Pulled in Too Many Directions?

by Alli Polin on November 12, 2013

How to stop the time tug of war

Can you relate?  I woke up this morning and realized that the drip of milk that was left in the container would hardly wet my child’s cereal that I threw into a bowl approximately five minutes before we needed to jump in the car and out the door.  I went from call to call, returned some emails, and was just about to dive into some work I’ve been putting off for lack of time, when my phone rang.

The caller, while well-intentioned, asked me if I’d made progress on some big promises I made to help my children academically, or if I got the new tires or paid the car registration.  Crap. It was a harsh reminder that while I was cranking away, I was ignoring 10 other high priority things on my to-do list.  Suddenly, as if in the blink of an eye, the kids were home, out of school and I never made it to the store to buy that milk…

Do you know anyone that only has work or home or school to deal with?  I don’t.  We all have whole lives, with other people and real relationships that require us to step out of our bubble and be present in the world.

Yes, it’s stressful and can be overwhelming to choose between folding that pile of laundry in the corner, exercising, supporting your child’s homework effort, finishing a presentation, checking in on a client or an endless number of other things that all feel urgent.  This is not another time management post (although there are a ton of good ones out there for you to google when you get a minute).  Who is this post for?  YOU.  ME.  My sister, cousin, friend, colleague, subscriber, client, coach, writer, person walking urgently down the street.  If you ever thought to yourself, I’m just one person going a million miles an hour… how can I do everything?  This is for you.

For every person that feels pulled in too many directions, here’s what I want you to know: 

  • You are not alone
  • Nobody, despite what they tell you, can get to everything on their “list” at the same time
  • Doing ten things half way is not the same as doing two the best you can
  • There is no gold star awarded for doing everything by yourself
  • Help is there when you need it – but you have to ask
  • You matter, your needs matter and don’t need to come in last on the list
  • You can give more to others when you give more to yourself
  • Beating yourself up for not getting it all done doesn’t help you get more done tomorrow.

It’s OK to ignore the stuff you need to do for the really big things that you have to do but here’s the thing… don’t get them confused.

Little ripples, in succession, ultimately make waves. (Click to Tweet)

Decision time.

Remember, leadership is never all about you – it’s how you show up and are in relationship with PEOPLE. 

It’s rarely cut and dry where you need to spend your time, energy and focus but without thought and intention, time may be passing without leaving a legacy that truly matters.

Time passes either way – it’s what you choose to do with your time that matters. (Click to Tweet)

How can you stop being pulled in one direction too many?  Ditch the scales and illusions of work-life balance.  Make intentional choices. 

Make the Leap ACTION:

I know time is tight so you likely do not have time to grab your journal and spend an hour deep in reflection this very second.  That’s OK.  Pick a question or two and ponder on your drive to the store, tape one on your mirror and think about it while you brush your teeth at night, time is there when it matters.

  • How are you honoring yourself through your decisions?
  • How are you caring for other people?
  • How can you make others more successful through your actions, support and way of being?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What impact do you want to have on the people in your life?
  • What are your core values?
  • Who do you need to most listen to?
  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • What’s the best that could happen?

What choice are you going to make today?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Chery Gegelman November 12, 2013 at 6:35 am

Alli – This post resonates to my toes!

Yes there are time in my life that I feel like I’ve achieved a wonderful balance. ….And then something happens to tip the scales! …From saying, “yes” one too many times, to an unexpected emergency, or illness, a friend in need or that project that was on track until it hit a technology snag!

It is crazy important to be reminded that we are not alone!

Thank you!


Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 7:25 am

I’ve been out of whack and in flow sometimes in the same week! It’s the worst when I’m not sure why I’m constantly in motion except that I think it’s what I have to do.

You are definitely a woman that is there in support and service to others – it’s super hard to know when is the time to say no (at least for me).

Love that we can all be human together 🙂 Thanks, Chery!


Jon Mertz November 12, 2013 at 7:18 am


Excellent! We do need to take a step back and ask why what we are doing is important. If the answer is not compelling, then we may need to start saying “no” to certain things and say “yes” to others. Discerning is essential. Having the backbone to take the right steps is vital. Great reminders!



Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 7:30 am

Jon –

I’ve been totally caught up in doing things that in retrospect added very little value to my day, business, team or clients yet seemed like a great idea and a high priority at the time. If the why doesn’t justify the time investment it’s totally OK to say no or figure out a way to change the request so it does make sense. Took me a really long time to learn that one!

Thanks, Jon!


Matthew Hawley November 12, 2013 at 8:27 am

Great post Alli. I love your questions at the end of the post. I would add that going within is a very useful practice. In my work I keep finding that the answer to seemingly impossible challenges is to go within and reconnect to the stillness, fullness and deep well of strength that we all *are.*

Once thusly reconnected we can better set our priorities (shedding the “shoulds” and tolerations) and focusing on what really matters, and making the better choices you speak of.

Here’s a couple more questions that came up:

– When you get clear on your values, what priorities come up?

– If your brain was re-programmed and you could no longer feel personal shame for not doing it “all” for everyone else, what would you focus on?


Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Matt –

Thanks for sharing your insights here! I especially love your values question. Values truly are excellent guideposts and so often we choose to ignore them yet wonder why we feel off-kilter or constantly have a funny feeling in our belly. Reconnecting with values and using them in our decision making is key!

Also – letting go of shame in favor of being human? Absolutely! We can let go of must-be-seen as and focus on what really makes a difference.

Thanks, Matt!


Joy Guthrie November 12, 2013 at 8:52 am

Oh so much happened in this topic area to me over the past week, Alli. I cannot yet share some of those experiences. Time and it’s importance was once again brought into focus for me. After coming to a strong realization on the importance of where I spent my time, I only experienced a few “twinges” when I wasn’t doing other things that were also important. Sometimes, the realizations to the questions you pose come to you like lightning strikes, when your attention narrows significantly and in an instant. Really good post. Thank you for sharing.


Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Lightening strikes. I get it. Things happen that wake us up to our choices, focus and where we spend our time. We all get the same 24 – it’s our intention and purpose that lets each minute seemingly slip by or to be a moment of meaning.

Thanks, Joy!


Terri Klass November 12, 2013 at 9:59 am

Balancing all we have to do in a day or week can be very stressful. I find that the hardest thing to do, and you say it beautifully, is that we need to ask for help. That is always my biggest challenge because I assume I can do everything by myself and I hate to bother others. Im working on getting better at it.

Thanks Alli!


Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Like you, Terri, I always assume I can get it all done too until I look around. I may have gotten some solid work done but my kids don’t have any clean shirts for school tomorrow or I spent the day taking care of family must-dos to feel like I’m behind on other things. One of the many reasons I adore my husband is that he no longer waits for me to struggle to the point I’m about to lose it. He doesn’t ask, he dives in and when I set my pride aside, I’m always grateful for his help.

Appreciate you, Terri!


Lolly Daskal November 12, 2013 at 10:25 am

Pulled in to many directions..
You beta!
When we are givers, we usually find ourselves overwhelmed by the YES’s we have promised and by the responsibilities we have acquired and by the roles we have adopted.
Your blog made me realize I am not alone. Thanks for the wisdom and sharing.


Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 6:27 pm

For me, knowing I’m not the only one, gives me the space to make new choices and to be honest about what goes on behind the curtain. Part of giving is to also accept the getting of support, love and help from others. Been hard for me and my type A ways but worth the effort.

Always appreciate your way of being and giving.


Elizabeth November 12, 2013 at 10:26 am

I have definitely walked in those shoes. It is so important to have a clear plan to help guide you, especially if you are self employed. Great article.


Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Thank you, Elizabeth! I think most people have walked in those shoes but we also work so hard to give the appearance of being superman or superwoman.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here!


Susan Fox November 12, 2013 at 11:44 am

My kids remind me laughingly of the time I threw the pajamas in the dishwasher instead of the washing machine. When I saw the wonderful production by Rob Becker “Defending the Caveman” and he coined the phrase “Men are hunters, women are gatherers,” it helped me understand why we can get distracted along the way. I loved the article. Thank-you.
Susan Fox
Gaga’s Garden


Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Susan – I love that story!! I can totally see myself doing the same thing. This past week I washed my son’s flip-flop shoes – I tried to convince him that now they’re super clean and even better despite the fact that the design is gone.

I’ve always wanted to see Defending the Caveman. I’ll have to keep it on my list!

A sincere thanks for sharing your experience, laughing at the craziness and showing that we’re all human.

~ Alli


LaRae Quy November 12, 2013 at 11:55 am

I love the way you touch upon personal leadership…the manner in which we lead ourselves is so important, and it will reflect on the way in which we lead others.

This sentence really resonated with me: “Remember, leadership is never all about you – it’s how you show up and are in relationship with PEOPLE.”

A very important truth, and sometimes it takes a lifetime to learn how to show up…either with ourselves or others.

Loved it!


Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Thanks, LaRae! I once studied with a school that taught three basic principles of change, life and leadership. I didn’t get them when they were first introduced but after many months of study and practice, now I deeply and truly do. Here are two of the rules: 1) Change happens through relationship 2) I am in relationship 3) Living is responding.

Underscores much of my philosophy on personal leadership and in life too.


Carl November 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Wonderful post Alli, and the comments are proof indeed, you are not alone. Those moments of being overwhelmed really caused me to evaluate everything from my planning strategy (I use the term loosely), to my daily routines –

Thank you for your work and thoughts,
Best regards,


Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 6:18 pm

It can be so hard to distinguish urgent from important and you’re right, clearly it’s something we all struggle with at one point or another. Appreciate your support and shared experience, Carl!


Karen Jolly November 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Alli – this was perfectly timed for me today! 🙂

I woke up this morning with a list a mile long. Dashing through the kitchen for some toast, as I headed out the door, I realized there was no bread… and basically no food in the fridge. I didn’t have time to do anything about it, so I just choose to feel bad, knowing my husband and daughter were going to be faced with the same problem in a few minutes.

I dashed out on my lunch break and grabbed some groceries, stocked up the fridge and got back to my work in time to catch up on email and read your blog!!

Now I am sitting here thinking, why am I not asking for help? I’m not Wonder Woman – though I often feel I’m pretty wonderful! 🙂 And the other thing I thought as I read this, is that if I don’t ask for help, I’m not letting others in my life give. I know this – but it’s amazing how you can get so busy you fall into that “I can get it all done, somehow” mentality.

Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom – I’m feeling better already and tonight I’m going to ask for help. xo


Alli Polin November 12, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Karen – Sounds really, really familiar!

I once had a friend ask me how I do it all so masterfully. My immediate response was that I don’t and I could not possibly do “it all” on my own.

So important: If you don’t ask for help you’re not letting others in your life. I’m going to sit with that today for sure. I’ve been known to snap at my husband when he has offered to help and then realized that I’m the one that should be chastised, not him.

Many thanks for sharing your story and heart!!



Mike Brown November 13, 2013 at 7:38 am

Thanks for the post…We may not get to everything – but if we live by what we prioritize – we can feel better about ourselves at the end of the day…Knowing that we made conscious choices that we are going to focus this month/week/day on this or that priority and then following thru makes all the difference…


Alli Polin November 15, 2013 at 7:35 am

Love that: We live by what we prioritize. We may not get to everything but in the end, we choose where we focus our time and energy.

Thank for so much food for thought, Mike!


Karin Hurt November 13, 2013 at 8:00 am

Yup, I feel this way often. I’ve learned I just need to let some stuff go. My house will never be completely clean…I also outsource tasks when it makes sense. I sign up for the volunteering that will matter most, I’d much rather talk to kids about leadership than sit at the edge of the moonbounce…. It’s never handled, but it’s important to try to give yourself a break… no one is really doing it all…


Alli Polin November 15, 2013 at 7:44 am

Karin – I think it’s impossible to get to everything – at least by myself. I’m with you… people that act as if they’re doing it all? They’re not. Kind of like the airbrushed models in a magazine.

Thanks, Karin!


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