Just give me the good old days – there were no mobile phones to follow us everywhere, no internet to give us all the information we need any time we need it. When we left the office, we left it all behind. I do not recall having that many people say that they feel absolutely overwhelmed with it all. Overcoming overwhelm not never a problem we had. Today, information is readily available at out finger tips – just ask Mr Google or any of the other search engines. Overwhelm has replaced ignorance. There is so much information, the brain goes into overload and many find it increasingly difficult to discern between the important and the background noise.
ON CALL 24/7
Our clients expect us to be available 24/7 and they get grouchy when they can’t get hold of us after hours. I had an overseas client once who would skype me and if I didn’t answer, she would call me on Whatsapp. If I didn’t answer that, she would call me on the office phone and if that didn’t work, she would call my mobile. And when I do finally return her call after my meeting (you would have thought that she would have realised that the reason I didn’t answer her call was because I was otherwise engaged!), her first question would be “Where were you? Why didn’t you answer my call?”
That type of unrealistic expectation that we would be available 24/7 was not one that I had to deal with before the internet really hit. Layer that with the ever-changing business environment and more and more complex challenges surfacing at an unrelentless pace is enough to give you that overwhelmed feeling. The current Covid-19 crisis happening worldwide and the requirement to work from home has not helped.
OVERWHELMED TO STRESSED
You wake up in the morning and your mind races through the 101 tasks that must be completed that day. Friends, family, work colleagues, spouse and kids pull at you from all different directions … all wanting attention now. So much to do and so little time.
So how do we respond? We tend to respond the only way we know how – We work harder. We work longer. We hope that this will give us that “extra time” we need to do all that we have to do. Before we know it, we’re already fully stressed out and feeling totally overwhelmed by everything that has to be done. At that point, we can either curl up into a little ball and hope it all goes away or we can put strategies in place to make sure we don’t get to that point in the first place.
UNDERSTAND HOW YOU HANDLE STRESS
To overcome overwhelm, we must first understand how we’re wired. One of the best tools you can use is to gain an understanding of DISC. Not all people exhibit stress the same way. The stress activators are also different for each DISC style. What can cause stress to one person might be the very thing that motivates and energises a person (I covered this topic when I blogged on The People Challenge so I won’t repeat this again). If we become more self-aware, we will be better able to manage our stress.
Essentially, the “D” person would get stressed and start to feel overwhelmed by everything that has to be done if they feel like they have lost control. The “I” would get there if you take away all their people interactions. The “S” will just draw back into their shell and try to keep everything on the status quo … which can look like they are resisting change. On the other hand, the “C” would be happy as long as you give them lots of information with clear instructions on what has to be done. DISC helps us to understand how we naturally prefer to do things and how we react and manage stress.
There’s a good reason why Napoleon Hill said “The most successful men and women on earth have had to correct certain weak spots in their personalities before they began to succeed.” If we understand how we’re wired, we can put strategies in place to make sure that you can stop things getting out of hand before it can take hold. We will not have to waste time fixing the problems that arise from letting things get of out hand in the first place!
STRATEGIES TO OVERCOME OVERWHELM
LEARN TO SAY “NO”
Learn to say NO to staying at the office past a certain time. Learn to say NO to your colleague who is panicking over his looming deadline and wanting your help. Are they in this situation because they didn’t plan their work and THEY left it to the last minute? Fair enough if this arose because of a totally unforeseen circumstance. Learn to say NO when you already have so much on your plate that you KNOW you should not be taking on any more until such time as you’ve completed the tasks you have on hand. It is not your job to make their life easier. It is not your problem that they got themselves into this mess. And it is not your job to make them happy.
Learn to say NO when your boss piles yet one more thing on you and demand that it be done. Speak up and ask them to prioritise things for you. I used to have a business partner who would give our poor employees work that had to be done at the last minute. The poor employee felt they couldn’t say no to him because he was the boss. No amount of my telling them to speak up worked. In the end, I told them to either learn to speak up or accept the consequences of not doing so. It took a while but it eventually worked when they were so overworked they just could not handle it anymore.
CHALLENGE YOUR ASSUMPTIONS
All of us carry baggage from our upbringing (yes, I will say ALL) whether we admit it or not. Yours might be that if you delegate the task, then you will no longer be considered useful or helpful and you might lose your job or that your employees would consider you a bad boss. These are what is commonly referred to as limiting beliefs. You see, when feeling overwhelmed is happening all the time, it is likely you have a limiting belief that is causing it. We all get overwhelmed sometimes but it is not normal to feel overwhelmed all the time.
ACCEPT THAT NEAR ENOUGH CAN BE GOOD ENOUGH
Sheryl Sandberg said, “Done is better than perfect”. That is so true. How often do we take FOREVER to finish a project because we want it to be perfect? And the more we procrastinate whilst we try to perfect it, the further behind we get. Before we know it, we look at the work that has to be finished and it’s this big insurmountable mountain. Help! Overwhelm sets in! Is it not better to delegate it to someone else to do and it’s done … or hang on in there and not finish it until you can get to it? Let me guess, the perfectionist in you know you don’t have the time but you also you are the only one who can do it right. So you would rather not give it to anyone else to do. Is that sensible? Sometimes near enough can be good enough.
ACCEPT THAT THERE’S ONLY ONE SUPERMAN AND IT’S NOT YOU
You’re only human and you cannot do everything. What you can do is do the best you can. Don’t look at others and compare yourself to them. Keeping up with the Joneses is not a good guiding principle for your business or your personal life. The fact is that even Superman has his kryptonite. So, be kind to yourself. Overwhelm can lead to your feeling inadequate so banish that inner critic that tells you otherwise.
Like it or not, the clock continues to tick. Time is the one resource that cannot be used “later”. Time waits for no man. The only person who can decide how you invest your time NOW is you. You can anything but you cannot do everything. Know that the world will not end if you say no. The sun will still rise and the sun will still set.
BE REALISTIC ABOUT TIME
How often have you started on a task expecting it to take, say, half an hour? Two hours later, you’re still struggling to complete the task? I know that so well. Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong it will! This is the one and only time when I will say – set realistic goals. If you always underestimate how much time a task will take to complete, you will fail ALL THE TIME. Overwhelm then sets in as you play catchup.
Make use of a Weekly Planner and plan your day – there’s plenty around that you can use. Just ask Google. Remember to leave some white space in the planner. Don’t try to plan your day down to the minute. When I ran the accounting practice, we always used to leave at least 40% of our day “free”. I cannot remember a single day when that “free” time stayed “free”.
MAKE USE OF PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS
There are lots of online tools that you can use to write down all the ideas that’s swimming round and round in your head. I’m a great believer in “the list”. Once you’ve written that list, review it and ask yourself whether it really needs to be done NOW? Is the deadline all in your head? Can it be done by someone else? Can the task be broken down and parts of it delegated to someone else?
Whilst everyone will tell you to prioritise the most important tasks first, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, being able to cross of a few of the simple quick to do tasks will make you feel like you’re making progress. This is the one time when I will go against mainstream advice and say, just do some of the simple jobs. Get it off the list. You will feel so much better! And that can be the difference between that overwhelm feeling and sanity!
There’s lots of software out there that can be used to create and keep track of your list. I’ve tried most of them in my bid to be more productive. Most were OK but it just didn’t do everything I wanted. So I ended up designing my own Productivity Planner that gave me the big picture (Quarterly Planning), as well as the Weekly/Daily Planner. It enabled me remain focused on the tasks I had to do to achieve my goals.
KNOW YOUR WHY
You’ve got ideas and possibilities rushing into your head – and ALL of them could be the next best thing since sliced bread. It’s up to you to sort out the distractions from the important. This was a weakness of mine. Something would cross my desk from one of my clients and before I knew it, I would be onto yet another project. I had to learn to challenge my own thinking. In the end, I drew up a checklist that I used to check off potential projects against. If it didn’t pass my checklist, I said “no thanks” and moved on.
It comes back to knowing your WHY. Why do you do what you do? In today’s fast paced society, we get 101 things thrown at us. When you have a million things to do and it becomes really hard to slow down, that is when overwhelm will often set in. You’re not alone in this. It happens. That is the time when you must STOP. You can’t do everything. If you try to do everything, you will find that THE project you always wanted to do has, yet again, been pushed to the end of the queue.
This is the one big thing that can help you overcome the feeling of overwhelm. When you know yourself and you know why you do what you do, it can help you decide whether something that comes your way should be ignored or added to “the list”. Does it serve your purpose? If not, say NO and move on. Ultimately, the best way to overcome overwhelm is to not even add it to “the list” in the first place! Get clear and always remember the bigger picture and the end goal.