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Three Steps to Overcoming Overwhelm

Three Steps to Overcoming Overwhelm

Everyone hates overwhelm–it leaves you feeling stressed out and often paralyzed (which just makes the overwhelm worse). But once you’re stuck in it, how do you get out and get to a point where you can start taking action again?

First off, grab a piece of paper or open a new document in a simple text editor (even a spreadsheet will work, since you can just type things & hit enter to be taken to a new cell in the same column).

Get it out of your head

The first thing you’re going to do is write down everything that you’re overwhelmed about in one column. Generally, one of two things will happen here:

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  1. As you write down what’s freaking you out, it’ll start to defuse the fears, and you’ll see that there’s really not that much to be overwhelmed about
  2. Writing all of it down will make you feel worse because you’ll remember things that you had forgot about, or that you were shoving to the back of your mind

Either way, hang in there, because we’re going to fix it! But to fix it we need to get everything out of your head and onto paper (or in a readable format, at least) first. So do that, and then take a break for a few minutes–take 15 minutes or so to walk your dog, do some yoga, or just relax and play a few rounds of Words With Friends on your iPhone. Getting a little bit of perspective is important for the next part and doing one of those activities will help give you some space.

Look at things objectively

This is where a buddy system comes in hand, if you have an accountability buddy or someone else around who can provide perspective. But even if you don’t, you can still make some serious progress.

Go over each item that you listed in the first step and ask yourself:

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  • Is this true?

    As in–is it quantifiably, objectively, provably true? For example, if you wrote down “I have too much to work on this week,” then figure out how much work you really have to do this week. Look at your workload and see what really needs to get done this week (prioritize ruthlessly!), and if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, figure out exactly how much work it is: how many assignments are due? How many hours is it going to take you?

  • Is this any different from last week or last month?

    Take a hard look to see if the circumstances are actually different, or if it’s just your perception of the circumstances that’s different. More often than not, it’s the second one, which is when you ask yourself…

  • Is there any other experience or circumstance affecting my viewpoint on this?

    For example, if you’re stressed out about work, is it because you’re feeling pressure to perform well because one of your friends or your significant other was criticizing your job last week? Since we’re not robots, we can’t compartmentalize our lives, and there’s going to be “bleed over” from other areas. Oftentimes, people get overwhelmed not because the reality is too much for them to handle, but because there are emotional situations going on that are stressing them out. However, they can’t deal with the emotional situation effectively or directly for some reason, so instead their brain turns that stress into overwhelm about entirely unrelated subjects.

After you’ve done this, you’ll likely have a much clearer grip on what the reality of the situation is, but there’s still one more step…

Take action

For everything on your list, you want to take one of three courses of action:

What can you do?

For example, if you realized that you actually do have more work to do this week than last week, what are you going to do to make sure that work gets done? Work an hour later in the evenings? Get up an hour earlier and work in the morning? Once you construct an action plan for dealing with the problem, you’ll feel infinitely better (and you’ll be able to solve the problem, of course).

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What are you going to delete or push back?

Once you objectively go over your list of things that are overwhelming you, you’re likely to see that not all of them actually need to be done right this instant. There are some things that you might realize don’t really need to be done at all, and that are more busywork than anything else. Just delete those off your task list so that they aren’t taking up your mental space and energy any more. There are some tasks that fall into the “important but not urgent” category, and those can be pushed back to a week when you’re not feeling quite so crazy. Choose a new time for them, thinking about the other things you’ll have going on that week (hint: don’t push them back to a week where your mother in law is coming to visit), and rearrange accordingly.

What can you delegate?

There are some things that need to be done but that just aren’t important for you to do. But you’re in luck, because technology has made it much easier and more affordable to delegate the random-yet-must-get-done tasks off your to do list to someone else. Check out TaskRabbit for local tasks, or FancyHands for non-location-dependent tasks. And of course, there’s always Fiverr, Upwork, and oDesk, as well. For more on delegating and how it can make you more productive, check out the delights of delegation and 8 ways your assistant can make you more effective.

Now that you have a course of action and a cleaned up task list, you’re all ready to get set and get out of your overwhelm so that you can have a happier, more productive week. Go forth and work! 

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

How about a unique spin on things?

These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

1. Empty your mind.

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

2. Keep certain days clear.

Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

3. Prioritize your work.

Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

4. Chop up your time.

Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

5. Have a thinking position.

Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

7. Don’t try to do too much.

OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

8. Have a daily action plan.

Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

9. Do your most dreaded project first.

Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

11. Have a place devoted to work.

If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

12. Find your golden hour.

You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

14. Never stop.

Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

15. Be in tune with your body.

Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

16. Try different methods.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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