How to turn your overwhelm into clarity


How to turn your

overwhelm into clarity

“Millions of Brits feel 'overwhelmed' by life pressures,” read an article in the Independent.

It went on to say that “Research revealed two thirds [of people surveyed] feel a constant sense of dread caused by the stress of their day-to-day lives” and “more than six out of 10 admitted struggling to keep their life organised with everything they have going on.”

There are lots of things that cause us to feel overwhelmed. When on the tube or train the resounding image I see is one of people ‘single thumbing;’ scrolling through their smartphone display, usually surfing through Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp.

I find it even more fascinating to watch couples walk into a cafe, order their drinks then proceed to spend all their time interacting with a bit of metal, plastic and glass, rather than with each other. The digital world with all its efficiency is changing us. But this is nothing you don’t already know.

Everytime we look at a post, image or message, it demands our attention. Is it good enough to ‘like’ or show your appreciation? Is it from someone who might be offended if you didn’t respond in someway? If we’re honest, all these thoughts and much more go through our head requiring greater amounts of our mental energy causing us decision fatigue.

Whether its our devices, social media, email and the constant fear of missing out–or unlearning the ability to simply do nothing, day dreaming is becoming a distant dream, whilst our stress levels and sense of overwhelm is forming into a nightmare.

This is one of the biggest issues that my coaching clients face: being so overwhelmed that they end up in stasis…stuck and unable to take the small steps moving them towards their goals.

So how can you turn that overwhelm into action? The good news is that there are some practices you can put in place to at least start the ball rolling.

1. Focus on one thing at a time

Our brains always slow down when trying to multitask. Here’s an experiment to test this. Try counting from one to ten as fast as you can. It’s pretty easy isn’t it? Now try saying the first ten letters of the alphabet as fast as you can. Once you work out the tenth letter is J, it’s pretty easy (for many people). Now, try saying them alternately. I.e. One A, Two B and so on. It’s much more difficult isn’t it? You can probably do it, but your speed slows down significantly.

The answer: do one thing at a time. If you are writing a blog post, shut down everything else. If you are reading an article or book, take yourself away from distractions. There are many apps that enable you to focus on one task at a time. Whatever you use, just try to make your environment conducive to cutting our distractions and focus on that one thing.

2. Set realistic expectations

However long you think something will take, double it, and then some. I’ve noticed that when working with clients to plan the tasks they want to achieve, more often than not they will estimate too short a time.

Now, that’s not me making a judgement on it. That wouldn’t be very good coaching, and I may not be an expert in the field relevant to their task, so I’d be in no position to judge how long it would take.

No, It’s when I challenge them on how realistic it is to complete the task, most of the time they increase it–often doubling the time it will take.

From my experience in running businesses or working freelance for over 20 years, I can agree that if you think a task will take one hour, double the allowed time as it will almost inevitably take longer.

As well as the length of time something will take, the deadline can also be a challenge. It’s worth planning in time for the unexpected to happen. You cannot account for every eventuality, but some leeway in my experience is a necessity, otherwise you risk setting yourself up for failure. Instead, be realistic as it gives you a greater chance for success...and you want success right?

3. Give yourself a time-limit

Another thing I notice when coaching is that some clients put off starting something incase they get ‘in the zone’ and can’t stop. When you have many other things to do, it can be stressful to think you might spend all day on one task leaving everything else undone.

This is very common with creative types who are desperate to get ‘in the zone’. When you get there you want to stay there as long as possible as you never know how long it will be before you feel the same way again.

Setting yourself a deadline, and better still, linking the deadline to an action can be really helpful. By that I mean, if your task is to carry out research for an article and you give yourself two hours starting at 9am, book in a call with someone at 11am–and get them to call you. That way you have something out of your control to break you out of your ‘in the zone’ phase.

If your work lends itself to sitting, working away in a cafe, try this towards the end of the day when they will close. This is a good cut-off point as you will be kicked out!

A final trick to keep to a time limit is to use the Pomodoro Technique. I use this a lot. This is a technique that uses 25 minute working time blocks with a 5 minute break. Using an online counter makes it even easier. I’m using it as I write this very article!

4. Book it in your diary

It doesn’t matter whether you’re paper based or digital, having the task down in your diary means you are more likely to achieve it. Mentally, you are booking out time that you will devote to that task at the expense of anything else.

It makes the task more official as well, just like a client or staff meeting that you wouldn’t miss. It still relies heavily on the other points, such as being realistic, focusing and getting others involved as otherwise you can easily have it in your diary but ignore it. I must admit to doing this many times when I’ve seen the task notification pop up and then got distracted by something else. Before I know it, an hour or two has gone by and I have to leave the task for another day!

5. Share with others

Accountability can be key. When someone else is involved in your goal or task, it increases the likelihood of completion. Who else can you tell? This could be a work colleague, a partner or a friend. Let them know what you are doing and get them to ask you at some point how it’s going. Too often our goals are kept to ourselves for many reasons such as not having a strong enough belief we will actually complete them.

Another thing about including others is working in the same place with likeminded people. If you are employed, this is easier as it’s probably your office. For us self-employed people who normally work from home, joining any number of the freelancer, self-employed meetups can be such a lifeline. The power of accountability through being part of groups has enabled me to achieve a lot more than I would have on my own.

From overwhelm to clarity

When you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s good to pause and focus on one thing at a time. Ignore the bigger goal and decide which small task you can get done, being realistic with how long it will take. Get it in your diary to make sure you have an endpoint that involves someone else or another event that is outside of your control. Switch off any distractions and share it with at least one other person who will ask you how it went.

Doing these things on a regular basis will not eradicate your stress and solve all your problems. Sorry, life just doesn’t work like that. But it can help turn your overwhelm into clarity driving up your motivation giving you a better chance to complete your goals.

If you want more help to overcome overwhelm and achieve your goals just get in touch.