Last week, I fucked up. Probably.

When you burn yourself into the ground, yet still feel weirdly proud for how much you got done before it all became too much, you’re doing something wrong. I think?

Last week, in a spectacular display of post-holiday enthusiasm, I got my work schedule wrong. And by ‘wrong’, I mean really, properly, seriously wrong.

Last week, I:

  • Worked both days the weekend before (but a friend was in the same place as me for 1 of those days, so it’s ‘coworking’, which makes it fun, right?)
  • Attended a full-day training conference, in a language I’ve been learning for 2 years, but which is still difficult for me; especially in a professional context with large groups. I was surprised when I found it predictably challenging
  • Proactively arranged and went to x2 meetings with fascinating, amazing people working on great projects here in Barcelona, who I’d love to collaborate with (before a normal full working day — ’cause time differences are the friend of over-zealous schedulers)
  • Had an early morning 2-hour individual Spanish class
  • Attended x4 hours of compulsory training sessions for my part-time (haha) client work, in addition to my normal working time with them
  • Ran a 1-hour rehearsal for the 3rd in a series of very important (very expensive) global digital events I’ve been project managing for the last 6 months. The previous one got totally screwed up (not by me, by one of the 5 teams I’m simultaneously managing), so there was a tonne of pressure for this one to go well — a lot of very senior people paying attention
  • Spent an anxious 3 hours between 9pm and Midnight nervously watching afore-mentioned online global broadcast event not going wrong. Hurrah.
  • Planned, hosted and wrote up x3 unrelated client meetings; keeping mental track of the 5 different client events I’m managing right now
  • Kept up email correspondence and social media stuff for x2 Barcelona Fun Science Meetup events which are coming up in the next week or so
  • Survived the practicalities of life en solo when my emotional sounding-board went away with work and disappeared off the face of the earth for a week

And I didn’t drop the ball on a single one of these things. Nothing bad happened.

Sure, I ended up sobbing by myself in a meeting room in the office at 5pm on a Friday, so overwhelmed with not making time for a real conversation with anyone in 5 days that I totally lost my shit (quietly, alone) when asked to look into an entirely reasonable question.

Sure, I initiated a complex and aggressive multi-day argument with my other half (out of the country with work, therefore understandably otherwise occupied), which he had no idea about, because I hadn’t had time to communicate to him that there was any issue here.

Sure, I didn’t really eat properly, or exercise, or even sleep that well come to think of it, and then when I freaked out on Friday I did a ridiculous amount of shopping for dresses I don’t need, got tipsy on cava with a friend, then took myself out on a date by to eat a pulled pork roll, drink wine and do some public notebook-scribbling and other slightly unusual solo bar-behaviours.

But I got everything done without dropping anything major at work. Without anybody finding out how out of my depth I was. So nothing bad happened, right.

….right?

Writing this up, in itself, is fascinating. I look at that list of things above, and I feel weirdly proud of myself. Now I’ve had some sleep, I’m already starting to shrug it off, to take the experience of last week as a badge of honour, almost.

“A tough week — we all have them — but I’m a professional and I got it done. Go me. Aren’t I great?”

This is kind of worrying. Last week was worse than normal, but not totally unusual. And entirely self-inflicted. The week ahead isn’t much better. It’s happened before that I put too much on myself, and I hate to say it, but I’m sure it’ll happen again. Being freelance is hard. Being an entrepreneur is hard. Being both, while somehow also trying to juggle a sensible working week, is hard. It takes time, effort and energy.

I’m starting to realise how much I need to learn how to prioritise myself.

Over my years of professional experience, I’m learning how to prioritise tasks, to switch between projects, to ask for help when more support is needed, and to just knuckle down and get it done in the genuine tough weeks when there’s something difficult that needs to come first. I’m not scared of working hard, or I wouldn’t have chosen all the things I’m trying to do at the same time. I’m not wishing for a tidy, sensible working week every single week (though I’m fairly sure that doesn’t exist for anyone).

But I have no idea how to recognise in real-time when all of the little things, each with their own level of importance, all pile up and blur the edges to completely swamp me. Not as a project manager, but as a person. I’m too proud to acknowledge to myself that maybe I can’t do it all. Because technically I can. But should I?

How much is too much?

When is the justification for not doing something, which you could, enough?

How can you tell the difference between a ‘just get it done’ week, and a week that’s outright too much?

I don’t know the answer. It’s a question I really, really struggle with. I don’t know how to practically manage it, or what tools to use to help me look up from a busy day and see the rest of my week, or the rest of my month. Is this an experience thing, that I’ll get better it when I’ve been Freelance for longer (currently 2 years)? Is it a personality thing; am I just not cut out for this? Will I become older and wiser?

I literally have no idea.

More life-pondering required (when I find a moment!)…. Please send thoughts by carrier pigeon.

Rachel Cruickshank — Resorting to obscure childhood book references instead of words
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