May 21, 2020
Years ago I was introduced to the Franklin-Covey system of time management. I used the be that guy who carried around 5 ring binder calendar system. It was marvelous! It had a monthly calendar, and daily breakdown calendars. Each page had a To-Do list. Every morning I would write down my list of things to accomplish. We call those our “big rocks” today, but back then, it was a To Do list.
Every item got assigned a priority letter. A’s were most important, must be done first thing today items. B’s were items that needed to be done today but could maybe wait until after all the A’s were done. C’s were things that were important but could be pushed to the following day if needed. Then, the best part, each priority item got a priority number!!!. A’s were assigned 1, 2, 3, etc…and so forth down the list until you knew exactly what you had to do for the day. On a busy day, you might even need a, b, c for each numbered priority. It was a thing of beauty!
I still use a similar system today but it’s more electronic on my calendar than on a binder full of paper. I’ve even learned to integrate One Note a little (I’m still learning that one) so that all my Microsoft Office apps are connected. It’s amazing how organized I can be!
That is if I use the tools at my disposal. Some days I amaze myself at how efficient I am with all my admin and clinical work. Other days, like today, I look at a calendar so full of items that stretches from 8 am to 5:30 pm and I have no clue where to even begin! I am overwhelmed with how much has to be done. Today was the kind of day where I spent more time during the first 15 minutes of my work day staring at my computer than I did organizing my priorities. It was just so much!!!
Most days I find that once all my big rocks are chipped away into manageable little stones I can end my day feeling accomplished and satisfied in my work. When days like today end, it’s a little less clear how I’ll feel at 5;30 once that last thing gets done. I might have time for a break to watch the news and take the dogs out for a walk just before it’ll be time to start dinner.
One of the greatest threats to my personal and professional productivity is what I call the “paralysis of analysis.” This is what happens when you look at the daunting enormity of a day like today with all it’s demands and neediness. I get this paralyzed feeling when whatever obstacle I’m tackling feels like it’s too big, beyond my skills, or hard to endure or overcome.
It also doesn’t help that I’m an overthinker! Seriously, it’s not a good combination to be both an overthinker who analyzes EVERYTHING and a pessimist who looks for the worst in EVERYTHING!!! Y’all, it’s hard being me!!!
The temptation to sit idle and not do anything is a symptom of grief. It’s hard to remain undisturbed and undaunted by the enormity of our collective and personal sense of loss. Passivity and ignorance are easier. That’s why many modern writers on grief think of it as vocation. It’s something we have to work through like it’s our job. Grief, then, needs a “getting things done” plan. Grief work needs a to do list.
Without a plan, our grief Big Rocks and our small rocks almost become indistinguishable. Every moment feels like staring at a never ending list of priorities that seem to be so heavy and so demanding that we end up paralyzed, unable to move in any direction. Everything we do feels like we’re either drinking from a fire hose or using a squirt gun to put out a grease fire! Nothing works! Nothing feels effective. Everything feels inadequate and insufficient. So why not just give up? Why not just sit there idle and let someone else do all the work.
I drove through downtown today and stopped off at the office. It was nice to see a few faces there, working away as usual. It’s almost as if nothing has changed as far as this pandemic goes. Other than the fact that we all had to sit 6 feet apart and wear face masks, it was almost as if everything was normal and familiar again.
As I drove home I passed people walking down the street. There were people waiting for the bus. The bus station was busy and I even saw some people laughing as they stood on the corner talking. It was at the light where I saw a man on a tandem bike. I smiled when I saw his riding buddy. It was a young boy, about 4 or 5 years old. He was in the rear seat, peddling his heart out!
I thought at first how cute, a dad and his kid out together on bikes. Then I realized just how meaningful this image was. There was dad, fully capable of paddling the bike by himself. The kid on the back seat could have just been along for the ride. He didn’t even need to peddle. But there he was putting his whole heart and body into the work at hand.
It was a thing of inspiration. The obvious lesson was that no matter how small or insufficient you might feel, there’s still something you can do to add to the work or job at hand. Sure, that little one wasn’t making the bike go that much faster, but he was trying, he was adding his best to the outcomes of the whole. He was there, present and chipping away at the big rocks.
Less obvious might be the lesson the dad taught me. Dad did the lion’s share of the work. In fact, he was probably doing ALL the work. But he didn’t care. He didn’t mind that he had to carry the young one. He was happy to work with his riding partner to get the job done.
They were riding in tandem. They were headed in the same direction. Maybe the younger kid wasn’t capable of accomplishing the task alone. The two together worked for the good of the whole. The two shared the load and never complained that one wasn’t doing equal work or that one was really carrying the team. They just peddled and they enjoyed the ride.
Sometimes we need people in our lives to help us “peddle” when we can’t muster the strength we need to get going. Our grief can make us feel a lot like that small kid, who could barely reach the peddles, pushing furiously toward getting from point A to point B. We could have given up and said it’s too hard or too big. We could have made a good argument that we are just too small to make it work.
Instead of giving up or feeling paralyzed by the enormity of our grief, we can accomplish much if we are willing to work in tandem. There’s an old proverb that says “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with another.” This is true in the work of grief. We can try going at it alone. We might get some things done quick. But if we want to go far, if we want to go all the way in our healing and growth, we need community. We need to face our work, our big rocks of grief, in tandem with others who share our bike and share our work.
I’m reminded of the conversation in the Lord of the Rings between Frodo and Samwise:
“Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness, and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it'll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo...and it's worth fighting for.”
Sometimes everything feels wrong and everything feels like it’s dark and distant and beyond our skill or ability. Every morning we wake up with an enormous task list to chip away at. Every morning, we have a chance to turn back or quit or let go. But we don’t. We hold on, we struggle on, and we work toward the good.
However you practice your getting things done in your vocation of grief, know you do not have to do it alone. Your efforts and the efforts of the whole community add to the outcomes of the whole. We can work through the hardness of our grief and come out successful and strong. You have within you the strength of the whole community. You must go but you do not have to go alone. You must meet the challenge but you do not have to overcome it all at once. Grief is the art of eating an elephant, one bite at a time!
My loves you are stronger and more able to do much more than you imagine. It’s wort hold on for! It’s worth fighting through the fear and the enormity of it all. You are worth fighting for!
Love and Light!