I’ve noticed over the years that most, if not all, of my private coaching clients feel totally overwhelmed in their jobs and their lives—and as a result, they feel stuck, tired, bored, uninspired, and ineffective. Many of them suffer from some level of anxiety and a sense that they are inadequate. I assume this resonates with you since you registered for this call. The truth is that you cannot do your best work AND be your best self when you are gasping for air in the tidal wave known as constant overwhelm. And you certainly can’t enjoy your life like this!
Constant overwhelm is both disempowering and dangerous. It’s physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually dangerous. Chronic overwhelm can make us sick for a few days or seriously ill for months or years. It can kill us too. Without relief we can suffer heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, cancer, skin afflictions, ongoing back and neck pain, and nervous system malfunctions. Some medical experts say we can become diabetic from chronic stress, and most doctors believe that our immune systems are weakened when we live in chronic stress mode. We compromise our mental health by being overloaded day in and day out, and this can lead to depression, panic attacks, hyper vigilance, insomnia, and eating disorders.
Now I’m going to make a statement that may be unpopular. Overload and overwhelm day in and day out is a choice you make. Absolutely. When it has become a way of life, it’s a choice. And you’ve decided to tolerate it. Why is that? My best guess is that it’s not bringing you more happiness. Instead, it’s making you miserable because it’s cutting into your quality of life. And most of us on this call believe we only get one life.
So what can you do about this? I am motivated to share with you strategies that, when implemented regularly, can reduce your feelings of overwhelm. Try one of them, some of them, or all of them—and notice the difference. But the key is consistency. Implementing a strategy once a week or a couple of times a month isn’t going to serve you. It’s not going to change a thing.
- Find your center. This refers to your inner place of deep calm. Your grounding. I suggest you do this when you get up in the morning because it sets the tone for the entire day. Instead of jumping out of bed, showering and dressing, drinking a cup of coffee and then running out the door, set your alarm 20 minutes earlier to build in the time to plug in to your center. “Plugging in” may mean doing time on the treadmill, meditating, praying, reading something inspirational, sitting out on the back porch just enjoying the sounds of birds…whatever this is for you. But I can assure you that turning on the computer and reading emails is not the way to plug in. It’s important for you to ground yourself before you deal with emails. Taking time to connect with your center is a great strategy for setting the foundation for everything else you need to do that day. When you start out frazzled, it only escalates. And you are not at your best when you are frazzled because it affects your ability to think clearly and rationally. It negatively impacts your decision-making ability.
- Clarify your values and priorities. If you haven’t already done this exercise, I’d like you to take out a sheet of paper and write down your top 10 core personal values. What do you value most in life? Then rank them from one to ten. When you finish, look at the list and ask yourself how they mesh with the values held by the company or organization you work for. Are your personal values in alignment with the workplace values? If not, that’s creating tremendous stress for you. And that stress is creating a feeling of overwhelm inside of you every day whether you are consciously aware of it or not. I’d also like you to list your top 5 personal priorities and your top 5 work related priorities. How do they flow from your core values? Or don’t they? Maybe some of them do and others don’t. Whatever the case, it’s important for you to know that your personal values must drive the things that show up on your lists of priorities. The more your priorities align with your personal values, the less overwhelmed you will be. The more your personal values mesh with your workplace values, the less overwhelmed you will be. The bottom line is that you create your calendar around your values and priorities—you need to be investing time and energy into the things that matter most.
- Create systems and processes. This may sound difficult or daunting, but what this really means is that you can list each project you are working on currently– or will work on in the near future– and then dissect them. Write the steps involved with each one of these projects. Record the segments or pieces related to each one. Get clear about how each step or piece will happen—and during what time frame. Build these steps and pieces into your calendar. Maybe you can delegate certain steps to someone else. Maybe you can automate some. The point is that systems and processes allow your work to flow more smoothly because it’s already completely mapped out. You don’t always have to start over to think through it in order to determine what has to occur next. For example, let’s say you don’t have a business plan and you know you need one. What I recommend you do is write down everything you must consider to produce the plan. These steps may include: consult with someone who knows how to write business plans; clarify the mission and vision of your business; identify your top 3 goals for your business over the next 12 months; identify the resources you may need in order to produce the plan. Then ask yourself how you will select the consultant, how you will clarify the mission and vision, how you will go about fulfilling the top 3 goals, and how you will connect with the resources you need.
- Change your pattern of overloading yourself and then feeling overwhelmed by it all. Remember that busyness doesn’t necessarily equal high productivity and effectiveness. Sometimes busyness just means frenetic craziness. It’s also important to know that busyness can be a hedge against personal emptiness and meaninglessness. By being wildly busy, you push away that empty feeling. Or, by being too busy, you trick yourself into feeling exceptionally valuable to others, including your employer. You may feel superior to others by keeping yourself overly busy and convincing yourself that you are surviving. Busyness can feed the ego. The underlying problem with overloading yourself is that it creates overwhelm. The more you live in overwhelm mode, the more you will be overwhelmed. Overwhelm fuels more overwhelm. It’s a vicious cycle. What began as a response to a certain situation in your life years ago has now become a pattern or a habit—just like brushing your teeth or worrying about things that probably won’t ever happen. After a while, you get comfortable with the habit—even if it’s bad for you and upsets you. All patterns and habits can be altered. But it takes work. And the habit of overload and overwhelm is often like a form of addiction which people don’t know how to break. The best place to start to change this habit is to assess everything you are doing and figure out exactly why you are doing it. Why are you facilitating a particular committee? Why are you reading emails five times a day? Why are you allowing yourself to be interrupted every few minutes? Why did you volunteer to take on another project? Why did you register for that two day conference during your most demanding month at work? Get underneath these reasons. Identify what can be eliminated from your To Do list. See what you can cut out without suffering significant consequences.
- Know your best time of day. Everyone’s body rhythms are different. Some people are most energized in the early morning, others at midday, and still others in the evening or at night. This is not about right and wrong; it’s about getting in touch with your own body and recognizing which time of day is your best. If you are a morning person, for example, you’ll feel less overwhelmed if you tackle your most challenging tasks and projects in the morning. If you’re a morning person and wait to start a difficult, complicated project at 4:00 P.M., you will create a lot of stress that leads to overwhelm. So knowing your ideal time of day is essential—not only for productivity sake but also for reducing feelings of overwhelm. Structure your day in a way that honors your best time period, devoting non-peak times to maintenance work that requires less of you. I realize that nobody can carry this out seven days a week perfectly, but proactively attempting to do it can make a huge difference for you.
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.