Spreadsheets, “adulting”, and failing at supposed adulting
I’m no stranger to endless todos, handwritten mind dumps, or the occasional minor rush of panic that one gets when they realise they are not on top of their shit. That’s me. In fact, during my so-called “absence” from blogging during some of the past three months, I felt this looming sense of a severe lack of “adulting”.
Adulting is a funny thing; it’s a phrase akin to the junk drawer – the hidden, unorganised mess of miscellanea that we know is there, and that we know we need to control – but simply do not want to tackle right now. We put it off for as long as humanely possible, and for as long as societally acceptable.
It’s a phrase that also behaves as a way of ending a discussion we don’t particularly want to continue, almost as if to succumb to our own laziness or inability to prioritise what’s important. And that’s all well and good, it’s allowed – we are adults, after all, and letting so-called responsibilities slide in favour of what we consider more important to us right now is something we end up learning anyway. We’re all at different stages in our “adulting”. Some of us don’t even really want to admit to it being “adulting” at all. But I think it’s just a word that describes the things – whatever they may be, at whatever stage we are in life, no matter how old we are – that we feel like we need to do, or know how to do, but just won’t or can’t.
I do not have my shit together, so I made a spreadsheet to help me get my shit together
For me, I think adulting is defined by having my shit together. I realised that my recent dip in mood was a result of feeling overwhelmed by not having my shit together. I didn’t feel like I was on top of everything I needed to do, or wanted to do. I’m not a huge goal-oriented person and I tend to take each day as it comes, but somehow I’d let my pile of “stuff to do” become too much to handle. In the moment, I decided that the best way to handle it – and my emotions – was to just write a giant list titled “Things that are bothering me right now”.
After that, I decided to write down exactly why these things were bothering me. You know, to really get all my thoughts down and try to understand how I’m feeling.
I asked myself questions
As someone who is a highly sensitive person, very emotional, and lives with depression and PMDD, I’ve realised (particularly over the past year) that it’s really helpful for me to internalise why I am feeling my feelings. So I turned my list into a bit of a spreadsheet:
|Why is this happening? Why am I feeling this way?
This is by no means a mega-creative way of handling things, nor is it groundbreaking. And yeah, I’ve been that person with a kanban board for my life (it was in Trello, actually, so you’re welcome Chris) – so sue me. But in doing this exercise, I found it incredibly cathartic to fill in the spreadsheet and really get down to the bottom of why these things were bothering me.
As I read back over the list, I realise that some of these things are quite trivial, but I can imagine that for someone with anxiety, all of these small things pile up and cause a mental train wreck. (I am an anxious person at times, but I’ve not been diagnosed with anxiety or an anxiety disorder.)
A sample list of what was bothering me
For personal reasons I won’t be sharing every item on the list, but here are a few:
- I probably say yes to too many things
- Mentoring is probably something I should take a break from
- I am really frustrated by the shoe situation at home
- I probably need to get out more, yeah I know there is a pandemic
- I think I want to get my nails done
- My wardrobe is a mess and I keep talking about how much those hangers suck
- I have bad shopping habits
- I haven’t had my eyebrows properly fixed up in months and I didn’t like the place I tried downstairs
- I need new running shoes
- I need to get some of my shoes fixed or see if I can fix them
- Am I doing the right thing with my fitness and am I still enjoying it?
- I am a privileged person and I earn a lot of money
- Do I need to simplify my makeup routine or is it that I have an excess of actual makeup that I don’t use that is the problem
- I haven’t gone rock climbing and I kinda said I was going to
- I need to finish Jane’s theme, I haven’t prioritised it
- I haven’t gotten an eye test in like 15 years
- I’m so out of touch with my blog and I keep not doing stuff that I planned for it
- I feel yuck about the CSS on my blog because it could be improved and maybe the overall design as well
- Should I do anything because I am turning 30? Is that a cult?
- My AirPods keep dying after an hour (or 5 minutes in Zoom calls) and I keep putting up with them but I need them for gym
- Am I eating the right stuff? I’ve basically just gone kind of veg/vegan and eat meat when more convenient
- I’m bad at timing myself and I underestimate how much time I need to get ready to avoid being in a rush
- The apartment has a lot of stuff in it argh
It’s a hefty list, and there were definitely more. At first I didn’t think the list was that gargantuan, but it was.
What actually ended up taking a lot of time was filling in this spreadsheet. Actually actioning some of this stuff didn’t take that long at all. It just needed a push. Some motivation. Some determination. It was almost as if creating the spreadsheet and the action of filling it in was exactly the push I needed to clear my mind and start sorting out some of these things.
I created this list one weekend, and I’m genuinely surprised that in the week following, I had dealt with a handful of the items on the list and was almost addicted to actioning all the items. I was making appointments, making plans, and just straight up completing some of the tasks. Designing and coding my friend Jane’s blog theme was the top priority as I had put it on the back burner and she had been incredibly patient with me for months past a predicted due date. I’d made great progress and I was on the home stretch, but I swallowed my pride and I asked Jane to help me with the final steps by making the last phase of refinement more collaborative. I asked her to openly send me feedback, and I was willing to accept the work-in-progress and share it with her in a way that she could provide critique and motivate me to complete it. I’m glad I got there in the end. ✊🏻
Digging deep into my habits, fears, and tendencies that cause this disarray
Several things required some deeper thinking and proper research, such as finding a shoe rack to deal with the disorganisation of Nick’s and my pairs of shoes at the entrance to our study, and whether I should purchase new AirPods immediately to replace my worn out ones, or just wait for a new generation to be released. Needing new running shoes required a bit of research as well. Since those three things are related to purchasing things, I dug deep. I dug deep and really asked myself, why do these money-related and purchase-related things bother me?
I soon found that my minimalist mindset and my “fear” of accumulating clutter – but at the same time my tendency to frugality – was really preventing me from solving problems that genuinely needed to be solved. Even if they weren’t completely urgent.
For example, Nick and I had a lot of shoes at the entrance of our study that was bothering me immensely. I wanted to solve the problem, but my mind was going in circles, thinking, “A shoe rack is so unnecessary and probably just going to be crap, and cost money, and seems like a bandaid fix”, and “Girl, you just have too many shoes”. Eventually, I took action and researched to find a proper shoe rack. I had decided that I decluttered my shoe collection enough, and the lack of shoe storage was still a problem. I also decided that after three years of living in our current place, the notion of “waiting” to move to another apartment with better storage was not worth many more months of shoe disorganisation, and I was already fed up. So that week, Nick and I discussed some options and we got a simple shoe rack from IKEA! It has served us well thus far. 😌
My AirPods had also gotten to the point where the battery life was so poor, I would complain about it every time I used them and the battery ran out extremely quickly. I weighed up my needs and the fact that I’d have to part with a few hundred bucks. But I realised that I had owned my AirPods for several years already, and it made sense that the battery was deteriorating. Purchasing replacement buds would cost almost as much as purchasing a brand new pair with the charging case. It was vital that I have wireless earbuds for listening to music at the gym and when commuting or walking outside – but not headphones, because they would tend to get in the way of exercise – and I was not fussed at all about noise cancelling features (or any other fancy features) because I was quite happy with the model I had. I ended up purchasing the 2nd generation of the AirPods, which pretty much had the same functionality. It just so happened that the product was discounted on the day I bought them! 🤑 I’ve now used them dozens of times and am happy with them. No more frustration.
So many people dislike prioritising. I’m one of them.
I don’t love prioritising tasks. In my heart, I truly know what’s important, but I always turn towards doing the easiest tasks first. Sometimes the things that are top priority are the most difficult to start, and in those cases, I try to find ways to ask for encouragement from others. People can give it to you if you talk openly about it, but I believe that sometimes you just have to admit that you’re having a hard time and ask for help. I think that asking Jane to become involved in the end of my work on her blog theme was a giant help. There was also – obviously – something beneficial in it for her, and I wasn’t just asking a stranger to help me with something they had no idea about. She had been involved in my design thinking and it actually made sense that she became involved towards the end.
I think so many of us do know what needs to be prioritised, but we simply don’t want to do it. It feels like a chore. Maybe we regret something we said we’d do. I think this is where my item “I probably say yes to too many things” came from. In doing a mind dump of what was bothering me, I realised that I over-committed. I over-committed, even though it didn’t look like there were many things on my plate. I didn’t have the mental capacity.
I didn’t want to admit it, either. It’s a tough thing to write down since it makes you feel like a failure and like you overestimated yourself. I do this a lot. But the reality is that sometimes we want to be able to do everything, but we can’t. It’s important to have time for ourselves and to be in good mental health, and the more we make sure this is the case, the better we get at it. The more we allow ourselves to have a break, the better we get at avoiding over-committing.
There was a little more depth to my action item, and a list of more things, but this is essentially what I wrote in my Why is this happening and Action item columns:
|Why is this happening? Why am I feeling this way?
I probably say yes to too many things
I think I have the capacity to do something but I don’t.
I misjudge my capabilities and capacity.
I might be saying yes to something that I initially think is beneficial for me, but isn’t as beneficial as I thought. Or, I am saying yes for the wrong reasons.
Avoid saying yes to new projects, and do not start any new projects until:
If anyone reaches out for a new project, ask them to check in after a certain period of time, or happily refer them to someone else.
I think it’s important to call out what I wrote about having some actual space to myself. This, along with many other things I wrote in that column in my spreadsheet, and really analysing and writing down my feelings, made me realise that some of the things that were bothering me were trivial. They felt amplified because of the more important things I hadn’t dealt with yet. Things like booking an eye test, getting my eyebrows waxed, and taking my shoes to the shoe repair were small things that I left by the wayside but were able to complete quite quickly.
It’s up to you how you choose to properly prioritise. Some items on my list held greater weight, and I spent more focused time on them. But as for the aforementioned trivial things, they could either be dealt with in parallel – i.e. as soon as possible, but with no real sense of urgency, while focusing on the important stuff – or almost immediately so I could essentially tick them off and get them out of the way.
Give yourself the time and space to be mentally well
If you decide to create this spreadsheet of things that are bothering you or that you want to deal with, or need to adult about – whatever it ends up being for you – know that no one has to see it. I initially meant for mine to be private, but I ended up sharing details about it with a couple of people close to me. And hey, now I’m sharing some of it on my blog. 🙂 But when you write down why something is bothering you or making you anxious, go all out and be honest with yourself, be extensive and detailed, and don’t be afraid that someone’s going to look at it and judge you.
I found that the spreadsheet took some time to fill out. I didn’t pressure myself to complete it, but I found myself wanting to complete it because I was surprised that it took me so long to add my thoughts to it, and I thought I would be finished with it sooner. It can take some time and you might have to work on it for a little bit each day.
How do I feel about the process of creating a spreadsheet to organise thoughts?
I didn’t think much of this idea when I first thought of it. I just thought it was a way of creating a somewhat organised version of the mess in my head. Organised in that a spreadsheet is like a bunch of boxes you fill in, pretty easy. Spreadsheets aren’t pretty and they can be incredibly dull, but they are a tried and true way of quickly organising something. When done digitally, it’s pretty easy to move things around.
I think the spreadsheet model offers room for comparison and extensibility – yeah, here I go talking like I’m a manager or something. 🤣 In all honesty, it’s not about the functionality of a spreadsheet. It’s the fact that, as I said, the boxes you fill in serve as an organisational tool for what feels like a scattered jumble of thoughts – a scattered jumble of thoughts that can cause each individual to feel mental distress, anxiety, loss of control, and other similar feelings.
I mentioned filling in the spreadsheet over time, but to be honest, I don’t even think it’s something you really have to complete. I personally found that the more I filled out the rows in the spreadsheet, the less some of the items on the list bothered me.
It was a process that I also thoroughly enjoyed. Something about it felt – I will say again, cathartic. It was a process that motivated me to take action before I even got to the bottom of the list. I think it was a combination of the slight organisation of thoughts (versus an empty, almost intimidating journal page ready for a mind dump), and the nature of the spreadsheet making it seem like the sheet was begging to be filled out. Since I did it digitally, I also felt like it was flexible and didn’t feel like it needed to be completed on the spot, even if it was begging to be filled out. I could delete rows of thoughts that didn’t seem worth analysing, and I could add to it as needed, but feel no great pressure to complete it.
I think that in time I will write some blog posts with more details about some of the items on my list, to further add to why I found this process useful. Please let me know if you would try something like this, or already do something similar. I’d love to hear your thoughts.