Tag Archives: overwhelmed

Overwhelmed by Work:What’s Too Much?

  • Someday Lesson: Unless you know exactly how long your to-do list is you can’t make objective decisions about what to work on.

Valentin.Ottone on Flickr.comSince December is Planning Month on Someday Syndrome let’s tackle a Someday Challenge that’s planning related. Specifically let’s look at Angela’s problem with being overwhelmed with everything she has to do.

Angela suffers from I’ll Get Around To It Someday. She knows what she wants but can’t seem to find the time or energy to follow through. She says “Someday I’ll find the time and energy to fulfill my dreams.” The thing is she’s not very specific about what those dreams are. When looking one year into the future however, she’s much more specific saying that she will have implemented some of her programs, have produced the show she wrote and be able to support her children financially.

The problem is that she’s so overwhelmed by the normal anxieties of life that she can’t see clearly. It seems to be so much stuff that she’s paralyzed by all the stuff. She moved her office in-house so that she could work on things 24/7 but that hasn’t worked which isn’t surprising. Bringing the office into the home is likely to create more anxieties not fewer. Without a clear separation of work life and home life the stress and guilt of working or not working 24/7 multiples exponentially. Every moment at work outside of regular hours takes away from family time and every moment with the family is one less moment striving for the work-related dream.

In our go-go-go world this sense of paralysis is common and it’s something many people suffer from. It happens when you allow your to-do list to get longer and longer which results in panic and paralysis.

Angela mentions anxiety at all the day to day stuff. That especially happens when you keep it all in your head – it builds and each item seems unrelated to anything else. As well, as I said working on things 24/7 is not the best way to get things done. I take plenty of time off and I’m one of the more productive people I know. I focus on relaxing when I’m not working and when I do work I don’t fritter because I know I have time to relax later.

So what does Angela need? She needs a plan. She needs to know what she’s working on when. However, she can’t create that plan until she knows exactly what she wants to work on. Yes, in her one-year-in-the-future vision she hints at what she might work on now, but the ideas are still very abstract. They’re results, not actions.

When looking into the future, it’s important to focus on actions. Outcomes are great, but they don’t motivate well because they leave a gap between the current state and the future outcome. That gap can only get filled by action.

Taking Action

And what actions does Angela need to do? What actions do you need to focus on if you want to achieve your dreams? How can you choose any one thing when there the to-do is longer than a line up to buy U2 concert tickets?

You might just pick one random item and work on that. Or you might pick the top three things that have reached crisis mode.

Or you might take a bit of time to plan out your actions, which first requires some research.

In this case, research doesn’t mean going out and looking up information or talking to others. For this type of research you are going to interview yourself. Using a blank piece of paper or a new document on the computer, write down the numbers 1 to 100 (if you’re using paper, you might need two or three sheets). Now fill in all 100 slots with everything you do during the day – both work and non-work related. Don’t forget as well those things that you want to/feel you should get done but haven’t gotten around to yet.

Why? What will Angela get out of overwhelming herself even more? How will this exercise help you?

Right now Angela feels overwhelmed by all of her to-dos. These to-dos however are only in her head. Just like in last week’s Someday Challenge, Angela needs to clear her head of the overwhelm and getting it out on paper does just that. Plus by giving yourself a goal of 100 items you’ll likely have a hard time reaching the goal and you’ll realize that you don’t actually have as many things to do as you thought, taking off some of the pressure.

By emptying your head of your to-dos you’ll also be able to look at all the items objectively. When they sit in your head they all seem equally important and necessary.

What Next?

So now you have a list of items that you do (or want to do). How do you take this list of actions and turn them into a plan that works for you, gives you time to relax, and moves you towards your dream?

You prioritize, delegate and delete items from the list. You whittle it down until it fits into a schedule that’s manageable and comfortable.

And no, it’s not easy. In fact this sort of Someday Challenge paralyzes many people.

You need help. You need the outside objectively of someone who isn’t so intimately connected to the actions, someone who can help you decide priorities and what doesn’t really need to get done after all.

You can get that help by filling out a Personalized Someday Assessment. It takes only a few minutes and just might mean the difference between being overwhelmed and being happy.

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Avoiding overwhelm and moving foward: Lab Rats Week 3

I’m not a big fan of detailed plans. They invite procrastination, paralysis and fear.

The more detailed our plan, the more likely we’ll turn it into a Plan, something god-like that needs to be adored and worshipped but never approached.

Still, as the Cheshire Cat told Alice, we need to know where we’re going or we’re just wasting time.

So, how do we find the compromise?

By figuring out only the big steps in your dream and then focusing on one task in the present that will advance your dream every day.

This is best explained with examples, so let’s dive right in…

(Barb got sucked away by life this week – but we’ll catch up with her next week).

Let’s start with Cat. Her dream is to finish something (anything!) and chose to use her office at work as a sample of something she’ll finish.

Here are the big steps to realizing the dream:

  1. Get rid of the clutter (papers, items that are not used regularly).
  2. Find places for things that are used regularly and need to be easily on hand.
  3. Attack under the desk.  Clean everything out and vacuum.
  4. Restock items that are low or need to be replaced.
  5. Maintain the order….rather than letting it slip back into chaos.

On their own, each is a pretty big project and perhaps Cat hasn’t been able to face finishing other projects in the past because the sheer size of projects overwhelms her (another thing Cat wants to accomplish is polishing her Japanese – a daunting project indeed!). She could accept help organizing the office and maybe get the whole thing done in a day, but would anything change? Not likely because for Cat the challenge is dealing with projects that don’t begin and end right away.

So, Cat’s going to take the office organizing slowly and the first (and only!) thing she’s going to do is not add to the pile. Each day at the end of the day she’ll look at her desk and ask herself if she has added to the disorder. And if she has, she will take the time to do something with what she’s added.

That’s it. Nothing more. In this instance, patience is necessary. Learning a language takes years and requires a lot of patience and much repetition. Let’s practice that patience with the office. We can think of it as an organizing version of “wax on, wax off.”

Now it’s Jim’s turn. His journey is much more internal than the other Lab Rats, so requires a different sort of approach.

His steps to reach his dream of “living freely and happily” aren’t as sequential as Cat’s and are harder to measure:

  • Be aware of thoughts every day, and correcting the errors in thinking that lead to a loss of self-esteem.
  • Expose himself (no, not that way!) to new situations, new friends.
  • Break free of my dependency on external sources of happiness.
  • Have the courage to make life-decisions based on his needs and desires.

Jim is well aware of how tiring and much of a challenge it is to break free of life-long patterns, but he also knows change is very possible.

He’s aware of how strong his dependence on external validation is. For example he knows that his long-distance partner Heidi who he hasn’t talked to in a week and won’t talk to for another three weeks is out there rooting for him, but it pains him not to get that validation directly.

Instead of tackling that sore spot head on, Jim can just acknowledge the pain and work on something less sensitive, like a massage therapist working on the muscles all around a particularly tender knot.

So what is Jim going to focus on?

He’s going to focus on his thought patterns. That’s it. He’s not going to correct them or berate himself for them. He’s simply going to pay attention to his thoughts, noting when he’s being negative or positive and in what situations.

Plus he’s already taken some other steps. He’s been reading Feeling Good by David Burns which talks directly to his issues, and he’s been getting professional help to coach him through it all.

And that leaves us with Brett who, like Cat, dreams of finishing projects, specifically things around the house. We already know that Brett’s seen the effects of small changes, so let’s take a look at what big steps he sees to getting his house in shape.

He started with a walkthrough of the house to check out what needed doing and this is what he came up with:

  • Empty Downstairs and Shed
  • Finish Floors, Walls and Furniture Downstairs
  • Paint Upstairs
  • Decorate  the 4 bedrooms
  • Renovate Kitchen and Bathroom

Brett acknowledges that each of these steps could be a dream/goal in itself, but since he dreams of a completed house we’ll stick with this daunting list. I say daunting because faced with a list like this, I too would most likely find myself sitting on the couch channel surfing or playing around on the Internet.

And because Brett has the most to physically do, he chose the most physical daily action to pursue. Here’s what he had to say:

I can pack up one box of stuff from downstairs each day. We have plenty of books and stuff as well as various computer bits and games and toys for young and old stored there and it all needs to come out for the new floors.

By just doing one box a day, I can focus on getting stuff out and not worry about how I will sort it all, throw away the excess and fit what is left back in.

Right now, it is just getting one box at a time packed and out of the way.

Of course given the way life often interferes with our plans one box a day might not happen, but by thinking about it every day (and not beating himself up when a box does not get packed) Brett commits to action and moves forward without as he says thinking about the rest of the multitude of tasks awaiting him.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to know what one thing you do each day to advance your dream.

I’ll get started. With my writing, until the first draft of the current novel is done, my daily action is “write for the pleasure of writing.” That’s it. I know where I want my writing to go, but for the time being I don’t need to think about anything else other than writing for the pleasure of telling this particular story.


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