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Don't let overwhelm take the best of you!

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

Feeling overwhelmed? 4 simple solutions to implement right now

I did a poll recently asking what are the most pressing challenges leaders are facing, particularly people who are new to leadership. The top challenge was “I’m overwhelmed. I have so many things to do, I don’t know where to start”.

You know the feeling:

  • Your to-do list is two pages long.

  • You just got 3 new requests in the span of 5 minutes.

  • You’re almost late for every deadline, and you’re starting to drop some balls because all the juggling is getting out of hand.

  • You feel mildly panicky all the time, with an nagging sensation that you are forgetting something important.

  • Your family and friends are complaining that they don’t see you enough.

Here are 4 simple strategies that you can start applying right away to decrease this feeling of overwhelm and regain a sense of control of your time.

Empty your brain (Time to complete: 5-10 minutes).

Yes, you might have a “to-do” list, but I’m willing to bet that it does not contain all the thoughts and items that you are carrying around in your head right now. This is because some of the ideas and worries that are pestering you are not typical “to-do” items, or because some are family issues that we tend not to include on our professional to-do list.

So grab a piece of paper, set a timer to 5 minutes and write down every thought swirling in your mind: meetings, deadlines, people you need to remember to call, worries about one of your team members, the ticket planes you need to buy, the school-play that your daughter doesn’t want you to miss, your self-doubts.

You get the idea. Write down everything, no matter how big or  small, important, irrelevant or ridiculous. Just writing it all down provides a sense of relief because now there is no chance that you will forget it. You can see it all in front of you at the same time, and you can categorize it and prioritize it.

Separate the items you can control from those you can’t (Time to complete: 2 minutes).

The first way of categorizing all the items you wrote down on the previous exercise is by separating those that fall inside your sphere of control and influence, and those that don’t. Worrying about things over which you don’t have any control serves no constructive purpose and takes up too much mental space. Some examples may include: a team member being mad at you, whether your proposal will be accepted or not, what will the board think of your presentation…

Learn to recognize items that are creating a buzz in your brain for which there is not much you can do. If there IS something you can do about it, then by all means write that specific thing down. If there isn’t, tell yourself that you’ve done everything in your power and now it is time to let go of your results. Cross off the item. Focus on the things on your list that you CAN control.

Create a new habit to write things down (Time to complete: 10 seconds here and there).

This is the preventive version of the exercise above. A big part of the sense of overwhelm and the panic you feel comes from using your brain as a memory disk. Don’t waste your precious mental space on this. Instead, get into the habit of writing every new item or worry down. Use the notes app in your phone or carry around a small notebook. Revise it, re-categorise it prioritise-it every morning.

Change your “to-do” list for a calendar-based organizer (Time to complete: 15 minutes per week)

A big reason why we usually feel overwhelmed is because everything takes longer to complete than we thought, and when we are too busy, we tend to jump from one task to the next in a disorganized and unproductive way.

To counter this, we’re going to move from a “to-do” list to a calendar, where each priority task has a pre-defined amount of time to complete. That way you know when you will be tackling each task during the week and you’ll be less panicked feeling that everything needs to be done on Monday.

At the start of each week, look through your to-do list, and prioritize your tasks. Then estimate how long each task will take you. If your tasks tend to take a lot longer than what you originally planned, you can use a neat little trick favored by software developers: multiply the time you calculated by 𝝿 (Pi= 3.1416; very nerdy, I know, but it works nicely!), and use this time estimate instead. Better be on the safe side. You can always revise to the lower end if needed afterwards.   

Plug these time estimates for each task into time slots in your weekly calendar. Use the times of the day where you are most efficient for your most important tasks. Be specific. For example, “Tuesdays from 9 am to 11 am - Write Results section of report XYZ.” Also, be realistic: how many hours can you work focusedly on a task without needing a break?

Once your priorities are scheduled, add in any key meetings. Then include short 30-minute slots at times of the day where you are least efficient to answer emails and calls. If you tend to get many emergency things that need solving right away, leave 1-hour slots here and there to deal with these.

PRO TIP: If you have a time-slot that goes from 8 am to 6 pm, this is an red flag!! Revise and break into smaller chunks!

Getting rid of overwhelm is not easy, and it tends to creep back on us if we are not careful. Hopefully one or more of these tips will help you feel more in control.

Share in the comments or on Facebook which one will you be trying out this week!

Or let us know your best strategies to regain a sense of control over your time



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