Overcoming Overwhelm

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This is the system I described in a recent quick tips episode of the Discover Grow Shinecast, a new podcast to help you along the path to health, wealth, wisdom and a happier life.

This is the system I use whenever I feel like I’m suddenly in the spinning-wheel of death mode that Mac-users know when their computer goes into system overload for too long.

1. Stop What You’re Doing

No matter how busy you are and no matter how close to the deadline you may be, if you feel like you’re spinning your wheels then it’s time to stop and regroup.

Set the timer on your phone to alarm in 10 minutes and then stop everything you’re doing.

2. Walk or Sit in Quiet for 10 Minutes

If possible, use this 10 minutes to stand up and walk around. Walk around your office building, ideally walk outside.

If you’re in a cubicle or situation where walking around isn’t possible, then stand up. Or, at a minimum, turn and face a different direction.

You want to physically change your environment in some way, to interrupt the pattern. Even if it’s nothing more than standing up, stretching and sitting back down, then turn your chair or shift your position in some way.

3. Don’t Think, Just Breathe for 10 minutes

Concentrate on your breathing.

If you’re walking outside, look at a tree or something natural or at least neutral (in other words, don’t read signs or watch people).

If you’re sitting inside, just close your eyes.

If a thought pops into your head, that’s ok. Just acknowledge and say to yourself, “I’ll think about that in a few minutes.”

It can help if you select a one or two-syllable word or phrase to concentrate on as you breathe in and out.

“Chill out” comes to mind.

When the alarm goes off, you can resume your work. Taking this break doesn’t do the work for you but it does give you a re-charge and new perspective to let you regain some momentum.

4. Identify the “Next Step”

When the 10-minute break ends, consider the project you’re working on.

Take a physical piece of paper and a pen or pencil and quickly list 3 tasks that must be completed to move the project forward.

Don’t list everything you need to do. Just list the first 3 tasks that come to mind. Then stop writing.

Quickly prioritize those three in order of 1, 2, 3.

Don’t think too much about this. Go with your instinct.

Then take the first item on that list and break it down into steps to completion. That’s where you’ll begin.

Do the next thing: A guide to overcoming overwhelm. A post by Sheree Martin on The Ben Franklin Follies.com based on episode 4 of the Discover Grow Shinecast, podcast

Here’s an example from my own life:

I was recently feeling overwhelm about everything I needed to do to move my Shinecast® business and mission forward. I was (and am) way behind schedule, in terms of the goals and deadlines I’d set for myself.

On that particular day, I had several major items that needed to be done yesterday. I was spinning my wheels, even though I was working nonstop.

So I stopped, took my break, and then quickly jotted down on a notecard 3 projects that needed to be completed already (not the entire list, mind you, just the three that were screaming at me that particular afternoon).

Items on My Initial Short List 

  • Decide where to publish the Discover Grow Shinecast–Ben Franklin Follies or Shinecast.net and set up the feed to publish to that website.
  • Create the first quick-tips episode of the Discover Grow Shinecast podcast
  • Add content to Shinecast.net and switch WordPress themes, if that’s holding me back

For reasons I don’t need to go into here, I identified the quick tips episode as the most urgent of those three tasks.

I then listed out several tasks I needed to get that done:

  • Record the episode
  • Write an outline
  • Publish the episode
  • Edit the episode
  • Pick a topic

Clearly, I had to pick a topic first. As soon as I identified picking a topic as the “next thing” I needed to do, everything else fell into place.

It was quickly obvious that the topic should be how to overcome feeling overwhelmed by the to-do list and it was easy to create the outline. The outline was the system I’d used (and often use) to get through the spinning pinwheel moments of life.

Obviously, there are bigger issues to deal with here–such as taking on more than you can achieve (or being given more to do than is reasonable), but this system will get you through the immediate moment.

I hope this is helpful!

I’d love to hear your ideas on dealing with feelings of overwhelm on the short-term basis. Leave a comment.

And I hope you’ll check out the Discover Grow Shinecast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

About Sheree

Change Catalyst, Idea Explorer, Dot-Connector, Square Peg