It happens to all of us: that dreaded moment when the To-Do list has become the OMG list. Overwhelm!
Like Captain Kangaroo and the ping pong balls (I’m aging myself here…) suddenly there are more things that need to be done than what seems humanly possible to tackle, and with a kind of nerve-wracking urgency that really ramps up the ol’ anxiety.
Before you freak out, fling your hands in the air and flee, remember that with a clear strategy in place, it can all get done without losing your head. Let’s take a look at a few ways to handle an overwhelming amount of tasks so that you can get through it with your sanity (and productivity) intact.
Make a List
Write down every item that’s in your head as a “To Do.” Even if you’ve got things assembled in a calendar, on spreadsheets, Post-Its or somewhere else, unify them all onto one handwritten list. Why? Overwhelm can lead to a lack of clarity and direction - it’s very easy to start reacting in vague terms. If you’re thinking, “I’ll never get it ALL done,” first we have to define the “all.” You might be having an emotional response that is overloading your sense of rationality.
Making a complete list serves several purposes. First, you’ll have a specific, itemized list to sort, strategize, and recognize. It starts the brain thinking in more concrete terms, and reduces anxiety by clarifying vague feelings. You can now sort your list and create a clear strategy for attacking it piece by piece. You’ll also have a concrete place to cross off items as they’re done, which is immensely helpful because with each one, you’re on your way to feeling much more empowered to finish the rest.
Use a Triage System
Like evaluating a disaster, create a triage response by locating the most urgent and/or the most important things on your list. By sorting in this way, you might find that many of your items can be handled across the next few days, which makes your list far more manageable. Spending today’s energy on your Urgent Stuff - without continuing to mentally plan out your Less Important Stuff - is often the fastest way to get out of overwhelm mode.
Delegate Where Possible
Are there items on your list that someone else can do themselves to reduce your workload? This is especially helpful with household tasks like making dinner, doing the laundry, basic cleaning and so forth. Using myself as an example, the dreaded overwhelm hits me when my professional workload meets my household responsibilities and I feel like I’m totally in the weeds. Speaking up clearly about which specific tasks need to be assigned to someone else during this time has helped me greatly.
If you live alone (or it doesn’t apply to you in another way) and find that your lingering household duties are bothering you, I recommend setting a 30-minute timer to handle the most visible or most important household items and then move on. By doing this, you’ll satisfy your nagging urge to attack it as well as reduce the chance that you’ll have to dig out of the avalanche later. You’d be surprised at how much you can really do in 30 minutes. Stop when the buzzer rings, or else you're at risk for delaying progress on the rest of your list.
In business, delegating tasks across your team makes sense. Giving others the chance to participate in a variety of tasks strengthens their skills and reduces the pressure on any one person - especially if there's a time-sensitive or critical item that is out of the ordinary.
Be Willing To Flip The Order
Many times we assign an order to our tasks that have nothing to do with priority. For example, I used to only head to the post office in the afternoon. Why? I had no idea. It’s just how I’d always done it. That would create a bottleneck in my To-Do list and served no strategic purpose. Once I let go of that 'order' of things, I freed up the flow of tasks in a much more rational way.
If your list has a lot of items, getting them all done means that you may have to get a little unconventional with yourself. Once your triage/urgent items are handled, banging out the other items on your list means working on them even if they feel out of order to you. Remove those mental obstacles by shuffling the items in a new way - easiest to hardest, hardest to easiest, most fun to least fun, whatever feels like the fastest way through it.
Be sure to go back to your handwritten list and cross off each item as it’s done. Pretty soon, you’ll realize that you’ve got this.
Don’t Give In to the Pressure
This is one is MUCH easier said than done, and I realize that.
Pressure actually makes you stronger - as long as you keep your wits about you and hang on. Take a few deep breaths, step back, hit the pause button and remind yourself that you can do it. Creating order (like the list) out of what feels like disorder goes a long way to conquering the pressure. You might even search through your personal history and recall a different time when you pushed through a high-pressure challenge and found success.
Let Go of the ‘Shoulds’
‘Should’ is such a defeating word. When we tell ourselves what we should be able to do, or what we should have done instead, we’re not reacting to what’s happening right now. You can’t do anything with ‘should’. You can do so much with ‘I can’! ‘Should’ is loaded with guilt and obligation - it can often kick off a negative thought-spiral that doesn’t lead to a very productive place. ‘I can’ is powerful and based on the present tense.
Manage your self-talk when the dreaded overwhelm strikes. Now is not the time for negativity, reprimanding or confusion. Stay positive! One of my favorite phrases? "There's only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time." I can assure you that the feeling of conquering an overwhelming string of tasks is absolutely exhilarating.
Whether it’s in your professional life, your personal life or both, being overwhelmed is no fun. Using these tips can help create order out of chaos and quickly get you back on track.
If you’re in business and find that your social media presence (or lack thereof) is giving you a case of the ‘shoulds', consider delegating those tasks to Digital Heartbeat today. I’ll take it off your plate so you can get back on track. Reach out here - you'll be so glad you did.