If your brain often feels like scrambled eggs these days despite the pandemic supposedly entering a less stressful phase, then know you're not alone. Also know that the cure might be something as simple as spending an afternoon surrounded by 100 Post-it Notes.
Blame it on the pandemic
"Like a lot of people, I have found myself overscheduled this summer. I'm still doing less than summers of the pre-pandemic past, which often felt like one wedding sliding straight into another without end, but it still feels like too much," confessed writer Anne Helen Peterson in a Substack newsletter bluntly titled "You're Still Exhausted" a few weeks back.
"I've let things go (we are essentially eating mixed vegetable grill every night, it's great); I've canceled plans and been transparent about why. I'm trying to work less, or at least segment work more effectively. But I'm still tired," she continues. And while she's always been an introvert, this sense that life can so easily swamp her feels new.
"I think the real problem is that life is still exhausting because the pandemic was and remains exhausting in so many invisible ways--and we still haven't given ourselves space to even begin to recover. Instead, we're just softly boiling over, emptying and evaporating whatever stores of energy and patience and grace remain," she concludes.
Judging by how often the piece was shared, Peterson hit a nerve. Modern life felt overwhelming for many of us before Covid. Then the pandemic scrambled our everyday lives and put a spotlight on the fragility of life and, as a result, our priorities for our limited time here on earth. The result isn't just a ton of resignations from unfulfilling and exploitative jobs. It's also the sense that we've been through a feat of endurance and are wandering, exhausted, without a map.
How playing with Post-it Notes can help
So where do you find a map? Sorry, neither this column nor any other can give you one. The guide you need to feel both less lost and more joyful can only come from looking within. But what experts can offer is an exercise that might help you surface what you truly want to focus on in life.
Several years back, author Ximena Vengoechea outlined her recipe for a "life audit," which sounds daunting but on closer inspection actually boils down to spending an afternoon daydreaming and playing around with a bunch of Post-it Notes. Her approach was recently surfaced again by Wired founding executive editor Kevin Kelly's site Cool Tools and designer and entrepreneur Tina Roth Eisenberg as an excellent way to dig out of your post-pandemic confusion and start to feel in control of your life again.
How do you do it? Vengoechea offers detailed instructions, but here is the basic process:
Turn your dreams into Post-it Notes. "Take 100 Post-its and write a single wish on every one. These can be any kind of wish or goal you'd like: No wish is too big or too small. Brainstorm until you reach 100 or run out of wishes," instructs Vengoechea (who personally blew through this 100 note limit, coming up with 121 dreams, so don't feel constrained by a fixed number if your brain is buzzing).
Look for patterns. Even just getting your deepest desires and maddest dreams out of your head and down on paper should feel calming, but the real magic happens when you examine these notes for patterns. Do these dreams group in clusters? Are they actionable now or distant goals? Are there areas you can focus on that will offer you particularly high ROI?
And that is basically it. It sounds simple, but Kelly's Cool Tools claims this kind of life audit can actually be quite profound. "The process allows for your priorities to come to light and helps you to see the patterns of your life," it reports. "I found that once I had written down all the desires inside of me and, in a sense, got them out of my system, it freed up space for completely new and weirdly fun wishes to show up."
So give yourself an afternoon to make a mess with Post-it Notes and reconnect with your dreams. The result just might be the kind of clarity and energy that can propel you out of your late-stage-pandemic slump.