The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

When you have so many things on the go

Maybe it’s simply due to the current stage of my life, but my days can feel so busy and scattered that I have to fight the feeling of being overwhelmed. Where all the different scenarios or locations in my day bring a reminder of another thing that needs tending to, anything thing that I should be doing something about.

And that sense of being overwhelmed leads to the feeling of not even knowing where to start.

How It Looks

As I work from home, usually alone, there are a lot of ways this feeling can come at me. It’s also one of the dangers of working remotely from your home: people think pleasurable pursuits are a distraction (like binge-watching Netflix shows), but in reality, it’s my other responsibilities that distract. When you work in an office, the triggers and reminders of the tasks from the rest of your life are largely out of sight, out of mind.

Anyway, here’s how it can look on any given day for me:

  • I’m working on my most important work task of the day, the kind of activity where I want to be most focused. As I hit a moment of uncertainty about how to solve the problem, I take my fingers off the keyboard and look out the window as I meditate
  • At that moment, I observe that is stopped snowing … I wonder if I need to shovel the front deck
  • Then I question whether I’m going to get in the lunch run I had planned — I dislike running right after a snowfall, but I know I’ll feel pressure if I don’t do it
  • I return my attention to the task at hand, but just as I start to type, I hear the beep of the washing machine. I’ll need to get the next load going (6 people make a lot of dirty laundry in a week)
  • Dang that reminds me — I still haven’t taken any meat out of the freezer for dinner. I quickly do that, and put on the next load of laundry, before I forget again
  • I get back to work and make some progress. But once the uncertainty of how to handle the next unknown strikes again, I glance down at my hands as I stop to think
  • And then I notice the papers on my desk. Oh man, I need to get that account set up for the latest software tool our youngest’s teacher wants him to use. I write that down in my planner as a task to handle later in the day when work is finished
  • On the opposite page, my weekly goals are listed out. Sigh. It’s already Thursday, and I haven’t even started on my annual report for the church IT ministry. The board meeting is next week…

And on it goes. Every moment of every day does not feel like this, but the fact that I play multiple roles in my life and work from a space where all those roles converge means I often come face to face with all the reminders of my responsibilities.

How I Handle This Anxiety

How does one cope? Well, different people will have different responses. Not everyone is cut out for remote work, for example.

But here’s what works for me.

Be ok with working in small, micro chunks

You have to change your mindset. Even small bits of progress are just that: progress. I have had to recognize that even if it takes me 4 weeks to complete a task that could actually be finished in 4–5 hours, that’s the reality of the current stage of my life. And it’s ok.

With 4 kids coming up to their teen years, I’m likely the busiest I’ll ever be in my life. We have extracurricular activities 4 nights during the work week (and two on the weekend). I simply have to be on my game and as organized as possible. And some of my own desires have to be laid aside.

This is serving. And it’s a worthy sacrifice.

Process effectively

Another key here is straight out of GTD. I’m being inefficient if I handle the same thing more than once. Whether it’s a piece of paper or an email, I’m always needing to remind myself to process these items (and schedule a related task) and file them away rather than leaving them around.

Do not underestimate the power of the visual trigger. Seeing these items repeatedly will cause anxiety.

Have a weekly routine

This is an area I have struggled against for a long time. Matt Perman makes the recommendation for having a weekly routine, and I have fought this idea for far too long.

But it makes sense. If you wear multiple hats and those hats represent responsibility in a certain sphere of your life, you do well to give each of those roles some attention each week. I am in charge of the IT ministry at our church. It’s not a role for which I have a lot of time to devote, but I serve better when I give it at least a few minutes each week.

I’ve recently themed my weekdays so that each one has a different role in focus. It helps me to overcome that feeling of where to start. If I have a free moment, I focus on the day’s role.

Of course, I didn’t mention the fact that it’s always good to step back and evaluate whether you should cut some things from your life (and learn to say no). That’s a given.

But some things are worth saying yes to, even if it means you’re busier than a one-armed paper hanger.


Screen Time For Parents

Since I follow so many people who live on the edge of Apple updates and run the beta all spring and summer, I was comfortable upgrading to iOS 12 right away. And I’m pretty pleased with the biggest improvement: Screen Time.

Not only is this a helpful tool for myself, it’s a great option for parents. There’s a lot of products aiming to help parents to manage what their kids see and how long they’re on screens; Disney’s Circle is a prime example. So it’s not like Apple is far ahead of the curve here. But I have been happy with the implementation of screen time.

Alongside the Screen Time settings for my own device, I can see the devices of my kids. We currently have two children out of four with their own phone (one high schooler with a SIM card, one without). And Screen Time lets us set the same limits and restrictions as on my own phone.

Putting it to use

So far, we’ve not set many limits. We have a set Downtime for all our devices (I’m down a lot earlier than our t(w)eens). But apart from that, we’ve only set what apps are always allowed.

For now, we’re just letting our devices record our activity. Then each Sunday, we’ve decided to sit down as a family and compare our stats. Over time, we’ll decide whether further steps are required.

It’s not about how much time

In all our discussions, Erica and I try to emphasize the danger of addiction while also not sounding like we have it figured out. To show how we can struggle in this area ourselves, but without minimizing the behaviour. It’s not an easy line to walk.

One thing I have focused on is that I’m not quite as concerned about total time as I am about pickups. One thing I’ve learned from a couple years of using RescueTime (for macOS) is that the days where I feel most frazzled are not necessarily where I spend a lot of time on Twitter or reading blog articles.

The problem is constantly switching between activities. You don’t achieve focus or depth when you only stay in one application for less than five minutes at a time.

On my phone, this is best indicated by the amount of pickups.

So all this is great for awareness. And it’s so nice to have the tools available to enable conversations about this topic with concrete data. Whether or not it brings changes in behavior remains to be seen. But it’s a start.