When Things Feel Scattered

By Leo Babauta

Often when our lives have a bunch of things going on at once, and multiple things to manage in each of those areas … it can feel really messy and scattered.

This kind of feeling of messiness can cause us stress, and make us unhappy with our current situation.

We might feel like we’re doing things wrong. We might feel like we’re trying to keep our heads above water, and struggling with it. We might feel helpless, like there’s not much we can do about it.

If you feel scattered like this … I’m here to say that this is a very common feeling, and you’re not alone. Many of us feel scattered, overwhelmed, like our lives are messy and out of control.

There are some tactical things we can do to feel more under control … and there’s a mindset shift (or practice) we can do to get good at feeling peace in the midst of this kind of chaos.

Let’s talk tactics first, then talk practice / mindset shift.

Tactical Methods

If your life is feeling scattered, there are some tactics that might help. I’m going to share some of them, and invite you to test them out to see which ones help you:

  • Make a long list. Sometimes it can help to dump everything you need to do onto one long list. It’s simply a brain dump. Mentally scan all the areas of your life, and try to get everything out of your head and onto paper (or digital document). Don’t sort through them at first, just get everything out. Then take a moment to sort through — grouping them into areas, maybe prioritizing them. If you feel like it, knock off a bunch of the small tasks in 30 minutes to clear things out a little.
  • Make a short list. Once you have a long list, it might feel even more overwhelming. No one can tackle such a long list all at once! I’ve found that it helps to make a short list of 3-5 things I want to tackle today, from the longer list. These are important things that would make today a great victory. Come back to the long list later, and focus on the short list for now.
  • Create some time to sort out each area. Set aside just 20-30 minutes each day to sort through an area of your life — maybe 30 minutes on Monday to list out your financial tasks and clear some of them out. Maybe 30 minutes on Tuesday to make a plan and create structure around your health and self-care rituals. And so on — you can create time for different projects, for house maintenance, for family or relationship issues, etc. In this way, we start to get things in order, one area at a time.
  • Create regular time for each area. Similarly, you can block off some time on the calendar each week for each area of your life that could use some regular maintenance. When will you take care of your finances? Meal planning and prep? For connecting with loved ones? For clearing out your email inbox? Block off the time on a recurring basis.
  • Get some support. If you’re struggling with getting organized with everything, you might ask for a friend or colleague to sit down with you and help you sort through things. Or get a coach — I’m available for hire!
  • Simplify. If things are getting crazy, sometimes it’s a time to pause and consider what you might do to simplify. Have you overcommitted, been too optimistic? Are there commitments you can let go of to give yourself more breathing room? It’s not always the right thing to do, but sometimes simplifying is a beautiful thing to do.
  • Do one thing at a time, fully. If you’re feeling scattered, it’s often the case that you’re jumping from one thing to another in a kind of frenetic pace. It might be a helpful thing to slow down. Breathe. Pick one thing, and give it your entire focus. Pour your entire being into it, with full commitment. Then let it go and focus on the next thing.
  • Take some breaks for self-regulation. When we’re feeling overwhelmed and scattered, it’s usually more of an emotional experience than it is a problem with our external circumstances. We’ll talk more about that in the next section on mindset … but a helpful tactic is to give yourself some breaks during the day where you can breathe, have some space, and take care of yourself. Regulate your emotions when you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted. Rest and give yourself time to replenish your energy.

OK, that’s enough of tactics! Don’t try to take them all on, just pick one and give it a shot for a bit, to see how it works.

Mental Shift: Practice with the Feeling of Chaos

We often think the problem is with our outer circumstances — we have too much to do, everything is messy! — or we think the problem is that we’re not good in staying on top of everything.

But there’s another approach, rather than changing external circumstances or getting better at doing everything right.

The approach is to learn to find peace with chaos.

It’s an acceptance that our lives will always be a bit chaotic, turbulent, messy. Our lives will never be in order. And so we can accept this chaos as not just a part of life, but the experience of life itself. This chaos is how life feels.

And then we can learn to relax, and find peace. Imagine finding calm while out in a stormy sea. Learning to love the storm itself.

So here’s how I suggest practicing with this:

  • Write out a reminder to practice during the day — a note to yourself like, “Feel the chaos.” Then practice noticing when you’re feeling scattered, overwhelmed, messy.
  • When you notice the feeling … pause. Take a breath. Bring your awareness to the bodily sensations of the messiness. Stay with these sensations for as long as you’re able, coming back to them if your mind gets caught up in thinking.
  • Bring a gentle, open, non-judgmental awareness to the sensations of scatteredness. Can you be curious about these sensations, wanting to know more about them?
  • See these sensations as simply how chaos feels for you right now. Can you learn to relax with these sensations? Can you learn to breathe and find gratitude for them?

If you practice with these sensations of messy chaos throughout the day, you can learn to get more and more comfortable with the chaos. You can learn to relax, and flow with how things are.

This doesn’t mean you should never get organized, or simplified. It means that you can find peace in the middle of just about any situation, with practice.

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