Dealing with being overwhelmed

We’ve all been there – having just too much to do. For some, it’s all met head on in a crazy panic, usually resulting in a little more chaos. For others, a kind of paralysis sets in and we stare blindly in to the abyss, doing nothing useful at all! Well, it’s time to put that behind you and consider some really useful strategies going forward.

The first thing to get straight is that we shouldn’t be in this state permanently. A little bit of stress is excellent for motivating us, keeping us focused and hungry for success. It’s really important to separate out being really busy and being in a state of overwhelm. Continuing to operate at maximum capacity for extended periods is, at best, counter-productive and, at worst, dangerous. It’s what lunch breaks, weekends and holidays were designed for – to provide formal break times, where we prioritise self, family, friends, wellness and down time.

If you do feel you are in an overwhelm rut, talk to us as we are really good at helping you focus, clearing your mind and re-prioritising things with you. It’s so easy to feel that absolutely everything needs to be done right now but that’s a rare state of affairs. If this is the case and it has been lasting for a long time, something in your life needs to change quite radically.

We’re going to share some matrices with you – we love a matrix or two. There are lots out there but these are a good place to start if you need to sort your things to do list out. Don’t have a list? Well, that’s your first place to start. Understand what you have on your plate and then set about tackling it. Using another business analogy, it’s like eating an elephant – impossible at first glance but when you break it down into bite-size pieces, it becomes less frantic.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Divide a big piece of paper into 4 squares and head each section as shown above. Then you allocate your ‘things to do list ‘into each square. You can do this every day until you have sorted out your mountain of chores. It will get better. You can actually do this every day – it’s a good habit to get into.

Get your quick wins out of the way – spend an hour or two doing all the easy emails, phone calls, paying bills, ordering important things, making appointments and any other straightforward tasks. Set your alarm and then, after your allocated time, add anything that remains into the same square for tomorrow.

Ross advocates that if you have had an email hanging around for a few weeks, it’s unlikely to be important – it’s certainly not urgent. File it away until you need it at a later date. Deleting things is really therapeutic! Delegating is also a relief if you can learn to relinquish some control (and we know that’s not always easy).

For the rest, work out what absolutely HAS to be done today. Be realistic. And then list a reasonable, achievable amount of work in this quarter, putting everything else into the same quarter for the next day. Deal with the list in the same manner each day and calmly make progress as best you can.

You don’t have time for this? Then you are falling into the spiral of someone headed for dangerous overload – by dangerous we mean too tired to be effective, perform well and respond reasonably. You need to take the time for planning your workload, it’s really important for a) getting through the list and b) staying sane and well.

The basis for the Eisenhower Matrix is prioritising in terms of urgency.

Looking at this, you can see clearly that if it’s important AND urgent, it’s a 1. Not so important and not urgent is a 4 and so on. Be ruthless – is it urgent and important? Look at what you have promised for today. Send a few emails and buy a little more time – most people are OK with this. Being late and not communicating is far worse.

Try to also view your workload through the lens of an impartial observer – you might be being driven by someone else’s needs and lack of planning, in which case you might need to manage expectations and communicate to reach a sensible conclusion. If your time is impacted by a third party, you should make sure it serves you or potentially look for a better solution.

Talking really helps. In our coaching sessions, almost always, issues are aired, explored and the group’s contributions can turn a problem on a new angle and a different perspective is considered. It’s really refreshing.

Start by managing overwhelm by seeing where your tension points come from and talk to someone to help to make it more manageable. Listing your ‘urgent and important’ tasks out loud might give them more perspective.

blogs you might like