Keep calm and finish what you’ve started

Over the past few weeks I’ve been asked the “so what do you do?” question a lot. My answer is always the same, but the responses to it are a variety of expressions of judgement, disbelief and sometimes mild envy.

It seems in these days of over-indulging, multitasking and wearing all too many hats, “I’m spending time at home” is not a satisfactory answer.


Is it so unthinkable to want to just not do anything at all for some time? Is it so hard to imagine a life devoid of tasks and deadlines and self-inflicted benchmarks of accomplishment? Because all I wanted was that. Time out. From everything.

Many months ago I posted this little scribble and it perfectly reflected the state of my life and mind at the time. Always-ready-to-get-up-and-go, always-out-of-breath seemed to be my permanent disposition. Multiple tasks always on hand, at one point I really felt like a system that was about to overload and crash. Around me people admired how I was able to take on so much with, but inwardly I was cowering under the pressure. Being severely pressed for time, all the time was unbearable. Not being able to just stay with anything long enough to see it through was worse. To-dos piled up, more work came in, nothing ever got finished. And that was the most stifling problem of them all. I was just simply unable to finish.

My brain was always on overdrive. Sleep wouldn’t feel like sleep and waking was the toughest thing on earth. The thrill of biting off much more than I can chew and still pulling things off began to wear out. And for the do-everything-I-can kind of person that I am, this was surprising and hard to digest. I guess there comes a time when you begin to realise there is far more joy in doing few things well, and I was slowly losing interest in the tangling web of trying to do it all.

If asking myself why we celebrate multitasking so much — when all it has brought to my life is more incomplete task lists (those that are complete don’t feel like success stories) and a constant state of breathlessness and no time to stop and smell the roses — is a sign of growing up, maybe I should take it with some grace.

Multitasking is an affliction that has consumed me. For years I proudly flaunted the badge of the Ace Multitasker. I did it at work, and then I moved to Goa, set up home and tom-tommed the fact that I could do it at home too. And the greatest balancing act of them all? Work-life balance chaos. That precarious balance that is ever-threatening to tip over when you least expect it. But somewhere along the way, I lost interest in it. There was speed and zest in that fast-paced life, but after a point all I was craving was some peace and calm. Doing it all required energy, and at the end it left me tired and listless.

The bigger reality check was when I realised how much I had completed, but how little I had really accomplished.

That feeling, of letting myself be utterly and completely absorbed in a task at hand, succumbing completely and not lifting my head until it was done, is a long forgotten. I’ve missed the fuzzy satisfaction that envelopes you when you look back at a task well done. That warmth of being lost in the afterglow of a lovely book that lingers on for long after the pages have run out. The aching bones at the end of a hard task, well done.

The good news is everyone has a threshold. Even for multitasking. And I reached mine a few weeks before I actually quit work, on one of those classic why-me days that leave you wanting to curl up and die because your little shoulders and tiny brain just can’t do it anymore. The better news is that it shook me back into my senses, and I decided that one of the resolutions for my sabbatical was to un-multitask (erm, yeah I did it again — made up a fancy word for something really simple). To do fewer things. To slow down. To let whatever I am doing engage me fully. And to finish whatever I start.

Five months of doing just that; paring my activities down to only those that really deserve my time and attention; weaning myself off the internet; focusing only on cooking, reading, writing and exercising; I feel light and free. I have found a little bit of that stillness I was looking for. I feel full of life, I have moments of intense passion, when I’m baking, running or absorbed in a book. I am happier more often, sadder a lot less. I feel fitter, I feel satisfied and I feel joyful.


It’s funny how the tables turn. It’s interesting how old habits can sometimes be shed away. It’s amazing how doing less has actually given me so much more.

25 thoughts on “Keep calm and finish what you’ve started

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  7. So happy for you! I’m trying real hard to achieve that stillness Haathi. Too much has transpired, and i lost myself somewhere along the way. Finding oneself in the middle of all the chaos is so much hard work, and i’m struggling a little with it right now. I hope to be in that happy place soonly. Fingers crossed.


    1. That too shall pass Nabsie. It shall..and all will be well, in time. If it helps, heres my two bits: do something everyday for yourself, no strings attached, even if it is just 30 mins a day. I think the reading and running again did worlds of good, for me.


    1. Then i have started too late. Boohoo. There should be some life counselling stuff that points you in the right direction in the interest of saving time, i say! Better late than never i suppose huh?


  8. Every word in this post resonated with me and every line describes my state of affairs right now! Indeed I feel like I am doing a lot and accomplishing very little! I think I will should go read ‘The Busy Trap’ now!! ??


  9. suthewriter

    I can so relate to this post! I get similar reactions too, when I tell people what I do. Sometimes, it’s almost like they’re asking, “What have you done to deserve this? What have you achieved to justify taking a break?” What’s worse is when I let their opinions get into me and I begin to question myself…

    I completely agree, it’s infinitely better to focus on the few things we love doing.


    1. Haha yes the “What have you done to deserve this?” look is epic! Its also combined with not understanding why a 20-something woman with no domestic commitments would want to spend her time at home.


  10. I have to shamefully admit, I was one of those judgmental types-had a hard time wrapping my head around folks who stayed at home. Thankfully I got wiser and less cynical and now I am on the oppsotite side of the spectrum-almost took a 180 turn. Now I admire people, like you, who have the courage to go for what they really want in life. So kudos!


    1. :) Im just a selfish stay at home wife. The ones I really admire are those who give it all up for kids, or for a husband who wants to follow his dream..And kudos to you too for taking that 180 turn!


    1. So well written. So many of us stuck in this trap. Have you read an ‘The Busy Trap’ by Tim Kreider (in the NYT, I think)? It gets at some of the more interesting reasons behind these crazy cycles we set up for ourselves.
      But sometimes it’s just life, happening. Wish you much strength and resolve as you carry on. Thanks for articulating what’s been buzzing low but loud in my sub-consciousness.


        1. Just re-read the busy trap, and Id forgotten how awesome the piece was.. Thanks for reminding me. Some of the best lines from that are:
          “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness” — and I think this is what I tried to break for myself. To sit with emptiness, solitude and enjoy it, without filling it up with idle activities.


          1. The ‘American Scholar’ article was a good read if a bit cynical. I don’t want to believe yet that the only way to success is riding on a mentors coat-tails and stabbing them in the back to leap up and over. I’m fully one of those middle-level achievers and am in FACT stuck in beuraucracy – I’m a state goverment employee. But I do like the idea of beling alone in your thoughts. Thx for this – I will have to think on it more.
            I keep re-reading the Kreider article too. Here’s another I really like:
            I almost bought his book, ‘We learn nothing’ but did’nt for fear it would make me fall out of love with his style. Too much of a good thing, rose-colored-glasses shattering from over-exposure etc, you know?

            Reading about how you’re revamping your life as well as following Yash of ‘Y on earth not’ who’s getting mindful over her sabbatical is providing support where I least expected to find it. After all I’m in Boston, you’re in Goa and Y is in Gurgaon (Delhi?). And look at us. Hamsters on wheels who’re focussing our puny brains on making it. Just. Stop. Kudos to you 2 for taking it firmly in your own hands. I can’t quite afford a sabbatical yet but am trying to do my bit. Un-multitasking is certainly on my list but a hard habit to break. “To sit with emptiness, solitude and enjoy it, without filling it up with idle activities.” soudns like the ticket. But one I need to work up to myself. My first steps are mindfulness (to extract the most of moments but grabbing at them instead of letting them whiz past and turn my world fuzzy and dizzy) and self-expression (through my blog and some other writing projects I’ve on the back burner).

            Good to find your blog. Many posts resounds deeply with me. Hope to exchange more comments.


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