The Feeling That You’re Always Behind on Work

The ability to focus on one thing, and let that be enough, can give us contentment
October 29, 2018 Updated: October 29, 2018

Many of us have a never-ending feeling that we’re behind on what we need to get done.

We wake up and already feel behind, and the anxiety that comes with that causes us to jump into our day, checking messages and email, starting the treadmill of tasks and distractions and busyness that doesn’t end until we fall asleep.

How do we deal with this slight ever-present feeling of anxiety and the sense that we’re always behind on everything?

The answer comes, I believe, from slowing down, simplifying, and cultivating a sense of contentment.

Let’s look at each of these, in turn.

Slowing Down

When we rush through the day, constantly doing small tasks, checking and responding to messages, and running to distractions, we will always feel a slight sense of anxiety. That’s because we are churning through things, but feel like we’re never getting anywhere. It’s a treadmill.

Slowing down is about pausing in the middle of the rush. Take a breath. Create a little space. Reflect on what you’re doing. Find a little mindfulness by being present with your body, breathing, and sensing your surroundings.

Then ask, “Is there really a need to rush to the next thing? Can I stay and be present with this one thing? Or do nothing for a little bit?”

Also ask if there’s really an imperative to be moving right now, to do everything. In truth, we create the problem of being behind—it’s not really true. It’s created in our minds, like all problems. Instead of allowing this problem to be solid and real, can we let it be less solid, like a mist?

What would it be like to just sit here and do nothing for a little while? Will the world collapse? Will we be out of a job or lose the love of everyone we care about?

What’s it like just to feel that feeling of being behind, of feeling pressure and anxiety, without needing to act on it? What if this feeling were exactly what we needed to feel right now?

These are the things we can contemplate and practice with, if we slow down just a little bit.


Once we’ve slowed down, and started to practice mindfully with whatever is coming up, we can start to simplify.

What does it mean to simplify in this case? It means to let go of attachments to doing everything.

For example, if I’ve slowed down, I might take a look at my to-do list for today and realize that it’s a complete fantasy. “I’m not going to get all of that done. Let’s move one thing to tomorrow, one task to a Later-This-Week list, and one to a Later-This-Month or Next-Year list.”

Basically, we’re simplifying what we’re going to focus on today.

In fact, pick just one thing. If you could do just one thing for today, what would really make a big difference? That’s not to say that you’re not going to do the rest, but you’ll only do them if you have time after you’ve done this one thing. What would that one thing be?

Now, let go of everything else right now, and just focus on the one thing. It’s your entire universe. You can be completely present with it.

This is what it means to simplify. Pick one thing and let go of everything else. Let this one thing be enough. Let it be everything.

Cultivating a Sense of Contentment

What does it mean for this one thing to be enough? It means acknowledging that it’s impossible to get everything done.

“Enough,” in this case, means you’re content with doing this. It’s a beautiful thing to do, worthy of some of your precious life because it’s important and wonderful.

In this way, we’re cultivating contentment. Maybe you’re not content with everything in your life, but you’re content with this one thing, right now. You’re finding full appreciation for the miracle of this moment and this task.

If you can cultivate that for one thing and one moment, you can do it for the next. And the next. Soon, you’ll apply this lens of enough and full appreciation to other things you do, and to yourself. To other people in your life. To this world.

And all of a sudden, you’re not behind on anything. Because what you’re doing right now is enough. And it’s all you have. Which is perfect, as it is.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with more than 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit