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How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Accomplish Your Goals

How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Accomplish Your Goals

It seems like every day is a struggle between an endless to-do list and a limited amount of time. This struggle can make us feel extremely overwhelmed, triggering us into habits that are less than productive and that keep us from getting things done. When the day ends, we then feel a crushing sense of guilt and anger for not having accomplished what we set out to do.

Sounds familiar? Don’t despair! There is a way to get rid of that nasty sense of being overwhelmed by our list of tasks, to feel better towards our goals and to handle and our to-do lists like a pro! Here’s how:

Pick one thing

Feeling overwhelmed often happens when you feel you have too much to do. But here’s the thing: Regardless of how much you have to do, you can only do one thing at a time, period. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is not doing more than one thing at a time, but rather stopping one thing and doing another, repeatedly. No matter what, you can only do ONE thing at a time. So pick that one thing and focus on that.

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The idea of only doing one thing at a time may seem stressful because it will feel like you’re ignoring important projects that need to get done. But give it a try! Pick one thing out of your to-do list and tell yourself: I will only focus on this right now until I finish (or until I reach a certain point). Act as if finishing this one thing, and not your entire to-do list at once, is your immediate priority. You will find this raises your productivity because you’ll be able to focus without feeling overwhelmed about everything else you need to do.

Get pumped

If you feel overwhelmed about a certain task, chances are you dread doing it. And even if you were to clear out your entire schedule just to focus on this one task, you may still find yourself procrastinating because you dread it so much.

So here’s what you do. Pump up the happiest, brightest music. Change your physical state to a positive one by sitting up high, pumping your arms, smiling, dancing, singing, whatever. Then imagine yourself doing this task while getting excited about it. Fake the excitement if necessary, but do it. Go through the steps of the task in your mind (quickly, don’t get too crazy with the details) while being excited! Imagine you are Rocky Balboa running up those steps waving your arms around in victory. Picture finishing this task and doing a happy dance, and rewarding yourself somehow. Get pumped up and excited, even if it feels artificial. The more you do it, the more you’ll believe it and the more you’ll want to get it done.

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Break it down

Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed not because you have too much to do or because you are not excited enough, but because your project just feels too monumental. People who have to accomplish major goals like, say, writing a book, will often experience this.

The trick to make  the pressure off a major project is to break it down into actionable steps in order to make it more manageable. So take out a sheet of paper (or an excel spreadsheet or something of the sort) and break down the steps for your project. If it’s a book, for example, the steps could be: Overview, ideas for chapters, outline, detailed outline, etc. Just make sure it’s not so many steps that the process feels bigger than it should be.

This is a great exercise not only because it helps to curb the dread that comes with being overwhelmed, but also because it helps you see the steps to a project, and aids in planning and execution. You’ll find you’ll do a better job at anything if you break it down into smaller, digestible steps.

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Timebox it

This productivity hack is a favorite of most self-help junkies and there are plenty of different timeboxing methods and even apps to get you going. But the main premise is this: Carve out a reasonable amount of time to focus on a task, just one task. Then set an alarm. Once that alarm goes off, you’re done. Either go take a break or move onto another task.

It is unbelievable how much easier it is to get something done when you tell yourself: I’ll work on this for only 20 minutes and no more. I promise you’ll find that you work harder in those 20 minutes than you would if you had given yourself all day to do this thing. And it takes off so much pressure if you’re going to devote a limited amount of time to a chore! It makes the task feel easier, lighter and even funner. This will be a hack you’ll use for years to come!

Make it smaller in your head (Focus on the next step)

Oftentimes we feel overwhelmed in completing a task because we make that task so monumental, important, huge in our head. Take writing a book for example. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed not at writing a book, but because you’re imagining that this book will have to be big, it will have to break records, it will have to be revolutionary. So you’re creating this invisible unattainable goal that goes beyond just writing the book. We do this all the time without noticing it – we create these unspoken and unrealistic goals. And of course we should always aim to do our very best. But when we have what feels like an epic goal to achieve, it is much more likely we’ll quit before we even begin.

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The only fix is to make the task a bit smaller in your head. You do this by focusing on the next step. Instead of thinking: I’m going to write the next Harry Potter series, just focus on brainstorming the best ideas for a fiction book. And then focus on writing the best outline possible, and then focus on achieving excellence in completing another step, etc. If you focus on giving your all on just the next step, you won’t have to give up any lofty goals but will feel like each task you do is reachable instead of impossible.

Think of why

Lastly, a quick way to feel less overwhelmed with what you have to do is to think of why. When we look at the bigger picture, we often find the strength needed to get through a particularly difficult to-do list. When we know why we do what we do, it makes it easier to actually do. When a job feels bigger than us, we put more effort into it, with greater pleasure.

Whether the reason ‘why’ is for your children, or the success of your company, or to impact lives, think of that. Focus on that. Remember that. And you’ll find the last couple of drops of motivation that you needed to get through.

Featured photo credit: flick user Dima Bushkov via flic.kr

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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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