step 4: Prioritize
I have a bad habit of treating everything as equally important until something forces me to stop and re-evaluate. Tiny little tasks that have piled up can probably be broken back up into tiny little tasks and left until next week. After all, anything that takes 5 minutes that’s truly important will get done along the way. Focus on the things that really can’t wait, either because there’s a deadline looming or because missing them will continue to throw you off balance in the future. Everything else can wait; remembering that is a good way to relieve some of the stress and pressure.

What if You’re too far Behind?

So what do you when you reach the point of no return? The one at which no amount of careful planning or deep breathing is going to put your schedule back on track?

Step 5: Accept the Delay and Move On
Sometimes you have to do it. You can’t wake up every day for a month and label yourself behind. Carrying that kind of deficit makes it difficult to accomplish anything. Worse, you’ll dismiss the things you do accomplish because they’ll never be enough to compensate for the deficit.

Find a deadline you can move and re-adjust your schedule so that you’re on time again.

Forgive yourself for being human and not always being able to do as much work in a day as you think you should be able to do. Often, we think we can do much more than we can anyway.

But most of all, remember that you can’t control everything. Every day we encounter situations that are beyond our ability to prevent. We might believe we should be able to manage them quickly, but that doesn’t mean we can. We might believe they shouldn’t have an overall effect on our productivity, but that doesn’t mean we can easily set them aside.

If you’ve done the best you can, no one can be upset with you for how things worked out. The best is all anyone can ever give. And if you beat yourself up over your best, you’ll make it harder to uphold a high quality of work moving forward.

When all else fails, treat yourself to something that will wash the stress away. For me, that’s a nice dinner, a sweet dessert, and a rousing game of the space empire builder Stellaris. For you, it might be a fresh bottle of wine; whatever works!

4 Replies to “How To Reclaim A Bad Week”

    1. Aww thank you :) It’s the kind of stuff I wish I had known a few years ago, so I’m happy to pass on what I’ve learned!

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