Summer Survival Council Finale: Feeling Overwhelmed
It's all a bit much, isn't it? The Summer Survival Council offers practical guidance on
For our last Summer Survival Council entry, we’re tackling a topic almost all of us can relate to: feeling overwhelmed. Everyone gets overwhelmed, but it’s an even worse problem in the prepping realm because we’re dealing with problems most people aren’t even aware of. Just keeping up with endless waves of bad news can be overwhelming, but add on top of that food and water storage, growing food, feeding animals, hitting the gym, visiting the range, practicing radio skills, ad infinitum, it’s tempting to run away screaming and dive under a blanket.
This summer has certainly been overwhelming for me. I’ve been working my day job at TidBITS, running Unprepared, working on a new book for Take Control, raising three kids, hitting the gym three times per week, running our small farm, and raising a one-acre garden on my in-laws’ land.
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Joseph — Homestead Padre
Joseph has been homesteading for over a decade and specializes in small-space homesteading and intensive gardening systems. He is married with three children, one grown, and is co-owner of The Smith Homestead with his wife Melody. He also owns a cottage food bakery out of his home, servicing his local community with homemade and artesian breads.
How to deal with feeling overwhelmed? That's an interesting topic and one I myself have written about before: I have a couple of chapters on it in my book Musings of a Modern Barbarian.
The simple truth is that we as individuals need something that is ours alone, that belongs to us, like a hobby.
One thing I've learned to do over the years is trying to prevent feeling overwhelmed in the first place. And I have three rules I follow to try and ensure this:
1st: Set a time of day to shut down. For me, it's 6 pm each evening. I shut down the computer, turn off all outside noise and focus entirely on my family. My kids can talk about anything. I play games with them. Or maybe I'm cuddled up on the couch with my wife while a movie is on. Sometimes everyone else is doing their own thing and that's when I go mess around on Twitter or play a game on my phone or Xbox. Regardless, I shut out all stresses and projects as best as I can.
2nd: I take one day off per week. A full 24-hour period. I don't work on anything around the farm, other than feeding and watering. I don't mess around with the website. I don't make products. I just exist. I hang out with family. Or alone. I take hikes. I read a book. I watch a movie. I play video games. Regardless, I take a day off from the normal routine. Even God gave us a day off each week.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates — Exodus 20:8-10
3rd: I have a hobby. To some, it’s a vice, but it's something I enjoy. I go lunting.
Lunting is the act of taking a long walk while smoking a tobacco pipe. I have had many revelations through a tobacco pipe. It’s a hobby that is also an art. It requires focus and controlled breathing for the perfect smoke. I have solved many problems and cleared my mind of many problems through a long walk and a concentrated smoke.
And when I feel like I'm being overwhelmed anyway, because it's still going to happen, I default to one of my three rules immediately. None of this is easy to do when you first set rules for yourself, but over time and with more and more implementation it will become second nature.
Ashley Colby is an environmental sociologist who lives with her family on a homestead in Colonia, Uruguay where she runs study abroad programs for Rizoma Field School. She also organizes online classes for adults like Homesteading 101 and Homeschooling 101 via her Rizoma School Gumroad. Ashley co-founded Doomer Optimism, a podcast and Substack that explores topics like homesteading, regeneration work, and preparedness. You can follow her on Twitter @rizomaschool.
I like to remind students who take my classes that we are at an extremely strange point in history: we have lost a lot of traditional knowledge to industrialization, and the path to re-learning is long and slow. I encourage them to be gentle with themselves: most people in human history learned most of these skills through osmosis, simply growing up around it. As I say this to my students I am also saying it to myself: be gentle on yourself.
Some days, the tasks feel overwhelming. The “must do” and the “dream projects” lists get longer and longer. So I remind myself of what we have already accomplished in our short time homesteading and to remember to take it day by day.
This seems trite, but elongating your time horizon and letting go of analysis paralysis are two ways in which you can deprogram some of the brain worms of modernity that will bring you some peace. We are often in such a hurry to be productive, often on the timelines of a boss for some quarterly goal, that we don't stop to think about balance and whether or not this is even a worthy or reasonable goal. I think of all of the hours I have spent paying attention to my kids. I have nothing physical to show for it but a beautiful relationship and memories.
On the other hand, I am not one to stick my head in the sand about the news of the day, and the ways in which I must stay vigilant. The timeline for various forms of collapse is always looming, and I try to be smart about where to focus my energies to best prepare myself and my family for long-term stability in unstable times. It is always a balance, but like they say on an airplane: put your mask on first before assisting a child. You must not burn yourself out in the process of being prepared, or the whole thing will fall out of balance.
It's been a pleasure writing for you all this summer!
Travis J I Corcoran
Travis J I Corcoran is a software engineer and an author. He lives on a 56-acre farm in New Hampshire with his wife, dogs, livestock, and a variety of lathes and milling machines. He raises and butchers his own pigs, sheep, and poultry, and grows a variety of fruits and vegetables in his gardens, orchards, and vineyards. His two-volume homesteading magnum opus is available on Amazon: Escape the City Volume 1 and Escape the City Volume 2. …as are his two award-winning science fiction novels: The Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation.
I read a quote once to the effect that “people always overestimate how much things can change in the short run, and underestimate how much things can change in the long run.” In the original context, it was talking about changes to countries, cultures, and societies — people always expect moon bases in 10 years, flying cars in 15 years, or financial collapse followed by apocalyptic poverty next week …but things don't really work like that.
How they do work, though, is small rates of change, compounded over time. A country won’t move from first-world to third-world because of one recession …but if one advanced country has a 2% growth rate, and one with half its GDP per capita has a 3% growth rate, over decades or a century, they can switch positions. The literature is littered with examples like “Paraguay used to be richer than Germany,” or whatever.
The same short-term vs. long-term thing applies to individuals. You simply will not get 15 acres of pasture fenced, an orchard planted, a tractor shed built, and some water retention swales installed in your first year on the homestead.
You won't even get that done in your first five years.
…but if you keep plugging away, making slow and steady progress, you'll be amazed at the night-and-day transformations you can enact on your homestead (and on your own skills and accomplishments).
I've been on the farm pushing nine years right now, and I've accomplished approximately 80% of what I thought I'd get done in the first year or two. The number is so low because my preconceptions and calibration on day one were laughably insane. The number is so high because I've been busting my butt for most of a decade.
I've read a few books on effectiveness and time management.
My all-time, hands-down favorite book on this topic is Getting Things Done by David Allen, which focuses on accomplishing tasks with the minimum time wasted by bad systems and approaches. If you're not familiar with it, I recommend that you buy a copy immediately. Like, right now. Stop reading this, go to Amazon, and buy it. And then read it, cover to cover.
My second favorite book is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, which focuses on prioritizing tasks. One central point of the Covey method is that there are only 24 hours in the day, so there's no way to “make time.” The only thing you can do is CHOOSE which tasks to work on, and choose which ones to defer (or not do at all).
So, with that background, my advice on how to not be overwhelmed:
Have gratitude for the situation that you're in. Most people are urban bugmen who aren't lucky enough to have “chop down five trees” or “fix the tractor” on their to-do lists. They're too busy rewatching Marvel Cinematic Universe CGI fests and collecting Funko Pops. A long list of hard and challenging tasks in the sun and clean air isn’t something to be upset at — it's a rare and precious thing. Savor it! On a tangent, prayer is not just mandated practice according to many faith traditions but is a good social technology. If you pray regularly and give thanks, you're forced to focus on and articulate the gifts that you've been given. If you're not a theist, you can still steal this social technology and make sure to be grateful for the opportunities a homestead gives you.
Realize that the potential tasks are infinite. That's part of the game you signed up to play, and it’s baked right in.
Be organized. Have a to-do list for the day, the week, the season, and the decades ahead.
Make informed and conscious decisions about what tasks to tackle first. This has two sub-points:
In the city, every month is the same, but on a homestead, tasks are dictated by season. Many workshop tasks can be done in any month of the year, but planting trees, skidding logs, butchering meat, etc. have a fixed schedule. Do the things that have a season when you have to. Fit in the other stuff around it.
Some accomplishments compound. Once you plant an orchard, the fruit trees grow on their own, with little additional investment. That's one good reason to plant trees soon after landing on your homestead. Others don’t literally compound but pay returns. Organizing your workshop so that you can accomplish tasks more quickly and easily will pay you back with every project you do. If you have to build furniture and build a workshop organization system, you might want to schedule the workshop task first.
Realize that life is short and some tasks will never get done. This is OK.
When I am getting overwhelmed, one trick that works for me is to tackle a ton of simple chores, both to drastically shorten my to-do list (which feels good) and to chalk up a bunch of wins, which improves my mood.
Divide your vision of the future into sprints, with end goals and periods of relaxation. My wife and I very much look forward to the fall, when outdoor chores are ramping down: The garden is put to rest, the hay is in (if we're haying that year), the hoses are wound onto spools and put away in garden sheds, all fencing projects are done, etc. The November through February or March timeframe is when we sit back, enjoy what we've done, endlessly brag to each other how far we’ve come, drink warm beverages… and start to daydream about next year's goals.
Good luck on this long and satisfying adventure!
Dave is a former Navy SEAL (but not the kind who thinks that makes him cool) and aspiring homesteader. He and his family live in an old schoolhouse in the Pacific Northwest where they garden, care for a small orchard, and raise chickens. Say hi to Dave on Twitter, where he is @aspiringpeasant.
I would be lying if I said I never felt overwhelmed. I even missed a few of these contributions (sorry Josh) because I was too strapped for time/focus.
But I’m not as overwhelmed as I have been in the past, so here are a few things I’ve done that have contributed to my being less-overwhelmed-than-I-would-otherwise-be:
I married well and we continually invest in our marriage. It’s a lot easier to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune etc when you’re not alone in it. My brother always says, in a half-joking-but-not-really-joking that my wife and I are “such a good team” but he’s right.
I don’t really follow the news. I don’t follow many journalists or publications on Twitter and I don’t listen to the radio or watch TV. I’m not uninformed — I still know enough to vote, etc. — I’m just not over-informed, which is kinda the default state of the Very Online.
I have a very dear friend — a brilliant, empathetic, beautiful human being — who has (for the time at least) lost himself to the idea that “correcting the record” by having political debates on Facebook is going to change anyone’s mind.
Just like watching my dad fall over drunk once made me look at my drinking habits in a different light, watching this incredible man become so diminished (for the time being at least) put the stakes of proper social-media boundaries in high relief.
I work out. Pretty much every day. And days when I don’t work out I make sure to do some physical work in the garden.
I make sure to get outside and get fresh air and sunshine (or rain even). This helps me immeasurably, and when I start to get bitchy my wife will often suggest I go outside for a while. It never fails to help me re-ground.
I remind myself what is actually “enough.” Yes, I want to finish this kitchen so I don’t have it weighing on me, but realistically the kitchen functions fine and I could finish it in six months if need be. I don’t want to do that, but reminding myself of what’s actually important/urgent has been really helpful to me.
Nicole Sauce of LivingFreeinTennessee.com has run a homestead for a decade and a half, roasts great coffee at HollerRoast.com, and runs workshops on self-reliance and homesteading (SelfRelianceFestival.com). Her book Cook With What You Have helps folks learn to do just that, and she coaches people through development of a step-wise plan for building an independent, stable lifestyle including income generation, choosing the city or the country, preparedness, and lifestyle balance. She is also hosting a Swale Workshop in Camden, TN on July 30 and 31.
Siloing is an important life skill. Siloing is one of those things often touted as very bad in a corporate setting because it means that only one person knows information that other people need access to. On the other hand, developing the ability to work through your day, week, and month focused on one important thing while ignoring the other 4,000 important things is the only way I know to accomplish big goals. This is the positive side of siloing.
As a teacher and coach, CEO of three small businesses, homesteader, and politically aware person, overwhelm is a constant tension. To balance this, I developed a system of life planning called #My3Things. You can listen to the overview of how this works in this episode of the Living Free in Tennessee Podcast.
#My3Things starts with developing your live strategic vision. This is the long-term statement of what you want your life to look like. Do this with your family so that you are aligned and headed in the same direction. From there, I develop up to three areas of focus that will move me toward my life’s vision. In my case, I focus on personal health and recreation, financial stability, and empowering those around me toward their visions.
Once the big picture is handled, I create up to three twelve-to-eighteen-month goals under each area of focus.
Sense a trend? The key to success with the #My3Things method is to never have more than three things that you are working on.
With my goals in hand, I think about my giant daily list of tasks and choose up to three do-or-die items and these become #My3Things. It is ok to have one or two “3Things” but never four.
The final step for success with this method is to post #My3Things publicly. If you join the Living Free in Tennessee social networks on MeWe or Telegram, you will often see members posting their intended 3 things to hold themselves accountable. Developing this habit gives you a tool to stop news gazing when you ought to be planting, trimming hooves, or spending time with your daughter. It gives you something to look toward when seven emergencies derailed your schedule and you want to get back on track. Best of all, when you are overwhelmed, doing just three things per day will move you toward your big picture goal despite energies that work against you.
Lastly, do not forget to build time into your life for relaxation, hobbies, and relationships. Being on the summer council has been an honor. Thank you Josh for putting this group together and for having enough faith in my perspective to include me. I am off to Maine for a week to reset from a very overwhelming three months. Make it a great week, y'all!