Overwhelm is an epidemic. I’ve got a few thoughts about side-stepping it.
I was sitting in my office the other day, on the sofa, having a cup of tea. Georgia walks in and says,
“Hi Jon, what are you doing?”
“Nothing,” I said.
“Well then can I get you to look through these forms?”
“No, I’m busy.”
“I thought you said…”
“No. I’m busy.”
I wasn’t trying to be a dick. (See, I have a cup they gave me that says “Best Boss Ever.”) It’s just that I make ‘nothing’ a central element of my day. It’s a priority. A good productive day involves a fair chunk of nothing.
I like to organise my time in blocks. When I’m on, I’m on. When I’m working on one project, whether its accounts, or design plans, or whatever, I give that one thing my full focus.
I don’t take calls. I don’t check emails. I don’t see how many “likes” my pictures of breakfast are getting.
I stay focused.
Focus and organisation is one of the biggest antidotes to overwhelm that I know. Overwhlem seems epidemic. Everywhere I go you hear the same stuff – snowed-under, up to the eyeballs, coming out of the wha-zoo etc.
It’s the nature of modern life. There’s just more exciting things on offer than there are hours in the day. People feel overwhelmed.
And if you feel overwhelmed and stressed for too long, then it’s a short trip from there to depression, health issues and Candy-Crush Saga addiction.
But the feeling of overwhelm is really another way of saying that you don’t feel like you have control of your time. You’re not in charge. The demands of life are conspiring to throw you this way and that.
And so number one when we’re fighting the feeling of overwhelm is to become the masters of our own time.
That means getting out of reactive mode. It means not checking each message or email as it comes in. It means not taking phone calls if we’re in the middle of something. It means making a plan to give some energy and focus to one thing, and sticking to it.
If you take control of your schedule, you’ll stop feeling like a victim. Overwhelmed is another word for powerless.
And so I set my own schedule and do my best to stick to it. I can’t hit it every hour of every day. Stuff happens, I know that. But when it does, it’s my choice to respond or not.
The other tip I love is plan tomorrow, today.
Don’t scramble through to the end of the day and then try and figure out what the heck that was all about on the bus ride home.
Block out some time to take stock of where you’re at, and plan your next day.
It is a real joy to begin the day (the morning hours are some of my most productive hours) with a clear plan and direction. What’s more, you’re not carrying all that stuff around in your head over night. That means you’ll sleep and rest better, and have more energy to hit the day tomorrow.
Another tip I like is to give yourself breaks between projects.
The worst thing for overwhelm is to start your day with 5 things on your plate, and go at them all at once, adding extra projects as they’re thrown at you. When your attention is with one thing and one thing alone, it feels much easier to handle.
And then between projects, give yourself a little break. Give your mind a chance to defrag. For me it’s a cup of tea and staring out the window for a bit. But it might be going for a walk, pumping out a few push-ups, whatever.
But my recommendation would be take that break away from your devices. Don’t take your phone over to the couch and check your emails. That’s not a break. You’re half-arseing your break and your half-arseing work. Pick one and go for it.
These are the practical antidotes to overwhelm. But I’ve got a thing or two to say about mindset as well.
If you unpack the feeling of overwhelm, it’s a highly charged emotional state. We might think it’s about hitting a certain deadline or whatever, but underneath that it’s generally about disappointing someone, or getting in trouble, or missing out on something.
So it helps to take charge of our emotions. It’s a part of growing up. We need to find and hold our centre, no matter how stormy life gets.
That used to be common sense, but I wonder these days. Our soap operas and “reality” TV are built on people being over the top drama queens.
Everywhere you look, celebrities are modelling unrefined and immature emotional outbursts.
What effect does it have on us if all our stories are broken hearts and hissy fits?
Does it encourage us to feel hyper-emotional, and therefore more prone to overwhelm?
Overwhelm is also the feeling that your to-do list is over-powering your capacities. But your sense of your capacities is a state of mind. And you can change it.
Power-poses (imagine you’re on the poster for X-men 8) have been scientifically proven to boost levels of confidence and personal power. But find whatever works for you.
If we boost our confidence, we boost our sense of our capacities, and we’re less likely to feel overwhelmed.
Anyway, there’s a few tips for you. I’m seeing this more and more, and people often wonder how I manage to get everything done. How I mange to keep the wolf of overwhelm from the door.
This is what works for me. A nice cup of tea, a well structured schedule, a balanced emotional life, and strutting around the office like a super hero with my undies on the outside.
How do you manage the feeling of overwhelm?