Overwhelm. We are a society chocked full with people that are completely overwhelmed by life. And, ironically, we’ve done it to ourselves.
The worst part of it is that once we hit the state of overwhelm, as the list of things to do piles higher and higher, we become less and less productive. The options for things we could work on or accomplish becomes so numerous that we find it increasingly harder and harder to just pick one. This is the paradox of choice – the more options you have, the harder it is to choose.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
We, as a society, have been working longer and longer hours to achieve less and less. The salaried worker only decreases the amount they make per hour by staying longer – and yet we’re staying at work longer than ever. The worst part is that our productivity isn’t increasing with all this time at the office – we’re just dragging it out. The perception is that if you get in enough hours at the office, you’ll be perceived as a hard worker and therefore get that promotion. But it’s gotten to the point where everyone is doing it, so now no one gets the promotion, but everyone is still expected to work longer hours.
This is the culture of busyness. Busyness has been glorified to the point that people are bragging/competing about how many emails are in their inbox and how little sleep they’ve gotten this week.
But what if you’re not inherently busy? If you start hanging out with people who are glorifying busy, you’ll probably start over filling your plate too. We as humans are wired for community and fitting in, and if it takes killing yourself with your job and activities (or kids activities) to fit in, then that’s what you do.
And because this is “just how we do things now” you probably can’t even pinpoint the source of your overwhelm. In fact, it may be so out of control that you’re not even processing your emotions properly and are struggling to distinguish your thoughts and beliefs from reality.
This may sound extreme, but this is where overwhelm leads. You don’t just go through overwhelm and come out the other side unscathed. You have to change your actions and your thoughts (and possibly your community) to turn the boat around to get to safer waters.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
Let’s face it. Not everyone is bogged down with overwhelm every day. A lot of us teeter on the edge. We bounce back and forth from being on top of it to being underneath it. The problem is that the longer we spend underneath it all, the more we need to completely detach and unwind to recover.
Back before technology when you could actually leave work AT work, once you were home you could just let go. But now, even when you leave the office, it’s still with you – buzzing away with notification after notification right in your pocket.
Many of us never really separate ourselves from our jobs so we aren’t really recharging. If you keep using 20% of your battery but only charging it 10% you’re going to eventually run out. And that’s when you get into burnout.
The key here is two fold:
1. Managing the overwhelm while you’re in the midst of it
2. Stepping away from the cause of the overwhelm long enough to recharge
MANAGING THE OVERWHELM
There are many tactics and tricks that you can use to manage overwhelm. Below are some examples. Feel free to pick and choose to figure out what your solution will be. Notice that none of the options are pulling all nighters to catch up or attempting to replace your blood stream with coffee.
I’m putting this one first because it’s my all time favorite. Simple, yet effective. You’re literally going to write down everything that is zipping around in your brain. You might fill several sheets of paper (ask me how I know), but get it out of your head. It doesn’t have to be anything you even care about working on right now, but if you’re thinking about it – get it out there.
This is particularly useful if you can’t get your brain to shut down before bed time. I keep a pen and paper next to my bed and when I notice that I can’t relax because I’ve got too much going on, I write it out.
Once it’s all down on the page, the next step is to consider which of these things is meaningful. It’s highly unlikely that everything on there is a priority right this second. You can either highlight 3-5 priorities to work on today OR you can start a new to do list with only clear and important objectives.
Consider how you use your time. When you’re working are you all in? Or are you distracted and flipping between what you need to get done and Facebook or constantly getting up to chat with some coworkers? Your productivity hinges on your ability to focus. If you’re constantly allowing yourself to succumb to distractions, you’re going to take longer than you really need to get things done. This means you spend longer hours at the office when you could be home relaxing by now.
Consider your workload
Have a serious look at what you have been assigned (and assigned yourself) that needs to get accomplished. Are these all things only you can do? If someone else could do them, can you find a way to delegate it and let go of that work? And if someone else can’t do it, consider if it ACTUALLY needs to be done. Be constantly evaluating your work to make sure you’re not doing something just because that’s how it’s always been done.
For more general productivity hacks check out this article.
KEEPING YOUR DISTANCE
Overwhelm is never a good thing. It’s not a place we ever want to land in, but it can sometimes be unavoidable. The trick is to keep a safe distance from it by learning how to manage yourself and your emotions – so that you don’t keep face planting.
This is such a hot topic right now – and rightly so. Women, especially, struggle with this. Many of us are caretakers and people pleasers and we want to see the people around us happy. So whenever they ask us for something we say YES!
Even if you aren’t this type of person, it’s an issue that’s still running rampant in workplaces. Women feel obliged to say yes to everything so that they don’t lose footing with their male counterparts. But then their plates can get overfilled and nothing gets done properly – or the woman sacrifices her health and well being for the good of her projects. Neither of these are acceptable solutions. This is where boundaries come in.
Setting limits on what is acceptable to be asked of you in work and at home makes it more likely that people won’t even approach you to begin with. Be clear about what you are willing and NOT willing to do BEFORE you enter the arena.
That way you’ll be clear about what you can and can’t do before someone puts you on the spot. In the workplace you may need to be clever about your wording and look for ways that the task will be better solved a way other than being dumped on your desk.
Support can come in so many forms – but what doesn’t help is just complaining to whomever will listen. Sometimes we all need a good venting session, but if ALL you’re doing is complaining you’re setting yourself up for a negative habit and a negative mindset.
Obviously you need to clear your emotions first (see here for the effect of negative emotions on productivity and how to manage them), but after that is over – it’s time to find some solutions. Seek someone that understands but can also help you find ways to solve your overwhelm.
This is where a coach can be very useful because we help you get into a resourceful mindset to come up with answers. Whomever you choose to talk it out with, make sure that you’re not feeding each other with more negative emotions nor are you glorifying the overwhelm.
Take a Break
Our brains are wired for those glorious AH-HA moments, but they don’t happen when we want them to. You can’t force a brilliant idea or a moment of understanding. In fact, when our brains are not focused on a task, but rather are allowed to wander – that’s when the magic happens.
Don’t be afraid to take a solid break every 90-120 minutes to refresh your brain and move your body. Walks are a wonderful way to energize the body and rest the brain. There are even walking meditations you can do to clear your mind to allow space for those ah-ha moments to happen.
Change your Community
I spoke earlier about the impact of the community around you. It’s been said that you hang out with 4 broke people, you’ll be the 5th. The same is true of overwhelm. If all your friends are constantly talking about how they get no sleep, work themselves to death, or live and die by their kids overbooked calendar – guess what road you’re likely to be headed down?
You probably wouldn’t even want to, or do it on purpose, but our brains are wired to be like others to fit into the tribe. So if you believe your community is contributing to your cycle of overwhelm – then it’s time to change the rules.
Begin to encourage rest and stop glorifying overwork. Find a new group of supportive people that believe in self care and free time. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to let go of things that are not serving you when doing them, just to do them, is no longer praised.
Overwhelm can take many forms and be the cause of some many issues in our lives. Once you are in it, it becomes very difficult to see any real solution to your problems. Coaching is very useful in breaking through this block so that you can find the answers you need. If you want help in kicking your overwhelm to the curb, let me know so we can talk.