This past week I had way too many projects to finish. I was also overtired, probably hormonal, and completely overwhelmed. As a result, I had to lie on the floor of my living room and cry for seven minutes or so. Then I had to reread a section from Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird that instantly makes me feel calmer. If you don’t know this book and you’re at all interested in writing, you should definitely check it out. She’s got a hilarious way of giving great advice about getting better as a writer.
Even if you’re not really all that interested in writing, this passage from the book can help you regroup when you’re feeling panicked. Here’s the magic part:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
How good is that? So simple, yet so helpful. Instead of looking at the “To Do” list as an overwhelming monster that’s going to swallow you whole, break it down piece by piece. Once you’re done with task one, move on to task two. Soon, the whole thing is almost done.
Life is a lot more manageable when broken into smaller pieces. Next time you’re feeling completely stressed about a project at work, just start on the first chunk of it. When your apartment’s a disaster and needs to be cleaned but the task seems just impossible, focus just on straightening just the hallway or the living room.
I love this advice. It’s soothed many a crying fit for me, though sometimes a good stress-cry is totally necessary too.