Last week, I gave you five strategies that, when implemented regularly, can reduce your feelings of overwhelm. Due to popular demand, I’m going to share five more!
- Focus on a single project or task. It’s hard to focus when you’re overwhelmed. And it’s hard to make a commitment to focus in a world that promotes and rewards multitasking. Studies are showing that multitasking confuses the brain circuitry. Neurologists will tell you that. The truth is that you are much more productive AND effective when you are focused on a single task. You’re less likely to make mistakes, and you’re more likely to do it right in less time. What I’m saying here is that focus is a kind of virtue. Of course, there are occasions when multitasking is required and essential. For example, if you are an emergency room doctor and you’re caring for a heart attack patient, you are probably going to be providing important information to colleagues while you are in the middle of a procedure. This type of multitasking must take place in that situation in order to get the job done—namely, save the patient’s life. But there are many times when you don’t need to multi task at all—and that if you chose to, you could focus on just one thing. There is peace in focus. There is satisfaction and fulfillment in focus. I am challenging you to look for more opportunities to focus. I guarantee you that they exist. Think of focus as a muscle that has to be used regularly to keep it strong.
- Reduce and eliminate distractions. You may not have thought about this, but you yourself may be your biggest source of distraction. What do I mean? Well, you are choosing to read new emails every time one comes across your computer screen. You are choosing to take phone calls the minute they come in instead of allowing voice mail to collect them. You are choosing to accept cell phone and text messages immediately. In these cases, nobody is distracting you or interrupting you—except you. This happens because we aren’t used to honing in on one thing for more than 10-15 minutes. Short of emergencies, you really do get to manage how frequently you check emails, answer your phone, reply to a text message, etc. The feeling like you need to be accessible to people 24/7 today is creating a large amount of overwhelm, believe me! Unless you are being paid to be “on call”, put the cell phone on stun or vibrate, retrieve text messages later, and train yourself to read emails twice a day at designated times. And—if somebody is tapping at your office door to ask you a question when you’re in the middle of a critical project that requires significant concentration, you can manage that interruption by asking the person if the conversation could wait for an hour or two. You don’t have to feel obligated to address the issue right that minute. You don’t have to be available to everyone precisely when they ring your bell.
- Simplify your life. Over the years I have discovered that simplifying our lives often means de-cluttering our lives. There is a story about Michelangelo who, soon after he finished sculpting the statue of David, was asked by a local patron of the arts: “How did you know to sculpt David? I don’t understand.” Michelangelo forthrightly told this man that David was always there in the marble—he just took away everything that was not David.” I like this little story because it reminds me that sometimes you have to get rid of the junk and stuff and clutter in order to see what’s really important and to make true progress. I’m talking about both physical and mental….The stuff and clutter isn’t making you happy. It’s clogging up your life at home and at work. I don’t know if you are aware of Gail Blanke’s book, Throw Out Fifty Things, but she recommends that you start by literally throwing out fifty different physical things (not 50 magazines). It paves the way for tossing the mental clutter: the old tapes playing around up there in your head, the memories that no longer serve you, the beliefs that weigh you down, the thoughts that hold you back, the regrets that don’t mean anything, the need to be right, the conviction that you must to do everything yourself. Sometimes toss the clutter means ending relationships that no longer serve you or nurture you. This de-cluttering process frees up space for more of what you want now…and it cuts your stress in ways you cannot even imagine until you actually do it. You are going to be less overwhelmed when you unload the physical and mental “stuff.” And you are going to feel free.
- Tame your thoughts. Your mind is chattering all day long. Ever notice that? Our brains, unfortunately, are wired to latch on to anything negative and dwell on them. You could spend an entire day doing nothing and still feel overwhelmed just by listening to your thoughts. I’m talking about thoughts such as: I’ll never get everything done I need to do today. I’m not smart enough to figure out this problem. I’m sure she doesn’t like me. I doubt that I’ll get the right person to help me on this project. I bet my boss won’t understand my request for a day off next week. I never get any recognition for all the hard work I do around here. I probably won’t be selected for the planning committee. I have no idea where to start on this project. These are examples of thoughts that wear you down and completely overwhelm you before anything else has a chance to happen. They are self-defeating and poisonous. While all of us have these thoughts, your job is to tame them as soon as they start to form. As soon as you begin to think about your boss’s potential resistance to a leave time request, reframe that mental message into something like this: I am going to ask my boss for a day off next week, and I am confident that he will grant it. I feel good about this request because I’ve earned it. Your thoughts can be a sort of prison if you allow it. It’s totally possible—with some effort—to turn that prison into possibility through the art of reframing.
- Get organized. I can tell you that many professional people think they are organized when, in fact, they aren’t. They can’t find their shoes, their watch, their briefcase, their wallet, their sandwich buried in the refrigerator. They can’t locate a file, a computer password, a document, a stickie note, a book, a manual, a sheet of instructions. Every time this happens, you snap back into overwhelm mode laden with stress, anxiety, and frustration. Every time it happens, your blood pressure rises, your heart rate increases, your head throbs, your stomach churns, you start to perspire, you swear under your breath, you run around in circles—and you still can’t find the missing item. The more frenzied you become, the less likely you are to find it. Or at least find it quickly. The answer to most of this is to get yourself organized at home, in your office, on the computer, and in the car in a way that works for YOU. How you do it doesn’t have to be like I do it. Just do it. You’ll feel more relaxed and more in control. If you believe you may have attention deficit disorder, I would urge you to speak to your doctor about it. Also, there are coaches who specialize in working with clients with ADD. I’m not one of them, but they exist.
I have created a workbook that will allow you to both explore and resolve some or a lot of your overwhelm on your own. Click here to learn more and order today.