You know that panicy, slightly sick feeling you get when you’re teetering on the edge of overwhelm? It may creep in like a fog as you look through your emails, or roll over you with a sudden sense of dread as you think about everything on your ‘to-do’ list. It often comes with a sense of not knowing where to start, of the job being too big to see a single, manageable foothold to give you that first leg up.
Sitting at my desk yesterday I could feel that energy of overwhelm starting to bubble up. My desk was a mess, my inbox was out of control with work email, private email, newsletters and subscriptions; I had unreturned Facebook messages and text messages, and my Skype was blinking at a million miles an hour. My to-do list covered two pages in my notebook, the scale of what I ‘needed to achieve’ for the day felt completely un-doable and to top it all off I was a bit hormonal and felt like what I really wanted to do was curl up in bed and have a little cry. (Just as an aside, sometimes, that is EXACTLY what you should do. A good cry solves a lot of problems and releases a LOT of gunk!)
Look at the forest, not just the trees
Instead of crawling back under my bed covers, I took a breath and a moment to step back and look at my over-all objectives. What am I actually trying to achieve today, and what can I do that’s going to actively progress me towards that goal? Then I took out my to-do list and started to prioritise. As Marie Forleo teaches, clarity equals power. Once you know what you’re trying to achieve you can implement a plan to get there.
Write a list, clarify timeframes
I am a BIG list junkie. I honestly think that a good, thorough list is one of the keys to success in life; there’s no better way to gain clarity than to have everything laid out in front of you, even when it’s starting to look like War and Peace.
When you’ve got an epic to-do list I like to take my red pen out and start by putting timings/deadlines against all of the items, and to cross out anything that, actually, isn’t a worthwhile use of my time.
Make sure you’re realistic about what you can actually do within a day. If there’s more in your ‘today’ deadline category that you can actually do in a day, then go over the list again, be brutal, and make the distinction between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’; if it’s urgent, but not important, then set it side for another day, or, better yet, cross it off the list completely.
Remember, where you spend your time and energy is an investment in your business, so what’s going to give you the biggest ROI?
Eat the frog
After assessing your priorities and defining your list for the day pick the one thing you really, really don’t feel like doing, and start there. Ever heard the term ‘eat the frog’? I LOVE this concept; it goes like this – if you knew you had to eat a frog today, what would you do? Most people would put it off, and put it off and do anything else first to avoid doing the thing they don’t want to do, right? But all the while, no matter what else you’re doing, you’d be thinking about that damn frog. You’d obsess about it all day. By delaying taking action you end up carrying the frog around with you all day; it weighs on your mind and the thought of what you still have to do causes ongoing anxiety and stress. Whereas, if you simply sat down and ate the frog straight away it’s done and dusted, crossed off the list and you can move on with your day.
So, what’s your frog? Work out what it is, (believe me, you’ll know if there’s one there) and eat up.
One of the best ways to unlock the grip of overwhelm is just to get stuck in. Pick somewhere to start, whether it’s a frog or the smallest, easiest item to cross off your to do list, taking action is the fastest way to get off the overwhelm train. As Yogi Bhajan said, ‘When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off’.
It’s all only energy
Overwhelm can be a yucky place to hang out. It can derail your day, cloud your vision and leave you feeling wrung out before you’ve even begun. It’s important to remember that that feeling, the sickly, nervous stomach, the fuzzy brain, it’s just energy. Emotion = energy in motion, and energy is in a constant state of flux. Your experience of emotion doesn’t remain the same for long. Have you ever just allowed yourself to experience the full and complete effects of the emotion you’re feeling? The physical, visceral experience of ‘joy’, of ‘happiness’, of ‘sadness’? If you completely surrender you’ll find that before too long it’s shifted.
Next time you start to feel your breath shorten and the overwhelm rise take a breath and a step back – look at the bigger picture and list out your priorities. What’s your experience of overwhelm? Have these tips helped? I’d love to know!