This is the second article in a new series from Rowan Coaching called, "Managing Your Own Business and Depression." Check out the first article, "Unraveling the Stigma of Depression to Get Sh*t Done," and tune in soon for more posts in the “Managing Your Own Business and Depression” series. We’ll be exploring what it takes to ditch turn your brain into an asset instead of an obstacle, so you can get on with the business of living your dreams. Tell us what you think! If you run a business and have clinical depression, what works for you? Join the community at, and let us know!

No. 2 What to do when "I never have time" actually means "my brain literally cannot"

Last night, I signed on to Skype for my monthly mastermind meeting with other female solopreneurs. This month, it turns out we all had something similar on our minds: we are too damn busy. Some say this is the entrepreneur's natural state. In New York City, it's almost a mating call. "I'm so busy with all the things," she cried. "Me too!" he sighed. "Let's be too busy together! We'll be a power couple." 

I refuse to accept this. Beyond the fact that this idea is fundamentally out of alignment with one of my core values, quality of life, I sincerely believe that what is actually occurring is not a crisis of productivity, but a crisis of available mental space. In fact, I work hard - both on my own work/life and with my clients - to maintain a balance that allows me the mental space I need to create and thrive. 

This isn't to say that you might not actually be too busy! These tips aren't oriented towards you if you are. They're particularly designed for those of you who do actually have some open time in your schedule, but can't seem to make the most of it for some reason. Despite having long lists, you never seem to make real progress. You feel too tired to figure out what it might take to enact meaningful change. It's hard to focus, and you'd rather just take a nap. If the cause of this isn't that your schedule is literally back-to-back, the seven tips below will help you shift your mindset - and your energy - to feel better and get more done. 

First, let's investigate: 

When you say you don't have time for all the things you want and need to accomplish, do you really mean that? Or do you not have mind? 

You don't actually  have  to live like this!

You don't actually have to live like this!

If you're not sure, here are a couple questions to help you distinguish between the two:

  1. Are you (a) getting things done or (b) just doing things?
  2. Are you (a) productive or (b) just busy?
  3. Are you (a) making tangible progress or (b) spinning your wheels?
  4. Do any of the many tasks you accomplish bring you joy or satisfaction?
  5. Are you mentally exhausted at the end of every day?

If you answered (b) or yes to most of the questions above, then you might be seriously struggling with having enough brain power to get you through the day. This could be caused by anxiety, depression, or simply how you've organized your day. A lot of us tend to live our lives like a rolling stone. We start to do things in a certain way, then we add more things, then we're off and running and we don't have time to slow down and think about whether we're doing things that are effective or meaningful.  We just keep rolling and rolling until we burnt out. If that sounds like you, start here:

7 Simple Ways to Get Your Brain Back in the Game

1. Ditch the Master List, and switch to Priority Cards.

Almost every study shows that the brain hates having too many options. We're not wired to be able to compare and prioritize that many things at once. When you just have one mega list, you end up spending a lot of time staring at it and trying to decide what to do, and then being anxious about not doing all the other things you just saw on the list.

This is awesomely dorky and totally not acceptable. Prioritize!

This is awesomely dorky and totally not acceptable. Prioritize!

Instead, close up each day with a list of what you did well that day (your Credit List), and a Priority Card that list the top 3-5 things you actually need to do tomorrow. To limit your available list space, I like to use 3x5 cards. (If you're a paper geek like me, Levenger has some beautiful ones!) If you get the tasks on your Priority Card done, you can either rest or create a new card. If not, all the other stuff on the list is irrelevant anyway. Managing your brain's expectations about how the next day will go down will also reduce your stress, and allow you to sleep better!

2. Stop isolating yourself.

I know that when you don't have mind, all you want to do at the end of the day is Netflix and chill. And by chill I mean make some food, pour some wine, and loaf with your brain turned off. The thing is, you don't need rest. You need rejuvenation! This is totally counter-intuitive, but doing more of what brings you joy or satisfaction is also what will give you the energy to handle the extra (and boring) stuff. Talk to people. Let it all hang out. Get weird, get vulnerable, get drunk. Laugh a LOT. Basically quit doing quite so much of this:

Literally every overworked person in NYC I know.

Literally every overworked person in NYC I know.

3. Balance your schedule.

Organize it instead so that it leads with the behaviors and activities that help you be your best self. I have a really simple activity to help you do just that! 

4. Schedule time to do nothing.

You're going to need this time, no matter how much you think you can power through. For example, if you can't think of at least one time in the past two weeks you were supposed to do the laundry/meet him for drinks/work on that project/call your mom and you just NOPED that sh*t and spent a useless hour watching TV/Snapchatting/Youtubing instead, then I'm a guinea pig in a fancy sombrero.

As promised. 

As promised. 

How did you feel after rebelling against your schedule for some "down time"? Rested? Ready to take on the world? I didn't think so. So instead of getting overwhelmed, bailing, and feeling super guilty about it - plan a little time every week that you don't have anything scheduled. You can do whatever you want during that time, but it's YOURS and it's UNPLANNED. You will come to cherish this time, I promise! 

5. Play! 

Play is basically the best thing ever. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp has researched play extensively and has defined an instinct known as “play-joy.” He suggests it is one of the basic emotional systems in human beings along with anger, fear, the sex drive and the maternal drive. Play releases dopamine, creating that all-important toward state (i.e. future-focused, more optimistic than negative) that supports optimal cortical function. Optimal cortical function = your brain is ready and engaged for take-off!

On Wednesdays, we wear FUN!

On Wednesdays, we wear FUN!

Why else is play awesome? Because it...

helps you learn and remember
fosters creativity and innovation
boosts confidence
improves your overall productivity
connects us and creates community
makes your brain light up and grow
feels great (which matters!)
is awesome for your physical health!

6. Develop a healthy relationship with your smartphone.

This includes turning the screens off earlier, and limiting the anxiety that comes from constantly needing to be in touch. Harvard Business Review aptly summarizes the problem in their article, "Relax, Turn Off Your Phone, and Go To Sleep":

"Why does anxiety about needing to stay in contact negatively impact sleep? First, those who are anxious about staying connected are more likely to use their technology right up until bedtime. We now know that the blue wavelength light from LED-based devices (phones, tablets, computers) increases the release of cortisol in the brain, which makes us more alert, and inhibits the production of melatonin, which is needed to fall asleep. That’s why The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning off all devices an hour prior to bedtime. 

This isn't a healthy relationship.

This isn't a healthy relationship.

A study by researchers at Harvard Medical School found that compared to reading a paper book, people who read from an e-book needed an additional 10 minutes to fall asleep. They experienced 90 minutes of delayed melatonin onset — and had half the amount of melatonin released. They also had diminished rapid eye movement sleep.

To compound these effects, anxious people have more cortisol in their system, which further stymies sleep. Anxious people also tend to have shorter attention spans — our own research has shown that they switch tasks every 3-5 minutes. This frenetic task switching increases stress — and cortisol — creating a vicious cycle. Finally, anxious people are more likely to sleep with their phone close by and check it when they awaken at night, which then further disrupts sleep."

Instead of being petty on Facebook, try reading a book! ;-)

Instead of being petty on Facebook, try reading a book! ;-)

(For more great info about the effects of electronics on sleep, check out the amazing resource at the bottom of this post!)

7. Drink water. 

According to this article from Psychology Today (and loads of other studies and sources): 

"Our brains depend on proper hydration to function optimally. Brain cells require a delicate balance between water and various elements to operate, and when you lose too much water, that balance is disrupted. Your brain cells lose efficiency.

If Corgis love water, then really who are you to say it's not the bomb?  

If Corgis love water, then really who are you to say it's not the bomb?  

Years of research have found that when we're parched, we have more difficulty keeping our attention focused. Dehydration can impair short-term memory function and the recall of long-term memory. The ability to perform mental arithmetic, like calculating whether or not you'll be late for work if you hit snooze for another 15 minutes, is compromised when your fluids are low."

Ready for a challenge?

Find a friend who feels the same way (it's an epidemic, so this should be pretty easy), and do a 2-week balance challenge! Try following each of these steps, and see if it gives you more energy throughout your day by the end of two weeks. Track your progress and how you feel at the end of each day, and encourage each other to make space for change. It's worth the work, I promise. Good luck!

Check out this great resource for more information about the impact of electronics on sleep (and sleep disruption!):