The Unconventional (And Unpopular) Mantra That Helps Me through Overwhelm


There are a lot of “productivity hacks” out there designed to help us feel less overwhelmed in service of optimizing our work and ourselves.

Fair warning: my personal mantra isn’t going to help you optimize anything. It’s not crafted to help you do more or be more useful to the people around you.

Fair warning: this mantra is often met with reactions ranging from giggles to outright scoffs. But it’s the most effective thing I’ve found to helping me dissolve the overwhelm that keeps me frozen and allows me to rejoin my life.

And it’s incredibly simple: do it badly.

This is common in writing circles, but not a whole lot of other places in life. In writing, we’re encouraged to write the sh*tty first draft, just to get it over with. The idea being that it’s easier to revise what you’ve written into something passable than it is to get it right the first time around.

The feeling behind the terrible first draft is to create something—literally, anything!—that you can then work into something that’s readable to someone besides you and your cat. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to exist.

But beyond the supportive writing circles I’ve been a part of over the years, this idea hasn’t seemed to take hold. And I understand that.

The idea of intentionally doing a half-hearted job can seem odd at first, especially if you’re the perfect storm of both overachiever and highly-sensitive like I am.

There’s a lot of pressure to put our whole hearts and the upper-threshold of our skills into everything. Making dinner for our families, cleaning our homes, even working up a presentation for work: these all seem like things into which we “should” pour our hearts and souls.

Now, I’m not saying you need to give your family something inedible to eat or to turn something in at work that’s unapologetically half-finished or full of errors. Use your judgment here.

But if these things are causing you true overwhelm (I can attest that dinner fatigue is 100% real), it can be okay to do the bare minimum, at least on your first draft.

Giving yourself permission to not get it perfect right out of the gate, or to phone it in now and then, can help to break up the overwhelm that might be keeping you from doing it at all.

Which is the point. The aim in and of itself is not to do something badly. It’s to do it, full stop. The point here is the effort, rather than the outcome.

Because—and this has been one of my most difficult lessons—we don’t ever really control the outcome. We can control our own effort, and that’s about it. So if you’re feeling stuck, it may be time to get out of your own way and simply get started with the most low-effort, imperfect version of whatever needs to happen.

And please trust that no one in your family will actually perish if they eat a frozen dinner or cereal every now and then.


Christy Tending is an activist, educator, and writer. She teaches online courses about sustainable self-care to students all over the world, and hosts the podcast Tending Your Life. She lives on occupied Ohlone territory (Oakland, CA) with her family. You can learn more about her work at www.christytending.com.

Image courtesy of Ketut Subiyanto.

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