Like the majority of us, I imagine, I was very happy to wave farewell to 2020. Nothing much changed on the 1st of January, of course. The Covid pandemic rages on, businesses are still struggling, jobs are still being lost, and people are unable to see their loved ones in many corners of the world—many people feel overwhelmed in life.
That certainly didn’t change when I woke up on the first day of a brand new year. But there’s something about the first day of a new year that brings a renewed sense of focus. I’m optimistic that we will see some semblance of normality return this year, and that optimism grew as we kicked 2020 out of the door.
I’ll join millions of “resolutioners” in making promises to myself about improvements I’ll make this year. We—those who do this every year (however long we last)—are riding on that wave of new year optimism and the feeling of a “new start.”
But how do you stay motivated on anything—whether it’s resolutions, healthy eating, running a business, or getting out for a run—when the world is practically on fire around you?
I’m no psychologist, but I like to think I’ve got plenty of experience in maintaining focus and motivation regardless of what’s going on around me. I’ve spent years honing my productivity skills and tried countless tactics that both succeeded and failed at helping me stay driven when I feel overwhelmed in life.
So, let me share some of the things that I’ve found most successful to help you stay focused on what matters to you regardless of what else is happening in the world.
Table of Contents
List What’s Overwhelming You
Lists are very powerful things. I often find that when I’m feeling overwhelmed in life, I lose sight of specifically what is causing me to feel this way. When I feel like this, I list what is making me feel overwhelmed.
The list is very often not as long as I expect it to be and often, feelings of being overwhelmed come down to just one or two things on my mind.
What Can You Control?
With a list in front of you, it’s time to take a look at what you can influence.
- If too many pressing deadlines is something on my list, I will speak to clients and I will see if I can change some things, or perhaps I’ll stop taking work that month
- If I’m feeling overwhelmed by non-work commitment, I work out what I can cancel and just cancel it
On the other hand, if it’s something I cannot control (like a pandemic), I grant myself the permission to sit with it—to just be ok with not being ok with it.
I go through my list and I take action to change anything I can change (even if it’s just an email to delegate a task or move a deadline). It’s something that helps me feel a little more in control, though I accept this is something that will be different for everyone.
Set Micro Goals Each Working Day
Feeling overwhelmed can really lower productivity and stop you from doing things you need or would ordinarily want to do. One way to overcome that, I’ve found, is to set very achievable micro-goals for each working day.
So, if one of my goals for the day is to complete a lengthy report, I will break it down into sections and segments that might only be 30 minutes of work as opposed to a whole day of work. I can then visibly see progress towards this goal (and I’ll be honest, I do love ticking things off a to-do list).
I’m a huge fan of micro-goals, which have consistently helped me to get through tasks quicker and break down what seems like overwhelming tasks into smaller jobs.
Prioritize Tasks and Goals
Got too many micro-goals to complete in a day? Prioritize them. Order them by the most important thing on that day and if you need to move some deadlines around or get some help, then do it.
Personally, I give everything a priority score from 1 to 3, with 1 being the highest priority and I work on my 1s first. A wider scale of priority levels might work for you or even just 2 levels.
Take Some Time for Yourself
This is the thing I always find the most counterintuitive. When you’re busy, the last thing on your mind is probably taking time to just go and do something for yourself. But I find that getting away from my desk and walking for 30 minutes clears my mind, and I return more focussed and more able to be productive.
Other tactics can help you to become more productive too but certainly, a quick walk is a useful one for me. Meditation is proven to lower stress levels. It is something that can be done wherever you happen to be, guided by online help or one of the many meditation apps available.
Some people like to run. Some like to play games on their phones. Whatever your thing is—something that you enjoy and makes you feel better—take time out to enjoy it for yourself no matter what’s going on and how busy it seems you are.
can reduce your productivity and increase feelings of being overwhelmed in life. The reality for most of us is that concentrating (or trying to) on multiple things at once means we don’t really get to focus on any of them. We’re slower, more stressed, and tick less of our to-do lists. So, tackle one thing at a time.
But What If You Have to Multitask?
Based on the above, I do not like multitasking. I’d much rather focus on a single task at once. But I share that now 6 days into another lockdown where I live and thus, homeschooling.
Ever homeschooled a 5-year-old while his 3-year-old brother shoots Nerf bullets at him and his baby brother tries to destroy everything in sight? I tried that last week. And I tried to finish some 2020 performance reports over the course of the day too.
I’m not going to lie. It was a bit of a disaster. On the second day, I decided to be a little less ambitious. I’m not going to get reports done while I’m tackling the carnage that is homeschooling. But staying on top of my emails was a little easier to do.
I did it by working in time blocks, taking a little inspiration from the Pomodoro Technique. I didn’t have the full 25 minutes to do complete Pomodoro blocks. But as the baby slept, I saw my opportunity to split up the older two in separate rooms, set the younger one craft tasks, and let our eldest continue with the school tasks set for him.
I told them I needed 10 minutes. And I worked in complete silence without any distractions to clear my inbox over those ten minutes. I managed 6 such stints over the course of the day around baby naps. It was enough to keep my inbox under control.
So, even though you may be multitasking, rather than trying to do multiple things at the same time, you should try to work in blocks of as many or as few minutes as is practical for you.
Have an Accountability Buddy
A close friend of mine and I both embarked upon some health and fitness goals last year. We caught up regularly on Zoom or similar to talk progress and sent one another screenshots from our fitness apps to “report” activity.
Having an accountability buddy is very helpful in reaching goals. We encouraged one another on those days when we just weren’t feeling it. For me, it has been one of the single most important factors in me sticking with these changes 7 months on.
I also have similar relationships with people relating to work tasks. I’ve talked to lots of people (many of whom are freelancers) who struggle with productivity and procrastination, particularly since the start of the pandemic when we’re facing so many other challenges. So, I have two people who I regularly catch up with and talk about how much of my to-do list I’m getting through and they do with me, too.
Don’t Be Afraid to Share
Are you feeling overwhelmed in life? It’s normal and acceptable, particularly in times like these. Talk about it, share your feelings with a trusted contact and ultimately, be kind to yourself.
More To Help You Stop Feeling Overwhelmed in Life
- How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Accomplish Your Goals
- 8 Things to Remember When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
Featured photo credit: Christian Erfurt via unsplash.com