This post was written by our LearnDoBecome team member, Kristen Archuleta. Enjoy!
Trauma is a natural part of so many of life’s challenges. Abandonment, divorce, illness or death of a loved one, infertility, abuse, chronic illness, addiction, natural disaster…and these just name a few.
At a conference I (Kristen) attended a year ago, Dorothy Maryon, a practicing Clinical Mental Health Counselor, shared an analogy of trees in a storm to show how stressful situations can affect us differently. The first group of trees weathers the storm without any change. They remain straight and strong during the strong winds and after the storm has passed. These trees represent the times when we are able to continue functioning normally before, during, and after a stressful situation.
The second group of trees bend and sway during the storm. But when the winds pass, they once again stand tall, regaining their former shape. Life is disrupted in the midst of the stressful situation, but when that time has passed, things go back to normal.
The third group of trees, however, suffers during the storm. Some lose branches. Others crack and bend–and are unable to regain their original shape again. This is the kind of trauma I would like to focus on.
This trauma shatters the way we view our world. And it shatters our identity within that world construct. Rebuilding and healing from that kind of trauma is a painful process that takes time. It often involves grieving, as we acknowledge the things we have lost. It can also become a beautiful process of post-traumatic growth.
Over the past couple years, my personal journey into the Steps to Everyday Productivity program has coincided fairly closely with this type of life-altering trauma. I’ve had realities and truths that I’ve had to re-examine. I’ve experienced a deep sense of grief and loss for things I thought I had. And because of this experience, I’ve gained a unique perspective on productivity that I’d like to share.
We need to take time to grieve when we’ve been hurt. That’s just what human beings do. We need to facilitate time and space to do that…You can’t short-change grief. It doesn’t go away. People can ignore it and they can get really busy and they can do all sorts of things, but grief just keeps showing up. And so if you can face it and go through that really painful experience, you will be further along in the road.Dorothy Maryon
How do we intentionally make time and space in our ever-moving lives for grief? While working through this beautifully painful process of post-traumatic growth, what do we do with all the tasks, the projects, and the heavy things that weigh on our minds?
Focus on essentials
Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.Greg McKeown, Essentialism
Over the past few years, I’ve had to deliberately leave space in my projects and routines to grieve, to recover. I need time to process my emotions and do self-care. I need to be intentional about planning time to connect with others and with my Higher Power. Here are some ways I do this:
Keep my Current Projects List limited to 1-3 projects.
While April & Eric talk about having 7-8 projects in this list, I’ve often chosen to cut down on projects even further. This decision to work through projects sequentially instead of in parallel helps immensely to reduce my overwhelm. It also increases my clarity and focus during times when my life feels unmanageable and I’m just not sure what is most important to work on.
Center my Routines List around my need for time and space.
For me, this means prioritizing self-care and connection. Self-care is much broader than taking bubble baths and eating chocolate (although I definitely count my nightly hot shower as self-care!). Sometimes self-care has meant doing things that are outside of my comfort zone, like reaching out when I’m feeling isolated or trying out a yoga class at the local gym. Self-care empowers me to take healthy actions, prioritizing kindness toward myself. Connection plays a large role in my routines as well, because it is crucial for healing. I attend a weekly support group. I connect with family members on the phone. And I connect with God.
I have also chosen to center my Routines List around healing in other ways. I set aside time weekly for recovery work. I plan extra time around sleep, because I know that in the midst of heavy emotions I don’t sleep well. Whatever healing looks like for you, make space for it–include it in your routines.
Have places to hold the rest
Someday List – a place to hold the ideas I want to do, but just can’t do right now.
Some projects in my Someday List are sorted by topic, thoroughly outlined and include links to resources and notes with my thoughts and ideas. Other projects aren’t even fully formed ideas yet. But having a place to gather and organize my ideas, even when they aren’t current has been so powerful.
Incubation List – a holding place for pending decisions, questions, and things outside my control.
My Incubation List is a great place to keep projects or ideas I’m not ready to decide on. Often in the midst of major life change, I feel pressure on so many fronts. Putting these things down in a list where I know they are “safe” relieves a lot of the pressure I feel to make big decisions before I’m ready.
I also don’t have to have answers to all my questions right now. Some questions weigh heavily on my mind. Until I find answers, it’s helpful to have a place to hold them, to write thoughts, and to gather related resources.
Finally, my Incubation List is a holding place for things that affect me or worry me that are outside of my control – a place to write them down and keep them, so they aren’t stuck in my mind.
Waiting – a place to hold the tasks or projects I’ve delegated
I can delegate. When something isn’t done yet, I don’t need to worry and fret about it, because I have delegated it, and now I have a place to put that task until it’s time to follow up on it.
Combat failure with grace, self-compassion, and a Higher Power
More than once, I have gotten stuck thinking that the steps I take have to look a certain way in order for them to “count.” But here is the truth. When I take steps to reconstruct my identity and sense of self, it counts as progress. When I engage in self-care, it counts as a success. Healing and growth can (and often does) include going back and working on things I thought I had figured out before. Life and progress aren’t linear. So when you feel like you’re failing, broaden your definition of what “counts.” (Our LearnDoBecome Team member Danielle uses a Happy Success list to do this.)
There are still times when my life feels completely unmanageable. It’s hard and painful. And I fall short, letting people down. During these times, I love the Serenity Prayer, because it reminds me that when things feel too heavy, I can surrender. That there is Higher Power who is there for us, ready to support us in our pain and growth.
However you define your Higher Power, I hope that you can connect with that power in the midst of your tree-breaking storms. I truly believe that He can help us grow in ways we never could foresee as we face our heartbreaking challenges.
From Our Community
Here are some incredible ways our STEP community members have used their STEP Command Centrals to help them move through difficult situations with more clarity and peace.
I just started the STEP program. I got so much out of the “Drowning in Piles” webinar that I signed up. Last Sunday the step granddaughter that I adopted, ran away. I am not going to get into all the details. What has been awesome for me is that I have been able to handle this as a “project.” I reviewed what were already projects, removed a few, and proceeded from there. As the Sheriff gave me tasks to do, I made them assign priority to the order of the tasks and I did them.
Yes, I have lost sleep, but I have never had this much calm in the face of adversity. I am so grateful right now for the program. When the new officers assigned to the case showed up to my house today, they couldn’t hide being impressed at my project file folder with all the information so far on the case….
When I started this program I thought that I could only work at it if there was nothing major going on in my life. I had no idea it would help me so much when something major was happening in my life.
The last few years have been some of the most difficult times in my life. Having experienced some serious trauma as a youngster, my life path went in directions I never imagined. Lost, out of control, making horrible choices I decided to ‘stand still’ for awhile and do some soul searching. Made huge changes in my life, and then it hit me…hard. I could finally SEE where my choices had led me. “Drowning in Piles,” debt, stuff and lacking any direction. I felt alone, scared and never imagined how I’d get myself out of these disasters I created for myself.
‘STEP’ entered my life a few years ago, and for the first time in my life, I had money to spend on something healthy and good for me…Despite never completing the entire program, yet, I do not know how I would have gotten through the many ‘difficult situations’ being thrown my way. I knew enough of the system to be able to handle what was coming at me, preventing being smothered and useless. I’ve been the full time, live-in, caregiver for my parents. My Dad w/ later stage Alzheimer’s, and my Mom, diagnosed with many chronic illnesses, and hospitalized twice last year nearly losing her life, has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. These last few years have been a challenge to say the least.
Having STEP has been a huge help in my life, and loved ones by extension. It was difficult for me at first, as I’ve never been taught how to do simple things most adults do. It took my brain awhile to change how I used to live to how I do now, and I’m only half way through STEP. I can only imagine what life will be like when I do finally finish and am able to live the life I’ve always dreamed of. Thank You STEP and all the STEPers for being a compassionate, supportive, non-judgmental community/group of people!!
I started STEP a few years after a traumatic family life event. My son was wrongly placed in Foster Care, after months of us working with providers and knowledgeable friends to help him nurse and gain weight appropriately after birth. I was already familiar with David Allen’s GTD principles, but struggling to make them a daily habit. My house and office were still under many piles, and only making progress when I felt I had energy to give.
I have been to a few counselors since gaining custody back of our son, which took 3 months of foster placement & another 3 to be official. As with many official situations, there was a lot of paperwork to add onto my piles of info from life beforehand. I grew even more numb to the piles, to focus on healing….
I had been praying more and going to church regularly, and asking God for all sorts of things pertaining to his plan for my life. I feel like He dropped the STEP free introductory course right onto my newsfeed: ‘How to Finally Stop Drowning in Piles.’ I made time to watch the hour long class, and felt God calling me to sign up for the full program….
Since starting STEP, my family, friends and people I collaborate with on advocating issues, have noticed that I am much more organized and reliable. It’s been only 6 months, and I am no longer worried about implementing an organizational system into my life. The basics are set up & functioning!
April has explained my beloved GTD system in a way that helps this busy person with just a few resources make it happen. We are all still healing. The difference is that, now we have a plan for that, and all the rest that life is throwing at us.
Thank You for your caring vision at Learn Do Become ❤️
My daughter was born October 2012. I had been working at the hospital for 11 years and became a stay at home mom. I knew I wouldn’t continue working after she was born but that transition in identity was difficult. I was soon diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and OCD. I was consistently worried, experienced intrusive thoughts, and had panic attacks when preparing to leave the house. I also had severe back pain that at times prevented me from picking up and caring for my baby. Then the unexplained joint/muscle pain and weight gain started.
In July 2016 I learned I was pregnant. I was overjoyed! I was also very sick, sleeping up to 18 hours a day. I had an ultrasound at 22 weeks and we were informed our son had medical issues. I had a lot of testing done and the doctors asked if we wanted to consider termination. We ultimately decided that was not the route to take and proceeded to have extensive monitoring and consults with a variety of specialists. We began preparing for a life with a special needs child.
Spencer was born on January 5, 2017 and died a couple hours after birth. He spent most of that time in the NICU and I had no idea the extent of his medical issues until the last moments of his life. I was beyond devastated and so, so angry.
2017 was a miserable year. I was fed up with everything, especially my own health issues. I began seeing a variety of specialists for my physical well-being. No one could come up with a diagnosis. By chance, I heard about the keto diet and decided on a whim to give it a try. Nothing else had worked and I figured it couldn’t hurt. Within a week my pain was gone! I still don’t have an official diagnosis but it’s looking like my issues are caused by a food sensitivity. Being in better physical health greatly improved my outlook. I was able to start dealing with the pain of Spencer’s death.
The “How to Stop Drowning in Piles” class popped up into my newsfeed in April 2018…I managed to sit at my computer to watch and realized this is what I had been subconsciously searching for my whole life. I’m a very neat, organized person by nature. My degree is in project management. I should know how to handle everything! I wanted so much more for my life and STEP was a way to handle the mundane things so I could move on to bigger and better dreams.
In the past year plus, STEP has given me hope. STEP is sometimes a distraction from my thoughts and sometimes a way to deal with them. It has given me the ability to think less about the daily details and put more focus on taking care of myself. I have learned a lot about myself and am continuing to grieve and heal…One of the things on my list of motivators when I’m in a funk is listen to a LDB podcast…I feel like STEP has been part of my post traumatic growth. I certainly wish I didn’t need to experience trauma to gain that growth though! I’m loving the revamped program and things are clicking even better this time through. I still have bad days but more and more are good. STEP has helped me realize I can’t “do it all” and prioritize which things to do first to help me achieve my goals. I still wish I could be “all better right now” but I’m learning I will get where I want to be eventually.
QUESTION: What situation is weighing most heavily on you this week? Are there 2-3 projects or routines that you could eliminate from your current lists to make emotional and mental space to deal with that situation?
CHALLENGE: Take 5-10 minutes to identify some tasks, projects and/or routines that could be delegated, deferred, dropped, or added to an Incubation List.
Do you love the idea of a streamlined list that helps you get things done AND celebrate your unplanned successes? We thought so! Come check out this creative way of organizing your tasks and accomplishments, and we guarantee you’ll feel more joy, gratitude, and clarity.
We have a free training for you! If you want to learn how to organize your mind, our free class, How to Stop Drowning in Piles, teaches four simple steps you can implement today to help you manage the details of life so that you can do more of what matters most. We look forward to having you join us!