3 Tips for Overcoming Overwhelm

This article completes the 3 part series about overcoming overwhelm. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

A major cause of overwhelm is trying to pay attention to and focus on too many things at the same time, which usually happens when you get stuck in what I call an “activity” mindset.

When you work from an activity mindset, you naturally focus on all the “stuff” that you need to get done.

This can make you feel very busy and that you have far too much to do and not enough time to do it all. Even when you work hard, you still feel disorganized and overwhelmed from this never-ending avalanche of “stuff” that just keeps coming your way day after day.

To help you notice this activity mindset and how it affects you, I’m going to use an analogy.

Imagine that your work is like going to the Library of Congress and reading books. So all the “stuff” that you need to do as part of your work is like reading the pages of a book.

Are you with me so far?

When you work from an activity mindset, all you see is an endless mountain of books to read, and so you end up saying things like, “I can’t believe how many pages I have to read… No wonder I’m feeling overwhelmed, I have way too many pages to read and not enough time to read them all.”

The only solution seems to be to figure out how to read more pages, either by learning to read faster or by figuring out how to spend even more time reading.

The only problem with that approach is that you are NEVER going to run out of pages to read!

No matter how hard you work, how fast you can read, or how many hours of the day you can devote to reading, you’re never going to be able to read every page of every book in the library. There’s just too many of them.

You’ll NEVER be able to read ALL of them.

Since you can’t possibly read EVERY book in the library, that means that you have to somehow CHOOSE which books you are going to read and which books you’re NOT going to read. Right?

Well, the same is true in your work. You are never going to be able to do everything that is available for you to do. You are never going to get “caught up.” You are never going to finish all your work. There will ALWAYS be more stuff to do.

At first, this may sound a bit depressing and overwhelming, but it’s actually liberating once you think about it.

Because once you realize that you’ll NEVER be able to get EVERYTHING done, you’ll stop trying to get EVERYTHING done.

And that’s the first step in shifting from an activity mindset into a more productive mindset.

If you can’t get everything done, that means that you have to CHOOSE what gets done and what doesn’t get done. Right?

Productive people KNOW they can’t get everything done, so they consciously choose what they work on based on how it will affect their work and the results they want to produce.

See the difference?

So that’s the essence of prioritizing your work: consciously choosing the right things to do based on the results that you want to achieve.

Instead of just DOING whatever shows up, you consciously CHOOSE what you are going to do and what you are NOT going to do.

That’s how you escape the trap of trying to focus on and do everything at the same time.

So to recap, here are the 3 tips to overcome overwhelm:

1) Stop trying to keep track of things in your head and use a planner instead (read more)

2) Use an effective to-do list that allows you to “zoom out” to see the big picture and “zoom in” to focus on a specific part of your work (read more)

3) Prioritize and consciously choose what to do (and what not to do) so you don’t get overwhelmed trying to get EVERYTHING done

Try to use these tips whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed and you’ll notice a difference.