Have a hard time relaxing?

Feel like you always have to be doing something productive? Do you get stressed thinking about how long your to-do list is… but then avoid it completely?


As a recovering perfectionist, I have a clear pattern of overwhelming myself and then doing absolutely nothing. When I’m puttering, organizing, cleaning, or whatever else, I’m usually avoiding what really should be done. Avoiding the thing I really WANT to do, but that scares me a little bit. Like writing, for example.


More often than not I simply watch myself and say: “Oh, I’m doing it again.”


The problem with this – and there are many – is that because I’m avoiding what I really need to do, I don’t get to enjoy the relaxing time. There’s always this sense that I should be doing something else. Which, of course, I should according to my to do list (and priorities in life!).


What’s the solution?

There may not be a perfect one, but I’ve got a few ideas.


  1. Cut out what doesn’t matter. Most of what we put on to do lists doesn’t NEED to be done right away (or at all). And many of them are ongoing tasks that will eternally be on our to do list. Find a way to ditch what doesn’t ‘move the needle’ toward a happier, healthier life (or whatever your desired outcome). Delegate what you can, and develop a system for the things that always come around.
  2. Choose no more than 3 big things. Do those first, even if it’s only a few minutes. And don’t overthink it! Words on page, one foot in front of the other, forward motion in some capacity. When you overthink things, you stop yourself before you’ve even started. Don’t stress about outcome or impact. Take the next best step.
  3. Focus on the big picture. Why are you doing these things? Why do they matter to you? Don’t worry about outcomes necessarily. Think about how you will feel once you’ve worked on or accomplished your biggies.
  4. Use the puttering for when your brain needs a break only after you’ve worked on your big thing. This is akin to getting your best ideas in the shower. When you give your brain a problem to work on, then do something mindless and/or physical (like organizing, walking, or yoga) you’ll often come up with insights and ideas you wouldn’t have if you were staring at your computer or sitting at your desk.
  5. Batch errands. I figured this out when the boys were young and it’s made a huge difference in how I run my week. Because it takes so much effort to get out the door when kids are young, I started batching my errands on the same day. I’d create a route around town that most efficiently hit all the stops, and made sure I had enough toys, snacks, and wipes for the trip. I’d ask myself: Do I really need to go to the grocery store right now, or can I wait till tomorrow? Do I really need this mailed today? It’s something I still do, because otherwise errands will eat up ALL of your free time. As if you had much anyway. Your family (and you) won’t die if you’re out of milk for a day. (And now there are other ways of taking care of things, such as grocery delivery, etc. Utilize those services too! There’s some initial set up required, and a quick learning curve… so you don’t get ONE banana instead of one BUNCH.)
  6. Start small. Set a timer for 20 minutes and work on one big priority for that set time. Then take a break, move on to another priority, or keep working on a new 20 minutes.
  7. Let yourself REALLY relax. It’s easier to truly relax when you’ve made progress on your big priorities. Soak up the feeling of doing what matters to you and enjoy your nap or stroll or TV break. If that anxious voice whispers to you, let it know that you’ve already tackled the biggies. Down time is in order.
  8. BONUS: If you have trouble sleeping because your brain races at night, see if tackling your big priorities helps! For me, if I’ve done the work that moves me forward to my goal (whatever it is), there’s less racing of the brain. When I avoid things and putter, my brain stays full with all the things that I said I wanted to do, but didn’t.


Take it easy on yourself.

Allow for down time, relaxation, and soaking up time with your kids. That’s all valuable! Plus it’s good for your mind and body to enjoy your days. When you stress about getting it all done at the expense of joy, you’re sucking the fun out of life. We need fun too! laughing