Transcript 130 – Andrea Miller on Calming Chaos

Transcript: 130 – Andrea Miller on Calming Chaos

Transcript for 130 – Andrea Miller on Calming Chaos

Andrea: Today, I’m deviating from our usual interview format to discuss a challenge that I’m sure all of us have experienced at one point or another and is especially common this time of year—managing life when it becomes overwhelmingly full.

I’m not talking about the usual level of busy-ness that we regularly have to manage as business owners. Today I’m talking about the moments where life just seems to pile on unexpected burdens and it doesn’t just feel like too much, it actually is too much. It’s beyond humanly possible to do everything.

Have you ever experienced a time like this?

Maybe you’re a student right now, you’re writing term papers, prepping for finals, practicing for juries and end of year concerts and the workload tough but you’re doing OK…and then you get sick and you’re completely out of commission for two days and what was “tough but do-able” before, is now impossible.

Or maybe you’re out of school and you’re running your studio, you’re in the midst of recital season, you’re hosting family for the holidays. It’ll be a busy week or two, but you’re looking forward to everything, you’re super organized and know how you’ll make it all happen. Then your car dies…or your sewer backs up into the guest bedroom…or your grandma has a fall and ends up in the hospital…or your dog eats Legos…or you name the unexpected catastrophe that you couldn’t possibly have planned for and is now immediately demanding all your attention. What was tough but do-able before, is now impossible.

Or maybe you’re like my family with two working parents and little kids at home. Strong routines and a capable team have sustained you through some pretty chaotic times, and you’re especially thankful for them now because you’re in a particularly busy season. You’re managing it ok, but then the family gets covid and the kids can’t go to school for two weeks. And then they get sick again, because apparently that’s what kids do. And then your partner goes out of town for a business trip and the kids get sick a third time because, as we already established, THAT’S WHAT KIDS DO.

What was tough but do-able, is now impossible.

Today I’m talking about those times when life throws so many surprises at you all at once, you can’t possibly do it all.

This is triage time. When it’s time to step back from the regular expectations and to-do lists and find a way to get through this incredibly busy moment.

This topic was inspired in part by events of my own life (as you might have guessed from the anecdote earlier) and also by conversations I’ve had with a number of teachers this fall who have faced overwhelming moments. Today I’m going to share what I have done to get through these times.

First, ruthlessly clear your calendar: Look at your calendar and cancel as many things as you can. If you can’t cancel it entirely, see if you can shorten the appointment or delegate it. What is normally an hour long meeting with your staff could become a 15-min phone call. You won’t cover everything you would normally cover, but you can hit enough to keep things on the rails until things calm down. Also, you may not know this – being the dedicated teacher you are – but even music lessons that you teach can be cancelled. 😉

Second, write down everything that is on your mind right now. When I say everything. I mean everything. Every one of those thoughts that is swirling around your head and stressing you out. The big things and the small things. Everything from “I don’t know what to make for dinner tonight” to “How am I going to get 20 more students” to “what am I doing with my life?” The seemingly infinite river of thoughts, existential questions, and To Dos can be debilitating and writing everything down gives you a place to park these stressors and put boundaries on the brain space they occupy and the attention they command.

Although it feels like an infinite river when everything’s running around your head, when you get everything down on paper it usually looks more like a large pond. Or maybe a small lake.

Usually these two steps alone are enough to bring a great sense of relief and might be all you need to get back on track, but I’m going to keep going through my next steps.

Third, review the list you just compiled and cross out anything that doesn’t actually need your attention right now. Pull out only those things you have to do today. Or if even that seems overwhelming, pull out only the thing you have to do this morning. Or in the next hour. This list will be your guide. You only ever need to focus on the next thing.

As you work through the items from your list, I’ve got some strategies for reducing the load.

First, look for opportunities to ASK FOR HELP. Help can take many different forms and a lot of us don’t know how to ask for help, even if we want to. Here are a few very tangible lines to try:

  1. For the external processors out there, try this: “Hey, discerning friend. I have a lot going on right now and I’m having a hard time figuring out what my next steps should be. Can you help me sort through the stressors on my mind?”
  2. For the parents out there: “Hey, carpool friend, can you watch my kids for an hour after school today?”
  3. Or this one that I picked up from a friend recently: “Hey, studio parent who volunteered to help with the recital…can I count on you to bring two dozen cookies?”

Also be on the lookout for ways to BUY TIME. There are tons of convenience services that you might not consider in your normal day-to-day life, but when life has you stretched thin, this is the time to embrace them all. Groceries and meals can be delivered. Cleaning services can be hired. A store-bought treat is completely appropriate for the holiday party. And paying $6 for shipping so you don’t have to spend an hour going to the store to pick up a gift is an incredibly inexpensive way to buy yourself an hour.

And finally, look for the EASY BUTTON. If there’s an easier way to do a thing, do it the easier way. I generally strive for well-balanced, nutritious meals, but if my brain can’t handle that right now, PB&J sandwiches make a perfectly adequate dinner and are a short-term tradeoff I’m gladly willing to make in order to restore mental sanity.

So ASKING FOR HELP, BUYING TIME, and looking for the EASY BUTTON are three ways you can reduce the load of your to do list.

I’ll wrap up this episode with some general strategies for coping during these extremely busy times or stressful times.

First – Keep chaos out. I do this by reducing inputs. Stay off the socials and reduce your email checking or don’t check it at all. You can even turn off your phone for a while. This is partially to save time, but even more than that it reduces the chance of more chaos or spiraling unhelpful thoughts entering into your peace-craving mind.

Second – Do things that slow down time. This one I picked up from Lisa Spector when I interviewed her in Episode 084 about recording dog music. Lisa talked about doing things, like actively listening to music, as a way to slow down time. For me, when I’m fully engaged in an activity that slows down time – like reading a book with my kids or going for a walk – my mind slows down also and it’s very therapeutic.

And finally, keep practicing the grounding routines you follow in normal times. I will happily defer a lot of household chores when life is chaotic, but I will NOT start my day without making the bed. It may seem small, but it’s such a deeply ingrained ritual that the mental burden of not making the bed far outweighs the 30 seconds it takes to do it. You know what those routines are for you. Rather than downplaying them in the chaotic times, lean on them to bring you back to a sense of “normalcy.”

Well, friend. That’s what I’ve got. The next time you find yourself in a time where there’s just too much to do, I hope you’ll remember this episode. Give it another listen. Use the strategies to bring some peace back to your hectic world.

For more content like this and a community to help carry you through life’s ups and downs, check out the MSS Entrepreneurs Hub + Mastermind.

You can find a transcript and resources from this episode at

That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I’ll be back next week.

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