First Semester Burnout

I think I’m burnt out. Which is discouraging since we’re only nine weeks into this school year. Thankfully, we’re off next week but, for better or worse, I will be busy catching up on everything that’s been slipping through the cracks. I’m doubtful it will seem like much of a break.

Here’s me forcing a smile to show off my new Flannery O’Connor shirt just so this post has some sort of image with it to break up all the whiny text.

I know why I’m feeling fried; I spent six weeks in an intense business accelerator that overlapped with the early start to our school year, and when it ended, I went full into book promotion mode. Plus, I’m still trying to grow Accepting the Gift and put all the info and money I got in the accelerator to work. One week off in July isn’t making up for the 19 months of constant caregiving, homeschooling, and 2,490 extras.

I had a realization early this week while listening to an episode of The Art of Manliness podcast. I’ve been trying to become more efficient through all sorts of productivity hacks, piling more and more on my plate with the thought that, with the perfect schedule, I could do everything. But the insanely obvious message the podcast drove home to me was that that’s impossible.

We then get into the fact that we’d like to do an infinite number of things, but are finite beings, and how this contrast creates an anxiety that we attempt to soothe and deny through productivity techniques. … Oliver explains why engaging in efficiency for its own sake only creates more stuff to do, and why recognizing you can never “clear the decks” of your daily tasks, nor get everything done, can actually help you focus on the things that matter most.

-from the podcast description, emphasis mine

I think what’s still hard for me to see is where I can cut back; what matters most? Homeschooling Fulton and Teddy is time consuming in ways quite unlike homeschooling my older three children and is something we’re committed to through the end of this school year. There’s no “hacking” their education. I’d made a mental note to stop doing book interviews or talks after Teddy’s surgery, but it’s not like I will be able to catch my breath as I know the recovery will be all encompassing in its own right. I’m sure you’ve noticed I can only reliably blog about every other week. Even if I would toss the blog entirely, which I don’t plan to do, it’s doesn’t free up much time. Accepting the Gift is a ministry that could eat up all my time, and grow accordingly, but it’s still something I’m barely fitting into the fringe hours. And of course there’s all the miscellaneous stuff that pops up and devours all the time that I try to meticulously schedule with all those great hacks. If you knew how much time I had to wait on hold over the last three weeks just to get Fulton a new feeding pump you’d understand why that adds to my discouragement. It all seems to be the most important!

I’ve also come to realize that so many of these productivity gurus and the hacks they promote are not designed for anyone except upper-middle-class white-collar business men and women. When another podcaster I was listening to started talking about making time to tackle home tasks in the first half hour after his nanny arrived, or how he planned his trip to the frame shop before preparing for the housekeeper to arrive, I realized that maybe I’m trying to get too much advice from people who have no idea what it’s like to homeschool, care for two disabled children, manage a large family home, run a ministry, and be a writer – sometimes on a very, very tight budget. There was another “expert” who wanted to convince everyone to block their time so they could do their most important work when they were at their most creative and alert. This man no longer did breakfast meetings because he needed to use those peak morning hours for creative work. How many people can build their day around their energy levels?? “Sorry Teddy, this is my peak creative time. You’ll have to wait to get dressed for the day. Maybe the nanny and housekeeper can help you.” It’s why the only time management tips I’ve given are tongue in cheek and require putting kids in cages. (Although, in searching my archives I found a post on fall homeschooling burnout that, while containing good tips, is not really helpful for my current situation AND now has me stressing about the holidays.)

So why am I dumping all this here? Well, because it’s been on my mind a lot and I’m hopeful that at some point down the road I’ll be able to look back on this post and see how I overcame this struggle, which is so minor compared to what many people I know are experiencing. I’m also sharing it because I hear almost daily “I don’t know how you do all you do!” Surprise folks – I don’t know either! All I know is whatever system I’m currently using is making me tired, irritable, and leaves lots of dog hair everywhere that isn’t getting cleaned up on a regular basis. I would not recommend my current system to anyone even if it makes me look “productive”.

The trick is to figure out how to scale back, and enjoy a scaled back life. I am notorious for taking on projects the second I feel like I have an iota of free time. Some of these are very good projects but I simply can’t keep “hacking” my schedule to include everything worthwhile. I think I also tie my identity into much of what I do so that letting something go feels like letting go of who I am, and I need to be okay with that. I am still an awesome child of God even if I no longer do X or Y. My worth is not tied to how much I can do.

Thank you for joining along in this old school blogger rant which is absolutely awful for Google search rankings and Pintrest traffic. (And turning new readers into regulars.) Tune in next week when hopefully I’ll feel perkier and perhaps add a disclaimer to this post, or unpublish it altogether. And if you’re a new reader who just found my blog after reading my book, WELCOME! Please scan my archives and ignore this detour into self-pity. My life is still better than OK and full of joy; I just needed to vent a little.

Now it’s your turn. Share a happy post or your own angst filled tirade. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can come over here and wonder, “What the heck is up with this lady?” I look forward to reading your posts and then feeling guilty about it because I don’t have time for reading either.

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9 Comments

  1. A while back a wiser older mom mentioned seeing “scaling back” as a sabbatical from whatever I was doing for however long I wanted it to be. It was the right way to frame it in my mind and 4 years later I’m still on sabbatical lol.

  2. Thank you for sharing about burnout. It’s a real thing. I’ve been feeling it lately as well. This homeschooling thing is exhausting. I think you are right – do less, and then be ok with doing less. I need to practice both of those things. Best of luck. May God bless and multiply your rest.

  3. Empathy on the burnout. I feel like I’m herding cats at work some days. (At least I haven’t gotten the “but-I-don’t-want-to-do-this-thing-my-instructor-told-me-to-do” whining… yet.) Add in having to be up at 5:45 to get my kid dressed, tube-fed, and on the bus, and you have me choosing to spend my free time sleeping or staring at walls instead of decluttering or doing the other things I try to get done when Daniel is at school and I’m not working.

  4. Awhile back our priest shared that he is terrible at time management, which made parish life very stressful for him. He started to pray over his planner, “Lord here’s my plan, now make my schedule for me and make time for what’s important today.” Since I’ve adopted that prayer I’ve been feeling more peaceful. I’m sorry you’re struggling and I appreciate you sharing it so I know it’s not just me.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and anxieties around burnout. I’ve also been feeling this a lot lately and found your post very honest and refreshing to know I’m not alone. As a fellow practicing Catholic, I’ve struggled many times to saying no to various ministries in need of help. I had a very wise priest tell me about 10 years ago that the order of my life was God, my spouse, then my children. He wisely said only if those things are feeling in balance that I should then volunteer time in ministries. While I’m not always the best at following this to a tee, this wise advice has been so helpful in keeping things in priority. Praying for you and keep up the honest blogging!

  6. Hi Kelly,
    Are you kidding? Reading this helps take a weight off my shoulders: I’m not alone in feeling that way! It’s not just me, who can’t manage to keep up with the Joneses. Oh, perhaps there’s no Joneses to keep up with! and I’m not perfect at lots of things and yet it’s okay to keep going and know that God loves me and is blessing me anyway. I so very much appreciate your honesty. That’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to your blog: you help me see the truth about life in ways that bless me. ?

  7. Very thought-provoking as always. What you said is so true, that we do tend to tie our identities into what we do rather than who we are–and we need to be okay with letting some stuff go.

    I know you don’t like to hear “I don’t know how you do it,” but I don’t. 🙂 We only homeschooled one of our 5 sons, the youngest, and we only did it for 5 years (from 4th through 8th grade). During those years homeschooling him took so much of my time and energy, and I look at what you accomplish while homeschooling all of yours and I can’t imagine it!

    Don’t feel bad about venting. It’s so therapeutic! God bless you.

  8. Hey Mama,

    This really speaks to me. I am a widowed mother of 5 and care for my 86-year Mom who lives with us and has advanced Alzheimer’s. I love to be involved and have long said yes to everything, not out of obligation, but because I have only one life to live and I want to use all that precious time to make the world a better place.

    Then COVID hit and suddenly all my volunteer activities were canceled. I wasn’t driving the kids all over kingdom come for their events either. And I learned that I really loved not having meetings in the evening. It was lovely to not have to rush from one thing to the next all day long.

    I too love productivity blogs and books (currently reading Atomic Habits), but the pandemic made me realize that no amount of efficiency in my schedule could ever replace simply eliminating things from my schedule. Now, I am struggling a little with feeling like maybe I’m being selfish with my time and talent, but for the most part, I’ve decided this is a temporary place I need to be in life and I am trying to make ‘no’ the default answer to new obligations.

    Anyway, your comment about scaling back made me think of this, and I wanted to share my experience. Praying that you get some much needed R&R sometime soon!

  9. Yaaaaassssss, girl! Sometimes, I have to squeeze in going to the bathroom! Taking care of my disabled son, even with the help of an LPN, swallows up time like pacman pellets. Just thinking of my personal life goals just straight up feels selfish. Yet not etching out moments for me leave me resentful and drained. Where and how to balance it all? Don’t know, but I sure am addicted to finding out!

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