080: Avoiding Overwhelm [Podcast]

Do you feel overwhelmed? Just a few days ago I was sitting ready to get to work, looking at a list of things to do. But the list was huge and some of the individual items seemed overwhelming on their own. I sat for some time staring at them and wondering what to do first. I finally shook out of it and went to get coffee. But, when I came back, the list was still there. I needed a better way to deal with all I needed to do. Hours later, Lea was telling me the same thing – she was overwhelmed. What about you? Do you have more to do than you can handle? When you look at things do you ever feel stuck, wondering what to do first?

OverWhelmed - Dealing with Decisions

“Creative Commons Stress Level: Midnight” by Sara V. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Your Ability to Decide “What  Next” is Critical to Your Job

For the first time in history, our workforce has to make daily and possibly hourly decisions about what to do next. Few of us upon waking up have to immediately go get water, start a fire to stay warm, or milk the cows. No matter if you are an executive, software developer, administrative assistant, or mom at home with kids, you still have many decisions to make.

Today every employee (even those who feel they are at the bottom) has many decisions to make through the day. Do I read my email now? Do I answer that email now or wait till I have more information? Should I speak up at the meeting? Should I call a meeting, send an email, or just go talk to the people I need to get information from? How long does this report need to be? Etc, etc, etc. We are buried in tiny decisions daily.

As I sat with my hot coffee I was consumed with these simple decisions. I had to break out of the cycle myself. I flipped through some notes and found an email I had shared with a client who was suffering overwhelm at work. He had asked me how to get past overwhelm and followed my advice to much more peace and success. And now I sit here struggling with the same.

Perhaps we should listen to the advice we give others. I took the list I had written him and started acting on it. Thought I would share it with you.

When You are Overwhelmed with Indecision – Review These Steps

1. Pick Something. Accept that you cannot do everything – at least at the same time. You have to pick what needs to be done next – and it does require a decision. That means something comes later.

2. Mundane Must Do’s. Remember, some things feel mundane but are really critical and must be done. Some of these will consume your day. You might can improve on them through better processes, but right now you just have to get it done. Things like going to meetings (those you must attend), taking the kids to their game, and answering critical emails. Most of these “must do” items rarely take all day (unless you are caring for a small child), but they still must be done. Accept it and accept that this means your list of 20 things to do today is unreasonable.

3. Triage. Emergency rooms do triage. This is the process by which they decide what is critical and must be done now vs what can wait. Triage is setting priorities. Someone who walks in with a minor wound goes to the back of the line behind someone who has chest pains.

So, triage your work. If you can only do one thing today, this week, this month, what should it be? One place I do this is in my thinking times.

As a side note, I find the most successful people have a knack for doing what is critical and leaving out those things that are of less importance. For instance, I have a friend who is a business owner and he has a knack for focusing on things that bring value to his customers or adds income to his company.

4. Is it a task or a project? A task is something you can do in one step and will take a few minutes. A project takes multiple steps and will take over an hour. Be realistic.

If a task, do it now.

If a project, decide on the first action you need to take. Take it and then make a note of the next action. Put it on your to-do list or in a calendar. You might also decide to track it in a tool such as Nozbe or Outlook.

5. Break projects down into small parts in the order of importance. For instance, painting a room is not a task. You have to pick a color, buy paint and supplies, prepare the room, paint, and cleanup. This might be more than one day of activity. It is a project.

If it is something you have done before, what are the steps? What is the process? If it is something you have never done before, you can learn from an expert the steps.

The key is to get off dead center and move things along. Your ability to make wise decisions with your time, recognizing you will never get it all done, will have a real impact on your income and your peace of mind.

 

PS: Recently while I was coaching some people who were new to blogging, I sensed this overwhelm. They felt they had to do everything now, and instead needed a step x step list of what to do first. Here is the list I provided them to help them get past overwhelm procrastination and move to productive. AvoidingOverwhelm

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Question: What do you do when you are overwhelmed? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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2 thoughts on “080: Avoiding Overwhelm [Podcast]

  1. Great post, Dale.
    I spend the first 15 minutes of the work day hand writing my to do list. I don’t care much for computerized task lists, because I find that writing things down helps to prime my mind for the work to be done and helps me to prioritize tasks and projects. At the end of the day I review my progress.

    I also take a hard look at creating my “Not Going to do List.” You can read more about it here: http://wp.me/p2W5qq-bZ.

    When feeling overwhelmed, I remind myself of the answer to the question: “How do you eat an elephant?” A: One bite at a time.

    I have dropped the phrase “I need to do this ” and have replaced it with “I GET to this.” This helps great when I am procrastinating.

    Thanks for the solid post.

    I hope my comments are helpful.

  2. I love those words – “Get to do this” Even those things I really should be doing are a priveledge to serve. I have to remember those words – “I get to do this” I just spend a few hours on PAPER. I love the MAC and the WEB – but sometimes I need pen to paper. It works for me to. Thanks for letting me know I am not the only crazy one;)