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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

You're Overwhelmed...Now what?

There is more to life than increasing its speed. - Gandhi

This is the first time since Senior Year of college when I have felt so overwhelmed with everything I have to do that I never feel like I'm caught up.  There have been points since then when I have been incredibly bored because I didn't feel like I was doing enough outside of work.  Here I am now...back to how I felt in college. 

 I have a tendency to say yes far too often and feel guilty in the times I do say no.  That leaves me a giant ball of stress.  I'm sure many of you out there can relate.  I actually created this post originally two weeks ago, but haven't had a clear enough mind to write.  I've done some research and even practiced most of these techniques over the past couple weeks.

Why We Get Overwhelmed
I think the tendency for most of us is to say “yes” to most of the things coming into our lives. Maybe it’s that we’re too nice to say no. Maybe it’s that we are overly optimistic about how much we can get done. Maybe we don’t want to look bad by saying we can’t do something. Or maybe we’re afraid to miss out on opportunities by saying no.
Saying “no” to any commitments we can’t handle would be ideal, of course, but like I said, we usually have a tendency to say “yes” to more than we can actually handle. And we become overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted.
As you know, simplicity is the key to my philosophy. If things get complicated, I say you should simplify. Don’t try to do more. Reduce.

The Effects of Stress and Overload

We all know that too much stress is bad for us. Sure, you can’t avoid stress completely, and without some stress we would never grow. But too much stress? It leads to problems.
Stress leads to many health problems, for example: headaches, muscle aches in your shoulders, neck, back … it ages you prematurely, leads to ulcers, heartburn, high blood pressure, heart disease, overeating and more. Not a pretty picture.
But there’s more. Overloading yourself also leads to decreased effectiveness. Taking on too much means we don’t do as good a job with the work we attempt. We often switch between tasks, jumping from one to another, so that we actually take longer to do things and often don’t complete tasks. Or we’re so rushed with the tasks we do complete that quality suffers.

In General:

1. Step OutYou can’t get away from feeling overwhelmed from a place of overwhelming confusion. You have to step away to be able to view your circumstances from a fresh perspective. Move to a different room, get up from your desk, sit in a different chair, go out for a walk or go sit in a cafĂ©. Stepping out from the current situation and changing your physicality will help you gain clarity, and shift you away from the overwhelmed state of mind.

2. “What is Most Important?”  When we are feeling overwhelmed, our mind becomes clouded by the task at hand, and by the thoughts that cause us to feel stressed in the first place. When you step out, ask yourself, what is the most important thing for meHow do I want to feel?

Many times, we get so caught up in the doing, that we forget why we are doing it. Instead of 
being busy doing and then hoping that it will lead us to what we want, start with asking, “How do I want to feel?” And then focus on feeling that way. Then ask, “What is important to me?” And then focus on doing things that are important to you, instead of lots of unimportant tasks that overwhelm you.
3. Journaling. Whenever we are feeling overwhelmed, there is likely a lot going on inside our head. The best thing to do is to dump these thoughts out through writing what’s on your mind.  Grab a pen and a piece of paper, or a notebook, and start jotting down everything that is in your mind. Write without editing, and write out every thought.  Remember to not worry about keeping things looking neat and perfect. This will limit our freedom to dump whatever we want onto paper, both junk that’s keeping us feeling overwhelmed and helpful creative ideas.

4. Asking for Help and Allow Help.You’d be amazed at how many people are willing to help. Often, we are the problem that is disallowing help from happening through our limited thinking. We think they will say no, and so we don’t ask.
Just ask, and be open to receiving what others are willing to provide. You never know what will happen. Just think,what’s the worst thing that can happen? They say no. Not a big deal.
5. Creating Boundaries. Time is our most precious commodity. It is the only resource that is un-renewable.  So spend it wisely and consciously.  How much alone time do you need to re-charge?  How much do you want to engage in creative pursuits? 
Once you’ve decided what’s important and how long you want to spend, create boundaries around important activities and do not budge with any incoming distractions. Do not allow unimportant noise and activities to creep in.
It’s true that I cannot answer every email that comes in, or get to every chore on my list. But it is ok. I realized that I am not obligated todo anything, and that I am in control. I designed my life and have the freedom to create the rules.
6. Shut Out Noise. When we feel overwhelmed, it feels comforting to do something mindless to unwind and relax, like watching TV, reading the news or browsing the Internet.  What we forget during this time is that the extra information that comes in becomes noise that further clusters our already overwhelmed state of mind.
The best thing we can do for ourselves when we come home feeling overwhelmed is to leave the TV and computer off. Do something that slows our mind down. Consider reading something that expands our consciousness, or close our eyes for 30 minutes in silent meditation. Sit back and listen to some smoothing music, or engage in a creative project that is meaningful to you.
7. Bedtime Ritual. The state in which we go to sleep is the state in which we wake up. Doing things that quiet your mind instead of cluttering it will help you sleep more settled and wake up feeling more refreshed.
One thing I do before bed that’s been incredibly beneficial to me is the ritual of gratitude. I start by asking myself, “What are my favorite parts of the day? What did I enjoy about today?” Then I give appreciation for the things, people and circumstances in my life that make me happy. Think Simple Now

At Work:

1. Step back. In order to make the decisions necessary for cutting back, you need to take a few minutes to clear your head and think. Stop whatever you’re doing (or if you can’t, then schedule 30 minutes for sometime today), and take some time to consider everything you have going on. Take a walk to clear your head if necessary. Get some fresh air.
2. List everything. Make a list of all your tasks and projects (or one list for each if you like). Put everything on there, including personal stuff, civic commitments, everything. In order to make good decisions, you’ll have to see everything at once.
3. Set limits. It may seem impossible, but if you set limits for yourself, you will be forced to choose only the essential. The actual limits aren’t as important as the act of setting them at this point — you can adjust the limits later depending on what works for you. I recommend you choose just 3 important tasks to accomplish today, and limit yourself to only 3 projects.
4. Prioritize. Once you’ve set the limits, you can take a look at your long list of tasks and projects, and choose which ones you’re going to focus on. Which tasks and projects are the most essential? NOT the most urgent, but the ones that will get you the most long-term benefit. Which ones will have the most impact? Often some tasks and projects will seem urgent, but it’s only in our head.
5. Eliminate. Of the tasks and projects you didn’t choose as your top priorities … are there any that can be just eliminated? Any that you can put on a someday list? Any that can be delegated or automated? You don’t need to do everything on your list — slash it mercilessly.
6. Renegotiate commitments. Of the stuff you decide not to do now, but can’t just eliminate or delegate … you’ll need to renegotiate them. Go to the person or people you’ve committed yourself to, whether that be a boss or a client or a team or a spouse or friend, and tell them honestly that you just cannot do everything on your plate right now, and ask for a different deadline or timeline. Can they wait a week? A month? Set a new date, and try to stick to it.
7. Take time off. This step is optional, of course, but if you can possibly take a day or half a day or even several days to relax and recuperate, that’s the best possible scenario. That will mean renegotiating everything on your list, probably, so that you don’t feel stressed while taking time out or overwhelmed when you get back. Push everything back a week, two weeks, or a month, depending on the commitment, so that you don’t have anything urgent when you get back. Then take time off, and don’t do any work. Don’t even think about work. Do that when you get back — upon returning to work, take at least 30-60 minutes to prioritize and plan so that you can focus on your most important projects and not be overwhelmed. Zen Habits