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When You Feel Like You’re Not Doing Enough

No matter how much I accomplish in any given day, I notice that I often carry around a vague sense of Not Doing Enough. Can you relate?

I might have had a pretty good work day, but I didn’t exercise as much as I’d hoped. Or I spent some good quality time with my family, but fifty unanswered emails are waiting in my InBox.

A woman holding a baby, a tablet, and a saucepan, trying to do too much.

I’m a sucker for articles and books about increasing productivity. A headline like “11 Timesaving Apps That Will Change Your Life!” will get me to click every time.

Because I’m a Type A but also prone to distraction, I’ve tried keeping a little chart to track simple daily tasks like exercising, meditating, writing, flossing, and decluttering. It’s a rare, rare day when I circle every task on the chart.

I write cookbooks, and the only way I can meet my deadlines is to break up the work in daily chunks. So I’m constantly setting word counts for writing and editing. If I miss my goals, I pay the price with increased pressure.

Like many of you, I also work full time. I’m a parent and a pet owner, with a house and yard to maintain.

The Martha Complex

Martha Stewart wrote on her blog that her dogs are brushed every day. Every day! I thought, and a wave of guilt swept over me. I should be brushing our dog every day, not weekly… poor guy.

When my son was in grade school I attended the parent-teacher conference, and his English teacher said, “His reading comprehension needs work, but we’re grateful that you’ve been doing the nightly 15 minutes of parent-student reading together.”

I know my face betrayed me.

Dog with tilted head | Happy Simple Living blog
“Say what?”

We were seven months into the school year and I somehow missed the directive that my son and I are supposed to be reading together for 15 minutes each night. No wonder his comprehension needed work! 

I’ve always suspected that other people had the productivity thing down. But I might be wrong. In talking with a number of my friends, I have yet to hear from anyone who does not feel, some days or many days, as if the things they accomplished are somehow lacking.

“At the end of the day, I always feel like I let someone down,” one busy mom of four told me.

What about you? Are you a member of the You’re Not Doing Enough Club?

Searching for Answers

When I prayed and meditated about this question, what floated into my mind was the image of Mary choosing to sit on the floor and visit with Jesus. Remember that story? Meanwhile, Mary’s sister (named Martha, ironically) bustled around cleaning, cooking, and feeling overwhelmed.

I want to be more like Mary. I really do.

At the same time, I can sort of relate to Martha in this story. As a food lover, I can imagine wanting to prepare a good meal for the great teacher. I’d be in the kitchen making fresh pita breads and pouring wine and wanting everything be just right.

Jesus died a short time later, and then the meal really didn’t matter. I can imagine poor Martha feeling such regret that she was stressed out and distracted during that final evening with her friend.

Is it possible that the vaguely unsettling cloud of Not Doing Enough is creating daily unhappiness, and that the thing we might need to do most is… to do less?

To be present?

To let some things go?

To figure out what is truly important?

It is Finished

If you have been a member of the You’re Not Doing Enough Club, I have news for you: We’re disbanding the club. The gig is up.

The next time we feel those clouds gathering, we’re fighting back.

We’re going to pause, and think about what really matters.

We’ll give ourselves permission to slow down.

We’ll allow ourselves time to do nothing.

You are doing enough.

Take a deep breath.

Be easy on yourself.

You are amazing. 

You really are.

Grateful thanks to Henric Silversnö for the use of his wonderful dog image.

P.S. Have you made a Happy File yet? Gathering words of encouragement can be a powerful cure for feeling like you’re not doing enough.

P.P.S. You might enjoy keeping a Victory List, too. And do you have something good to look forward to?

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is the author of 17 books, including Small Bites and 101 Things To Do With Bacon. She shares ideas to simplify cooking, gardening, time and money. She is also the owner of Cross Media, Inc. and founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society.

16 thoughts on “When You Feel Like You’re Not Doing Enough”

  1. I can sooooo totally relate to this post, I think we all can. I have spent many years working on this issue, and while I am much improved, I still fall into the trap. For me, I think the issue all boils down to emotions and control. Running around “doing” all the time is a fabulous way to keep yourself away from your emotions – it is for me anyhow. And it also gives me a real illusion of control – especially control over myself and my feelings.

    One time, near the beginning of my journey, I had decided that my problem was that I simply wasn’t disciplined enough. So I sat down and made a list of all the things I felt I needed to do every day. I included time for sleep, work, meals, exercise, housework, yadda, yadda, yadda. Imagine my surprise when I added it all up and it totaled over 36 hours per day! No wonder I felt exhausted!

    Part of me thinks that I’m always trying to reach some illusive place called “done.” You know… the time when all pressures are off and we can just sit back in a bubble bath eating bon-bons and drinking champagne. Problem is… it’s all a big illusion. The only time we’ll really be “done” is when we’re dead! I think what part of me really wants is a time when I no longer have to feel any of the pesky things that I don’t want to – no worries, no fear, no anxiety – just done!

    So what I’m working on is trying to accept and embrace ALL of my feelings rather than trying to outrun them. It’s not easy, and part of me really hates it, but I do find that after a good session of “dealing with shit” I feel much less frantic, and the urgency that’s usually wrapped around everything seems to dissipate a bit.

    Sorry for the long comment, but you obviously struck a chord here!

    • I’m fascinated by your 36-hour long list, Cat – that’s genius! I’ve long suspected that there’s no way we can do all the things needed to feel “done” and you proved that we should be whittling down our expectations by about 75%. Thank you for sharing your strategies for accepting and letting go, along with sometimes stepping up and dealing with things to feel less frantic. I always enjoy your perspective. xoxo

  2. Good one, Eliza! Your timing was good–it helped me with a decision where I was wrestling between doing something I felt I should do and the urge to simply be for awhile. You always inspire me, as people always do who strive to be their best in an all-round way (not someone else’s idea of what’s best) and pick themselves up and continue on even when things don’t quite work out. Thank you–

    • Rosemary, you’re someone who accomplishes so much and I bet you are often faced with those types of decisions. I’m glad this conversation helped you, and here’s to more moments when we can “simply be.” I like that description. xoxo

  3. Enjoyed this post, Eliza; you always put such wisdom into your blog. As a lifelong Type B slug, I have always had a hard time accomplishing even a minimal amount of tasks;in retirement, it is harder still to push myself to do them. Yet, your writing leads me to the conclusion that I need to determine which things are most important each day, try to get them done, and not punish myself with guilt for not doing more.

    • No way are you a “Type B slug,” Aunt Linda. You ARE funny! 🙂 And you deserve every minute of retirement, after raising such an amazing posse of daughters. Sending you hugs and love. xoxo

  4. Ouch – you just hit the nail on the head! I’m getting over the Martha (Stewart) complex but am still a Martha-sister-of-Mary type. Just heard talk on that – suggests that maybe Martha should have prepared ahead of time, then had time to enjoy Jesus as did Mary. Will try that for my Easter prep.

    Actually, isn’t perfection greatly overrated? This Type A (me) needs to remind herself of that* – will never make it anyway. You? You write great articles, etc. – inspire us all – no need to apologize for anything! (Bet your son has a mom he enjoys – and the reading time WILL get done!)

    *Tho I am considering a lighted coffin so I can work on those 10 steps to doing (whatever….)

  5. Dust If You Must

    by Rose Milligan

    Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
    To paint a picture, or write a letter,
    Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
    Ponder the difference between want and need?

    Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
    With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
    Music to hear, and books to read;
    Friends to cherish, and life to lead.

    Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
    With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
    A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
    This day will not come around again.

    Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
    Old age will come and it’s not kind.
    And when you go (and go you must)
    You, yourself, will make more dust.

    • Laurie, I’m so glad it spoke to you. I think a whole bunch of us feel this way. And I bet you do so, so much! Thanks for your comment. xo


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