As I scrutinized the pile of dishes at the kitchen sink, a brief wave of panic washed over me. It wasn't the dishes, per se, but what they represented -- another task that I needed to accomplish.
With under three weeks left in the semester, I'm feeling the crunch acutely. The sheer amount of grading is a rough mountain to scale, one that looms like the threat of a blustery storm. This evening I sat down to work after my children were tucked into bed, and I spent thirty minutes mindlessly sorting papers, accomplishing little but making a grand mess.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the pile of birthday thank-you notes that I need to help Reese write and put in the mail. I glanced toward the calendar and realized that I was scheduled to prepare a meal tomorrow for a family in our church who just had a baby -- and that I still need to buy groceries. My inbox is filled with messages awaiting responses. Two stacks of essays add weight to my work bag. An upcoming speaking engagement requires preparation. A committee at work requested my service.
And, given all this, those dishes downright sneered at me.
My reaction, briefly, was utter paralysis. Individually, these are all manageable tasks -- beneficial endeavors, really -- but combined, it simply felt like too much. Brain synapses fired. Fuses blew. My left eye twitched. My shoulders froze into a tense knot. How can I tackle this many jobs? I wanted to throw my hands up in surrender, wave the white flag, call in sick.
Instead, I attempted to breathe deeply, organize my thoughts, prioritize, and work to cross one thing off the list. Just one thing.
When Reese appears to be overwhelmed with a task, I remind her that big projects are completed one small step at a time. I coach her to set incremental goals.
It's no different for me. I'll grade one essay, then the next, and I'll get to the bottom of the stack that way. I'll wash one dish, then the next, and I'll get to the bottom of the sink that way.
And when my head settles into the pillow (much later than it ought, as will be the case tonight), hopefully I can rest contentedly. After all, tomorrow will bring another opportunity to do dishes.