“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
The secret to getting started is breaking your
overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks,
and then starting on the first one.”
In my last newsletter, I talked about an issue that can seem chronic in many people's lives - Overwhelm.
I’ve received good feedback on that newsletter. One person spoke about her experience of living in dread as more and more assignments being given to her with no recognition of what was possible. She said the sense of panic from "Fight or Flight" being triggered has led to her to taking time off from work for stress.
It doesn’t need to be that way and, in this issue, we will look at how we can move forward.
As a reminder, here are some of the classic causes of overwhelm:
- Too many plates to keep spinning in the air and we can’t seem to complete anything...
- Our own thoughts...
- Lack of headspace...
Is there anyone who can’t relate to at least one of these?
The good news is that, with awareness and practice, we can learn to keep ourselves more in balance and be alert to that feeling of the ’sea creeping up’ too high on us so we can address it in the moment.
All the best!
The Harvard Business Review is always a great place to check for insightful research, and a pre-covid article by Rebecca Zucker is every bit as relevant today.
She refers to the work of Harvard Professors, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey who, like me, think of overwhelm as a feeling of 'being in over our heads’ - that the complexity of today’s world challenge us too much. They point out it is not about ‘how smart we are’ but about how we are making sense of the world at a particular time.
Rather than work harder or longer, they suggest the following strategies to try:
1. Work out what is the main source of overwhelm and if possible take it off the table. If it’s not possible, at least knowing the cause can help. Our tendency is often to try to work harder - as if we might ‘dig’ our way out by tunnelling at a faster speed. I have an image in my mind as I write, that of a person in a cave after a collapse, and as he digs faster and faster the debris just falls in to fill the space. Life is a bit like that - so working faster and harder will not help.
Instead, ask yourself, “What one or two things, if taken off my plate would alleviate 80% of the stress that I feel right now?” You may not be able to move work off, but knowing the source of your stress is helpful. If it’s something you can finish, knuckle down and finish it. If ‘it' feels too big, try breaking it down into more manageable pieces and - if needed - renegotiate the deadline or ask for help.
2. Set boundaries on your time and your work and - learn to say no. I hear my clients say that working from home has removed the boundaries they had and left them working late into the night. There needs to be a demarcation between work and home. If you have an office at home, turn off the PC and close the door. If you’re working from the kitchen table, have a ‘work box’ that you also close at the end of the day. Avoid peeking at your work email ‘just in case’ you’re needed. The morning will be soon enough. All this applies back in the office too. Only you can create and enforce the boundaries.
Here’s a small tip on saying no: have a phrase at hand like “Can I come back to you on that?” to give yourself a few minutes to think of the response you want rather than the default yes! It may not be appropriate to say no to an assignment, but you can discuss the time frame and get clarity which will help you avoid overwhelm. Which leads to no 3:
3. Watch out for perfectionism! In time management we talk of ‘good’, ‘quick’ or ‘cheap’ jobs and it’s worth knowing which is needed.
As Sheryl Sandberg said: “Done is better than perfect!” Perfectionism leads to procrastination and both lead to a sense of overwhelm.
4. Lastly, challenge your assumptions. In the Positive Intelligence® Programme, by Shirzad Chamine, we are introduced to our Saboteurs. These are our inner critics or our Judge constantly reminding us of what we’re doing wrong! For example, the Stickler tells us everything must be perfect or else! Or the Hyper Achiever Saboteur tells us we must always excel and achieve everything we set out to do. This creates great stress and overwhelm! By learning how to intercept them, we can live and work with more ease and flow - and less overwhelm!
If you’re interested in discovering your own Saboteurs click here to take a free assessment and learn more about my Mental Fitness Booster programme.
I encourage you to try this simple, yet powerful exercise developed by Stephen Covey:
1. Draw two circles and label them Concern and Influence.
2. In the Concern Circle: Jot down the many, many things you are concerned about - for example, climate change, Covid, family, health, etc.
3. Now, in the Influence Circle: Write down the things you actually have influence over and start noticing how much smaller that list is!
We spend a lot of time and energy focused on things we don’t have control over - and sometimes forget what we actually actually can influence. It’s worth some thought and awareness - and as your focus changes to being more proactive you will hopefully feel less overwhelmed.
Source: Franklin Covey
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