3 Strategies to Cut Through Overwhelm Without Losing Your Mind


This guest post is by Jamila, who gives a simple, straightforward, and systematic way to move past overwhelm. It’s great to be reminded of processes like this. Add it to your arsenal!

There’s nothing that saps away motivation faster than the feeling of being overwhelmed. I can say this for a fact because I get overwhelmed like 50% of the time. The typical advice to start somewhere doesn’t always do it for me because most times, it isn’t so much about getting started as it is about knowing what I need to get started on.

Halfway through a project or towards the end of it, I still get that deeply unsettling feeling that I’m really getting nowhere as my to-do stack is mounting.

On reflection, I realized this is because I tend to get started on the least important things—that don’t really matter but make me feel busy—while I postpone the scary but important ones.

I also realized that getting overwhelmed is not entirely out of our control, in fact it is mostly self inflicted. Here’s how:

  • Because of our lack of boundaries and clear priorities, we allow unimportant things to creep into our lives and suck away our focus and attention.
  • We invent tasks to do to avoid the difficult but most important things.
  • Our perception of difficulty is usually distorted. Our worry, fear and uncertainty makes our goals seem more daunting than they truly are.
  • We fail to create clear deadlines for accomplishing our goals. One task takes a considerably large chunk of our time, while the others left undone weigh us down with pressure.

To get rid of overwhelm once and for all, all these issues have to be addressed. Here’s a 3 step process:

1. Get real with your priorities

You get overwhelmed not because you’re so unfortunate that the world throws all its garbage at you, but because you’re giving the unimportant a place in your life.

By unimportant here I mean everything that is not tied to your values or relevant to the achievement of your goals. These things are excess fat, you don’t need them. They sap away your energy and focus and divert you from your true purpose.

Take a look at what your typical overwhelming day looks like and make a list of all the thing you did or the things you felt you ought to do. Ask yourself: are all these things critical to the achievement of my goals?

Remember the Pareto 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of your desired outcome results from only 20% of your effort. Identify those 20% and chop off the excess.

When you get super clear on what is it you have to be doing, you become focused and less burdened. You cut out overwhelm right from its root.

 2. Focus on the trees, not the forest

When you’re overwhelmed because the task at hand seems too daunting, it is because you’re looking at the forest rather than the trees.

No matter how difficult a task is, you can always start somewhere. Make a road-map or a plan of actions containing small actionable steps and focus on them one at a time. Now that you’re clear about the right things to do, this won’t be a problem.

For example, a goal that reads, “Submit guest post to similar blogs in my niche” can prove to be a wild goose chase as you’ll probably spend countless hours on mindless research that takes you nowhere. But what if you slap up a simple step by step process that looks like this?

  • Use Google and Feedly to find blogs to write for
  • Pick a blog and go through it to get familiar with its style and audience
  • Come up with ideas
  • Send a pitch
  • Write the article
  • Proofread and edit
  • Rinse and repeat

Easier, isn’t it? This way, it won’t take time before you start to see some traction.

Do not give yourself permission to complain about the difficulties involved. Because if you do, you’ll end up spending more time and energy lamenting over the situation than actually getting things done.

3. Give it time

You know how it is. A simple task that’s supposed to take you 15 minutes takes you 15 hours. You start to feel pressured and frustrated about the pathetic state of your progress. But pressure and frustration only slow you down further. Before you realize what’s happening, all the other things that need to be done are weighing down heavily on your shoulders and you start to feel overwhelmed.

Parkinson’s law says: a task will swell in perceived difficulty in proportion to the time allocated to it. So give yourself clear deadlines and promise yourself a nice reward if you finish a task within the stipulated time.

If you don’t, it will be very easy for you to get stuck from the onset or somewhere along the way. Even if that doesn’t happen, there’s a great chance that your progress will be affected. And once you’re not making progress, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

The step by step process above should now look like this:

  • Use Google or Feedly to figure out blogs to write (30 minutes)
  • Pick a blog and  go through it to become comfortable with its style and audience (2 hours)
  • Come up with ideas  (30 minutes) etc.

Make the deadline as tight as possible and the reward enticing enough. You’ll be surprised how efficient you suddenly become.

Jamila Mustapha is a freelance writer and the Blogger behind The Midas Finger, where she explores ways people can shatter their glass ceilings and live a life of potential.

(photo by insane_capture)

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