Do you ever feel totally overwhelmed? Okay, maybe the question should be, “Do you ever NOT feel overwhelmed?”.
This has been my life way too much of the time and I’m ready to do something about it. I think. Even the thought of fixing this problem overwhelms me. Yesterday I found a podcast which, while it doesn’t address overwhelm as an ongoing problem, does provide a really good method for dealing with it on a short term basis. I’m betting some of my readers suffer with this same issue from time to time so I’m going to share my find.
I just recently started listening to some of the podcasts from The Productive Woman and have enjoyed the few I’ve heard so far. I was starting at the beginning and listening in order but when I noticed the title of this one I knew I had to skip ahead:
15 Minutes to Sanity: 9 Steps to Handling Overwhelm by The Productive Woman
I urge you to listen to the podcast. It’s only about 25 minutes long. I’m just going to summarize the steps but to get the full benefit you should go listen to the whole podcast. I listened yesterday afternoon while folding laundry and putting the clean sheets back on the bed. I also like to listen to podcasts in the car or while on the treadmill.
Here are 9 steps to help you take control of your day. I’m actually using her steps as I write this post so I’ll share my interpretation of each step.
1. Breathe – Take one minute to just breathe and calm yourself. You can simply take slow, even breaths. I went to YouTube and searched for one minute meditations. This is the first one that came up so I used it:
2. Clear work space – My desk is upstairs in our master bedroom. My plan is to create an office downstairs in what is currently our exercise room but I haven’t even started on that project. So, clearing my workspace today meant making the bed (which I would have done anyway) and straightening my desk. It wasn’t bad as I never can work in total chaos. I did have an abundance of sticky notes all over my computer which I tucked away for now. I’ll deal with them later but today I need less visual clutter. I also lit a couple of candles.
3. Brain Dump – Take out a sheet of paper and write down everything you need to do. For this short term fix I suggest just focusing on items you would put on a to-do list rather than including future goals, emotional situations bothering you…that sort of thing. It’s very helpful to do more of a global Brain Dump at some point but today we are just focusing on more immediate and pressing tasks.
4. Delegate – This is where I find myself wishing I had minions. I honestly don’t have anyone in my life to whom I can delegate tasks. My children are grown and my husband’s daily responsibilities are at least as great as mine. That’s simply my current reality. But that doesn’t mean your situation is the same. If you can delegate something from your list, by all means, do so!
5. Select items which MUST be done today – Every day, or the night before, I make myself a to-do list. I am currently writing my lists on a sheet of computer paper which I keep on a clipboard. Most days I can easily fill the whole page but that is just ridiculous. There is no way I can do that much in a day. Lately I’ve been writing everything down but then picking the top three to focus on first. That helps. So take your “brain dump” list and circle the items which absolutely, positively HAVE to be done today to keep your world spinning on its axis. This takes some honesty and careful evaluation so allow yourself enough time to choose wisely.
6. Pick one – This is where The Productive Woman’s recommendation veers a bit from the usual advice. She says not to worry about prioritizing but just pick one of the circled items. I suppose it really doesn’t matter once you’ve narrowed things down to what absolutely, positively MUST be done today. Everything circled is a priority item. Many advise tackling the hardest task first, or whichever one you are dreading for some reason. This makes sense. But on the other hand, choosing a less onerous task first might give you a little boost when it’s completed and you can check it off. I suggest trying it both ways and see what works best for you. Or simply close your eyes and pick one at random.
7. Pomodoro Technique – There is a lot of talk about the Pomodoro Technique these days. I was already familiar with it and had used it a time or two in the past. I decided to follow directions and use it today. One of my issues is getting distracted. When I’m overwhelmed I tend to try to multi-task. I’ll have several tabs open on my computer and switch back and forth amongst them. I’ll answer a couple of emails, start a blog post then decide I need to make a graphic, sneak a peek at Facebook and get sucked in…you get the picture. So for today I’m working on focus. I set my timer for 25 minutes and focus solely on writing this post. When the timer goes off I take a 5 minute break. The first break I took the bathroom wastebasket downstairs to empty it, switched the laundry from the washer to the dryer and fixed myself another cup of coffee. While it was warming in the microwave I did a little exercise. Then back to writing. On my second break I read for a few minutes and then gathered a load of laundry which I’ll take down on my next break.
8. Cross it off and pick another task – I love crossing things off a list. I’ve even been known to put things on my list I’ve already done that day simply so I can see them crossed off. As soon as I finish this post and cross it off, I’ll have lunch and then start on my next item.
9. Celebrate – The Productive Woman doesn’t elaborate on this point but I find it really helpful to plan in advance how I will celebrate when I get through my list. For one thing, it gives me an incentive to stay focused and get my work done. For instance, I have a rather lengthy board meeting tonight. I probably won’t be home until around 8:30 and I know I will be tired. My goal is to have everything done before I leave for the meeting at a bit after 5:30. That means an early enough dinner that I can have the kitchen clean before I go. I want all my blog work done, too. I’m envisioning an hour or so sipping tea and listening to albums with David after I get home. Then I really, really need to go to bed early. My goal is to be in bed by 10 and read awhile before hopefully getting a decent night’s sleep – something that almost never happens. That will be celebration enough for me!
So what do you think? Does this plan sound helpful to you? Or do you have other ways to handle being overwhelmed? Leave me a comment. I’m always on the lookout for helpful tips.
More on productivity:
The Productivity Plan: How to Make Time for All the Things by Marisa Mohi
Also, I highly recommend this course by Crystal Paine!
Lisa Sharp says
Great tips. I’ve used the Pomodoro Technique and need to get back to it!
Deanna Piercy says
I think it might really be the key to keeping me focused.
These are great tips! Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Deanna Piercy says
You’re welcome. I thought they were too good to keep to myself.
Carol D H says
I often feel overwhelmed with activities (volunteering). I’m so glad you created this post. I’ve followed many of the 9 steps for decades and they really do work. If I’m unable to accomplish everything on my list, I circle it and add it to the next day. It’s a wonderful feeling when you realize you’ve completed all the tasks and have nothing to circle for the next day and all my tasks are new. If only my desk space would stay organized. . .
Deanna Piercy says
I’m happy to hear that these tips work on a long-term basis. As for having a desk stay organized? I don’t know if that’s possible. I just try to make a point of addressing it regularly.
The pomodoro would be too hard for me to get back on task, I know I can’t easily switch from one activity to the next.
I have used the listing of top priorities and done the most important 3. That works for me. Typically, I put the most dreaded at the top and tackle it first so it is all downhill from there.
Deanna Piercy says
For me, it depends on the activity. If I’m doing a bunch of repetitive computer tasks, checking email, scheduling posts, etc. I like the reminder to get up and do something else periodically. However, if it’s something that requires more concentration and I’m in the groove, then I don’t set a timer.
Doing the most dreaded task first is often a good idea. I’m trying to do that with exercise – ha!