At this moment in time I’m the farthest away from Overwhelmed that I have ever been. Why is that? It’s because I spent July in Spain on holidays. In 1993 I went to Vigo, North West Spain to visit my sister. The plan was to spend a year teaching English. Five years later I arrived back in Ireland with a red haired, two year old, half Spanish son. It’s been seven years since I visited my Spanish family and hung out with my Spanish friends on their turf.
Relaxed and Free
It was one of my best holidays ever. Not because of the amazing things we did, the great times spent with my sister and her wonderful family, nor was it the delicious food we ate or all the old friends I caught up with. It was because I relaxed. I can’t remember the last time I have felt so chilled out. Totally living in the moment. So much so, I neglected my blog and did very little writing. It was wonderful. I don’t know how it happened or how from one day to the next, I stopped worrying and fussing and planning. I didn’t feel guilty that I wasn’t writing, I just existed from one day to the next.
Back to Reality
I’m back at work now, back training and coaching and back writing, but no stress. No forcing myself to reach self created deadlines, just plodding along doing what is totally necessary and living in the moment. I’ve been playing more chess, going to the beach more, baking and generally having more fun.
Now it’s not always possible to take a month off to unwind and detox from information overload but there are other ways that can help to overcome the overwhelm that many of us experience. Like most things in life if you understand the reasons why something is occurring, it is easier to overcome it. Of course there are a number of reasons why people become overwhelmed, in my opinion most are due to one of the following four.
Great Expectations, no not the book, the sentiment. Too often we expect too much of ourselves, we set very high standards and create unnecessary deadlines that only assist in creating unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Lack of Clarity is another common cause. There are times when overwhelm is caused by the elephant we create in our own minds. Nothing is as big as our own imagination. The stress is caused by our mind working overtime and focusing on the negative outcomes.
Perfectionism, not something I suffer from but I see many people who create more work than they need to do. Their standards are so high they never seem to get the simplest of task done in a realistic timeframe.
Disorganisation, without having a system or a place to store your tasks and projects you are likely to become overwhelmed by the fuzziness of what needs to get done.
Knowing the reasons is the starting point to find a solution, here is my humble opinion of what can be done to counteract the causes of overwhelm
- Lower your Expectations
It’s not always necessary to over deliver nor is it possible. There is only so much one person can do. As David Allen says “You can do anything but not everything” Decide what is priority and what really needs to be done right away.
Sounds counter intuitive when you have a lot to do, but sometimes the best strategy is to stop and reassess. No more fire fighting, take some time to plan priorities and be realistic about what can be delivered. By taking time to reassess, you may be surprised at how little is urgent and how much can be put off to a later date.
3. Dump it
Get it all out of your head. When we go around with so many tasks and responsibilities in our head we are on a direct route to overwhelm. To quote Mr Allen a second time, our minds are not a place for storing ideas but a place for having them.
After getting it all out of your head you must create some clarity about what it is and exactly what you want to achieve. Get clear about your goals and which tasks are going to help you to achieve those goals. When you are clear about your goals you may start to see where certain tasks are not important and are superfluous towards achieving your goals.
5. Break it down
When you have many projects on your radar, if we don’t define the individual tasks we start to feel like it will never get done, so much to do, so many goals and projects but never completing any of them.
Use your calendar to schedule the individual tasks. Scheduling is the best solution to beating procrastination. What gets scheduled gets done. Clarify your goals and the individual tasks and things will start to move forward. When you see your tasks in your calendar you can realistically see what you can physically achieve and what can be defined as “Great expectations”
7. Ask for help
Here’s one none of us like to do but most of us have to resort to at some stage in our lives. The realisation that we cannot do everything and we either don’t do it or we ask for help is something most of us are reluctant to accept. When you start to get comfortable with asking for help your life will become a lot easier to manage.
8. Creating boundaries
Once we have adopted all of these fabulous suggestions you need create boundaries to avoid it happening again. Create times for switching off, times for family and friends and quiet time for you. When you stick to your boundaries and don’t let work take over your life you are more likely to avoid overwhelm.
9.Exercise and Relaxation
Exercise, relaxation and plenty of sleep creates a body that will be more resilient to stress and overwhelm. You owe it to the body that has nurtured you for many years to keep it healthy and stress free.
And of course when ever possible go on holidays and don’t bring work with you. It’s good for you, it’s good for your soul, your relationships and believe it or not it’s good for your work. You come back refreshed, relaxed, and full of creative energy. Overwhelm be gone!