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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 October 15, 2019

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why we procrastinate after all

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

So, is procrastination bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How bad procrastination can be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

Procrastination, a technical failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

Reference

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