Overcoming Overwhelm

In a previous article, I told you about one major cause of overwhelm, trying to keep track of things using your head.

At some point, many people intuitively realize this is a problem and start writing everything down in a to-do list. While this often feels good at first, it often triggers the 2nd major cause of overwhelm: getting lost in too much detail.

That’s one of the BIG problems with traditional to-do lists. As your list grows and gets bigger and bigger (as most to-do lists tend to do), it quickly starts to become unmanageable.

Soon, you end up with so many to-do’s in a big, long list that you can’t find your way around it. You’re not sure what to do next and you can’t really wrap your head around everything that you need to do.

It’s almost like getting lost in a thick forest with lots of trees everywhere, which as you can imagine would be pretty stressful and overwhelming.

What ends up happening is that you stop using the overwhelming to-do list and go back to using your head to keep track of things.

So you end up in this vicious cycle where you alternate between using a big, long to-do list and using your head to keep track of things (both of which eventually trigger overwhelm.)

Your Head <—>  Big, long to-do list  (both eventually lead to overwhelm)

When you are feeling overwhelmed because of too much detail, the solution is to “zoom out” so you can see things from a higher perspective… and then “zoom in” and only focus on a few things at a time.

Imagine that you are lost in that thick forest with lots of trees everywhere. What would happen if you climbed into a helicopter and flew up high above the treetops?

You would be able to see the whole forest instead of getting lost in the trees, right?

You would be able to make sense of all the details and make a plan to get to where you want to go.

That’s why “zooming out” is so powerful.

When you “zoom out” with your to-do list, you can see all your work from a higher perspective. You can get a much better sense of what you are ultimately trying to accomplish and make good plans to take you where you want to go.

One of the best ways to do that is to separate the concepts of Projects and Tasks and use DIFFERENT lists to keep track of them. That allows you to zoom out and see your work in terms of outcomes and not just actions… and then you can “zoom in” a focus on just a few to-do’s at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed.

A powerful way to “zoom in” on your most important work is to use daily and weekly planning to focus on a few KEY projects and tasks at a time.

When you combine these two ideas, you end up with a to-do list that really works and that helps you get things done without getting lost and overwhelmed by too much detail.