05/10/2014 09:36 am ET Updated Jul 10, 2014

The Importance of Making Headspace

Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

My mother always said that I was terrible at doing nothing.

I am fine with being terrible at doing nothing because I am so rarely without something to do.

Lately, though, I have found in my quiet moments, those spaces in between projects or grading, those fleeting hours (more realistically minutes) -- when the girls are asleep and my husband is out, the dishes are done, lunches packed, clothes folded, classes prepped, research in progress -- when I have a small opportunity to stop, I can hardly relax. I feel like a clenched fist.

Unclenching, relaxing, relenting requires a kind of headspace I struggle to find.

Headspace is the only way I can describe what I'm looking for. My mind is too full, littered with forgotten tasks and unchecked checklists. And so I wade through the mess, looking for ways to offload anything that clears some space.

I have tried untethering myself from technology, getting significant distance from my phone or my computer or adopting new work habits to simplify or get organized. I cook to get the food thoughts out and read or write to get the work thoughts out. I clear the inboxes of texts, emails, status updates and checklists -- so many inboxes to keep in mind, life gets tiring staying on top of communication.

Even still, the quiet moments feel crowded.

I seem to have confused the fully completed checklist with a feeling of serenity at work. Having the checklist under control is not the same as feeling peace or feeling calm. I think that getting headspace has to get to a new level. It's not simply untethering from responsibilities or checking items off of a list. For me, I have to periodically relax my own expectations of myself (and others).

The peril of this crowded mind is that I feel anxiety or anticipation about something coming up, something I could have missed or something I'm missing even when I have covered all of my bases, checked all of my boxes, crossed those t's and dotted the i's. In the last few years, the frenzied work cycles have been pretty all-consuming. I have tried to stay loosely connected to work when I'm off the clock, but as once I explained to my mother-in-law, when you work mostly for yourself, it is really hard to give yourself time off (even when that time off is just the weekend).

Clearing headspace is not an impossible feat, though. A year ago, I was a clenched fist as I finished my dissertation, and then I returned to practicing yoga regularly. Those hours on the mat are the only time that I really get out of my head. Roll your eyes all you want, but it's true. It may take some time to ease into my weekly practice but eventually, the ticker tape of thoughts grinds to a halt. The grip loosens, and I find myself focused on what I am doing in the moment and not what's coming.

When I'm juggling people or messages or ideas, I need ways to be present. Because when I am able to truly clear my desk (and subsequently, my head), I am usually so stunned that I am unable to really enjoy my personal time. Instead, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I am hoping that my crowded headspace is due to the long northeastern winter that feels as though it is neverending. Our cooped up bodies have given way to cooped up brains.

Summer is coming and with it, sunshine, warmth and hopefully, a little more space.

This post originally appeared on