How Not To Be Overwhelmed



How often do you get a feeling that there is simply too much to do?

How often does that feeling take up energy and stop you concentrating or keep you awake?

What makes the difference between being busy and feeling a great sense of satisfaction and being busy but feeling it is all too much?

 If these questions resonate with you… read on!

Being overwhelmed leads to a sense of impotence and procrastination, neither of which are conducive to a sense of wellbeing!

We all lead incredibly busy lives. Almost everyone you speak to complains that they are short of time and have too much to do. For many of us the way in which we deal with our “To Do” list can add to our sense of overwhelm leading to high levels of stress and a diminished sense of self worth.

Here are some real life examples…

A client came to me feeling completely overwhelmed by her life. Her job felt as if it had taken over her life. As a result she had done nothing in the house for weeks, the laundry had taken on a life of its own, the fridge was empty, she and the children were living on junk food. She felt drained, unhappy and desperate for things to be different.

Another client had failed to meet some important deadlines at work because he was swamped with projects. He was concerned that his standing with his boss and the rest of the team would be jeopardized because of what he saw as “my failure”.

Although both clients were facing different problems the solutions are similar.

In order to solve the problem it is important to understand that in-completions such as these leech our energy and our sense of self worth. The net result is that we spend time and energy in servicing the problem rather than dealing with the problem.

Let me give you an example… If the job seems too big to handle we will often find any number of distractions to avoid dealing with the problem. In fact we often spend more time avoiding doing the job than the job itself would take. For those of you with teenage children you will acknowledge that they are masters of this technique!

Human beings thrive on completion. If we feel we cannot complete the whole thing, the tendency is to leave. If I asked you to eat a whole cow in one sitting you would refuse on the grounds that it was impossible. Yet over time if the meat was used in meal sized amounts it would not only be possible to eat a whole cow but there many of you who would enjoy planning different ways to cook it, love cooking it, and equally love eating the various dishes.

How we present any job or project to ourselves, and others, will have a marked impact on whether we manage to do it easily or with great difficulty.

Imagine your house. Every room is in a mess. There is a sink full of washing up. You get home from work – you are tired from the day. You look around and just can’t face dealing with it. You order a take away rather than tackle the mountain in the sink. You are too tired to do more than collapse on the settee to watch TV. The washing up is put on the draining board before bed. In the morning you have breakfast, there would be time to deal with the breakfast things but there is not enough time to do anything with your sink full. You add the crockery to the pile on the draining board. You leave for work knowing that all that awaits you after a hard day at work is the mess you have left at home.

At work there is a non-stop barrage of requests, interruptions and expectations of you by others. Huge amounts of energy are tied up with worrying about what isn’t being achieved rather than focusing on achieving what needs to be done.

So what are the solutions? 

  1. Creating Bite-Sized Tasks!

By understanding that completions give us a sense of achievement and well being we can create a works or ‘To Do’ list which breaks everything down into manageable “mouthfuls”. Structuring each task in this way gives us a sense of impetuous to go on to the next thing. As each stage is completed take the opportunity to acknowledge that you have achieved success.

Prioritizing what we do is really helpful. Think about the last few days. How much time have you spent on things which could have been left or delegated?

Think about the difference between IMPORTANT and URGENT.

Many things create a false sense of urgency, the immediacy of emails for example.

Playing with your children may be important but lack a sense of urgency in the light of the rest of your list. How many parents regret the lack of a sense of urgency when they realize the time has passed and the childhood days have passed?

  1. Effective prioritization

Prioritize your works list using Franklin Coveys system.

A = Must get done

B = Should get done

C= Could get done

Create your list using the code above.

Most people tend to do the Cs first as they tend to be the easy ones. Try to be disciplined about doing the A’s first. Anything outstanding at the end of the day goes onto the next list. Remember to reconsider the coding for each task, as things that are continually shunted into the next in the "should" or "could" categories can become “must” if left.

  1. Give yourself a break

Many of the things on our list add pressure with out adding value. If you have things like “Sort out and read pile of magazines and periodicals” and you have had this on the list for a while, consider how liberating it might be to simply put the whole pile in the recycle bin. Ask yourself the question “Will anything dreadful happen if I don’t do…..?”

  1. Schedule ahead

We often have jobs to do which are vitally important – paying the bills for example, yet the need to do it is not immediate. Creating a reminder in your day planner can work really well as long as you train yourself to check the planner on a daily basis. For those of you who love technology it is possible to set up visual and auditory prompts.

  1. Take control

Central to the solution is creating a sense of control. It is entirely your choice whether do take control or not. Going back to the real life examples mentioned at the start - both my clients felt that the first act of creating a list of things to do helped them feel better, but just having a list will change nothing. It is taking action that will ultimately change the quality of your life.

Breaking that list into small manageable chunks and taking action to complete the first one offered the clients a sense of completion, that in turn energized them so that they went on to the next task and the next. By our next session they were both in a significantly different place. They were still busy but both felt their lives were manageable. The sense of overwhelm was replaced with a sense of being in charge of their own lives.


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