Have you ever had plans that turned out different than expected?

Last weekend, I travelled to this gorgeous yoga retreat expecting to totally get my zen on:

I do a weekend retreat each quarter and view this as the singular best thing for my wellbeing. I leave my phone at home, eat nourishing foods and spend my days in yoga, meditation or sleeping. Usually I leave feeling like I’m floating on air!

I went along to this last retreat with the same expectations of how I should feel. Instead, for the first time in years, I experienced some anxiety – the type that makes the blood gush in your ears and heart thud in your chest.

My first instinct was to berate myself. It had been so long since I’d felt genuinely anxious. Why was I feeling this? I was on a retreat, for heaven’s sake! Shouldn’t I feel relaxed, serene, tranquil, grateful?

After a minute or two of resisting the anxiety, my mindfulness training kicked in and I sat with it. Once I surrendered, it passed and I was left with the uncomfortable realisation that perhaps I need to sort a few things out.

In my coaching work, I see patterns of burnout in other women all the time and how this plays out with food. However, sometimes these patterns of overworking and pushing ourselves are harder to see in our own lives. I really pride myself on being a ‘get shit done’ kinda gal. I am overly conscientious and achieving is part of my identity. But this weekend left me with a profound insight.

What about me? Where have I made time to just be?

How did I get so busy again??

When to say ‘enough’ to doing too much

I was lucky enough to be on retreat with two special ladies who know me well and have my best interests at heart. When I shared that I had been experiencing some overwhelm, they looked at me like,

“Well, duh Kales.”

The warning signs of doing-too-muchness had been creeping in the last month and others around me had noticed.

Do you relate to some of these signs of overwhelm?

  • Vague-ing out and feeling forgetful,
  • Double-booking or getting times mixed up (I turned up a whole week early to a specialist appointment last week!),
  • Waking up in the middle of the night with a ticker tape of your To Do list playing through your brain,
  • Feeling apathetic about things that usually excite you,
  • Worrying more than usual,
  • Feeling like you have a whip on your back, driving you all day long,
  • Experiencing guilt when you rest or take time out,
  • Indigestion or unsettled stomach.

This isn’t to make you wrong or feel guilty. I truly believe that being busy often comes from the very best of intentions. Like so many women, I care deeply about being the best I can be at work and home. I want to be of service to others.

Here’s the catch though: Being too busy does not serve us or the people around us. Ironically, it doesn’t even make us more effective! When I sat down and thought about it this weekend, my most meaningful work and cherished memories are created in times when I feel grounded in myself. Insights arise when I have enough spaciousness to be present, think things through and show up with a joyful heart and sense of play.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns

According to the Law of Diminishing Returns, there is a ‘sweet spot’ for effort and peak productivity. After we shoot past that mark, our extra input isn’t generating any significant extra results:


(Photograph taken from this article by Carleton University.)

So why do it?

Although it may be helpful to unpack this with a psychologist, here are some reasons that I’ve experienced or heard from others around why we get too busy:

  • Wanting to please others,
  • Striving for future results and not enjoying what is here right now,
  • To avoid rejection or confrontation,
  • Feeling ‘not enough’,
  • Investing self-esteem and identity in external accomplishments,
  • Losing perspective on what really matters when things get busy,
  • Not having firm boundaries,
  • Perfectionistic tendencies,
  • Not being willing to ask for help,
  • Feeling like you’re not achieving unless you’re right at the cusp of your capacity,
  • Comparing yourself to others,
  • Not wanting to be seen as lazy or look bad,
  • Believing that this is what is required to be ‘successful’.

Regardless of these (understandable) reasons, here is the insight that I’ve realised:

Busyness is a choice.

I have been choosing to be too busy. Once you recognise this, you can choose differently.

Here are some ideas to turn things around:

  • Aim to complete only 2 – 3 important tasks in your day. Do less but better!
  • Rethink your calendar. Whilst a highly scheduled calendar works for productivity, it’s not working for my soul. I’m going to simplify how I schedule my day and monitor quality of output to compare approaches.
  • Challenge unhelpful thoughts. (Taking a day off on the weekend is not being lazy! )
  • Care less what people think…You never know what people are truly thinking about you anyway. 
  • Set  boundaries around where you spend you time. For example, as an introvert, I need LOTS of alone time and often feel guilty about this. My experience this weekend made me realise that me time is absolutely essential to my wellbeing. 
  • Not needing to be perfect – 80% good enough is good enough.

I’D LOVE TO HEAR YOUR COMMENTS – What’s worked for you? 

(Hero Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash)

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