I took out my journal and wrote these words: "I am constantly overwhelmed by what I'm trying to accomplish..."
Yuck! What a reality check! What kind of life am I leading if I’m in a constant state of stress?
In her article for Harvard Business Review, Rebecca Zucker explores the feeling of “constant overwhelm.” She reports that,
“The cognitive impact of feeling perpetually overwhelmed can range from mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically, to a racing mind or an impaired ability to problem solve. When we have too many demands on our thinking over an extended period of time, cognitive fatigue can also happen, making us more prone to distractions and our thinking less agile. Any of these effects, alone, can make us less effective and leave us feeling even more overwhelmed.”
Does this sound like you? Because I know, FOR SURE, it sounds like me! And I’ll attribute some of these things to “mommy brain” after just having a baby (because that’s also a real, legit thing,) but my mental capacity is partially cloudy at best.
I’ll find myself sitting down to my desk and not knowing where to start. I’ll tell my husband or mom on a weekly basis that I’m overwhelmed, especially when I have a big project coming up…which let’s face it…is OFTEN!
Some of this, is my personality. I’m an Activator! I’m a Do-er! I like to start things! But once I’m in the nitty gritty of the doing is when I start feeling the ugly head of Ms. Overwhelm.
When I was a kid, my mother would sit me down (because I was pacing a mile a minute around the house) and tell me to stop and breathe. She would say,
"You can only do one thing at a time."
So today, I’m going to be your mother and tell you to, “Sit down. Breathe. Take a moment. And take it one thing at a time.” Now, pull out your To-Do list and let’s take a good, hard look:
Define Your Primary Source of Overwhelm?
What are the one or two things on your list that are the biggest stress holes? Or maybe you need to think about it like this – If you took off these one or two things, would it alleviate 80% of the stress you are currently feeling? Now, you still might have to DO these things but being able to identify your source of stress is what G.I. Joe would call, “half the battle.” Now, it’s time to lean into them. If it’s a deadline project that’s almost finished, find your most efficient hours of the day and solely focus on it until it’s done. If you’re to-do list says “write a script,” that might be too big of a goal to even begin to tackle. It’s worth breaking down your “biggie” into small manageable chunks. This is my secret sauce for accomplishing anything!
Timebox Your To-Do List.
Timeboxing is a brand new term for me, but I was ecstatic to know that I was already doing it!
A To-Do list can get icky, especially when there are things that have been on there for six months (or even longer ah-hem). Timeboxing is all about putting your “to-do’s” on the calendar. To actually calculate the amount of time you need to accomplish it and scheduling it out. It also leaves room for you to schedule other parts of your day too that you might let slide, i.e. exercising, playing with your kids, reading, learning, watching. You can set a boundary of time around a task and then when the time is up, be done.
When I first heard James Clear talk about his book Atomic Habits, I instantly bought the audiobook. I already knew that there was power to breaking up big goals into manageable steps, but to create micro habits was a new idea to me and I wanted in. I have added many micro habits into my life that have helped me become so efficient. And because a habit is just one of my regular daily activities, it’s no longer on my to-do list. Phew! For example. my man bought me a bicycle chair for my birthday and now, I get to ride 5 miles WHILE writing this blog. Before, I was having a really hard time prioritizing my workout habit. Now, I always do it.
Say No Means Saying Yes.
I know you’ve heard this before and now I feel like your mother saying it again: Say “No” more often. Saying “no” to things, whether that’s certain work, outings, movie nights, means you are saying “yes” to something else. That something else could just be “you” time. Know what your priorities are. Know what makes you feel good. Know your trajectory and choose things that support that path. Know what your north star is and learn to turn down anything that wavers. However, saying no does not mean that your path can never be altered. You can change what feels good and what you want. This is a practice of listening to your instincts and your inner self and choosing a life that makes you happy everyday.
Sooo many of us are perfectionists. The problem with this is that it leads to procrastination or just plain paralysis. The task will never be perfect so then it will never be finished. Oof.
I want you to start operating from the “good-enough” principle. And start today! Find something that you can call “good-enough” and finish it. This could be as simple as making your bed or finishing a writing assignment. It’s good practice to walk away and complete something. The more you practice the “good-enough” muscle, the easier it will become to let go of your perfectionism. Now go scratch that off your to-do list, get yourself a drink and celebrate!
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work.
Are you a do-it-yourself person? I AM!!! It is hard for me to delegate my work to other people because, most of the time, I think I can do it more effectively. But there is freedom, power and relief in stepping back and allowing others to help you. You might not be able to hire a person to work for your company, but what about a nanny? a house cleaner? A neighborhood kid who mows your lawn? What about a web designer? Copywriter? Editor? Then, the task is to let that perfectionism fly out the window because your bathrooms are “good enough” and you got two glorious, uninterrupted hours to finish editing your short film. Spend your precious hours on the things that you would never pass off (aka your creative endeavors) and hand over the nuts and bolts to someone else. Hey – they might even be better at it!
What limiting beliefs are you holding onto that keep you in this cycle of constant overwhelm? Mine is believing that being successful means staying busy. But recently, I’ve found that things can happen even when I’m not hustling. I sold a film during a 3 month long quarantine when I was taking time to garden, build bonfires with my kids and clean! As long as I’m taking little steps everyday towards something, things will be accomplished.
It’s important to have positive self affirmations so they can override the limiting beliefs that you tell yourself. Write your affirmations in the present tense and in the form of a question. When the brain hears a question, it instinctively will try and answer it. Also, don’t be afraid to aim high. These will help you stay on your “north star” path. Here is one of mine: When did it get so easy to trust my instincts?
“Overwhelmed” is a word that I use all too often, but I find myself challenging that idea more and more. I hope you will too. Schedule time in your week (with timeboxing) when you can step back and reflect on whether the “work” you put in this week was fun, challenging and joyful. Even when you’re busy, you don’t have to feel overwhelmed.
Let me know in the comments where you’re feeling the most overwhelm and how you overcome it.