Is feeling overwhelmed stopping you from what you should be doing?
Too often, people use overwhelm as the excuse not to do something. They don’t have time, they don’t know where to start, they are just…overwhelmed.
One of my guilty pleasures is watching the TV show Clean House, where a group of “experts” helps a family get rid of clutter and get their home and their lives in order. Invariably, when asked why they have not even attempted to clear the mounds of clutter in their homes, the homeowners say it was, “Just too overwhelming.”
I understand that clearing out 20 years of accumulated crap is not something any of us would look forward to doing; however, it can be done–even without a crew of comedians moonlighting as organization experts.
Whatever project you are avoiding because you feel overwhelmed, I am taking that excuse away from you right now.
There are two major types of overwhelm. One comes from scope and the other from quantity. Let’s look at quantity overwhelm first. That occurs when you have so many things on your to-do list that you can’t imagine getting through all of it. Just the thought of it may make you so tired that you have to take a nap.
This is no time to sleep on the job! Here is what you need to do to conquer the overwhelm.
First, look for anything on your list that doesn’t really have to be done. Be honest here. How many things are on the list because you think other people expect you to do them or because you have set ridiculous expectations for yourself? Dump the stuff that doesn’t need to be done.
Next identify the things that have to be done, but not by you. Don’t forget personal stuff here. One of the cheapest things to outsource is laundry, and there are lots of other personal tasks that can be done by someone else, as well as business tasks. Let go of the idea that you are the only one that can do things and get help.
Set your priorities. The highest priorities (from a business standpoint) are the things that earn you money. Those are the tasks you are going to be sure to do.
Establish routines. When I talk with clients, I find one reason they feel overwhelmed is that they spend a lot of time trying to decide what they should be working on. Know what tasks must be done and when, schedule them and do them. Focus on your high ROI tasks.
Now that you are starting to chop the list down to size, the next step is to cherry-pick some easy stuff you can do and be done with. At any given time I usually have 10, 20 or more annoying little items that would only take a few minutes each to do, but they never rise to a high enough priority to get done. Set aside a day, or half a day, and knock them out one after another.
Look for something you must do, but you dread. Do it. That one thing can make you feel overwhelmed, so get it out of the way. Your load will immediately feel lighter.
Group like tasks. When you shift from one activity to another, your brain takes a little while to catch up. That is why multitasking doesn’t work. By working on a series of similar tasks, you and your brain get in a groove.
Focus. I like to use a timer and work on something for a set period of time, for example, 15 minutes. Set the timer, and just work on the task at hand for that time. No phone calls, no email, no “just this one thing.” Work for a solid 15 minutes (or whatever time you have set) and see how far you can get.
Feeling less overwhelmed now? Next we will talk about dealing with scope overwhelm, when you are faced with a ginormous goal. You will discover how to cut it down to size and get it done.