Overwhelm — the state of drowning under a mass of stressors, such as work and life’s constant demands — is the scourge of our times. It can appear as procrastination or irritability, and left unchecked, overwhelm can cascade into worry, anxiety and even panic attacks. If you’re wondering whether you are overwhelmed, do a quick pulse check. Do any of the following statements sound familiar?
- I’m so busy, I don’t have time for yoga/for myself/for my kids!
- There isn’t enough time to accomplish this goal!
- The project is too big. It cannot be done — period.
If these statements resonate with you … you’re human. We are living in a busy, complicated time. Most people report feeling overwhelmed by the proliferation of technology, over-work and the general culture of busy. You also probably check your phone 150 times per day and spend 25% of your day checking emails. If you’re dating, you might spend 79 minutes each day swiping on apps. That time is on top of the demands of your jobs, kids, spouses and keeping up with the Joneses. Unfortunately, when these tasks and activities pile up, the effect is catastrophic for your productivity and for your spirit.
The good news is that you can detox by tweaking your habits of thought and behavior. Below are six steps you can take to shift your state of overwhelm toward one of productivity and courage.
1. Make a Decision
You create your desired results, but first, you have to know what you want. Think about the results you want by the end of this year, and write it down on paper. The clearer you are about where you want to go, the more likely you are to get there. For example:
- You would like to pay off your credit cards.
- You would like to lose 20 pounds.
- You would like to achieve a certain amount of sales.
Once you are clear on your goal, commit to it, even before you have any idea how it will work out. Leap, and the net will appear.
Make it urgent. If you give yourself six months to do something, it will take you six months. If you give yourself a week, you will do it in two weeks. You can be realistic, but it’s also important to be time-sensitive. Tell your brain it’s “go time,” and don’t kid around.
2. Drop the Excuses
Once you have made a decision about where you want to go, then, in the words of Tony Robbins, burn all the bridges. All hindrances and habits that do not support your goal must go.
We all have excuses, but we can learn to overcome them by setting our standards high and learning the great joy that comes from hitting goals. When you make something a “must,” you will do it sans excuses. Social media can and should wait, as should everything else standing in your way.
3. Find Your “Why”
The thing that will actually carry you toward your goal won’t be the follow-through but what precedes your goal-setting: emotion. You have to be driven to take action, after all. To be driven, you must find your “why.”
Answer this question: Why do I want to achieve this goal? Your why is your purpose statement, and though it may seem like a big task to discover, it’s not. Just take these two steps:
- Ask yourself, “What am I obsessed with? What would I do if nobody paid me?”
- Then, ask yourself, “Who am I being when I achieve this goal? Who am I doing this for?”
Knowing your why matters, because your decisions have consequences for your life and for others.
4. Learn to Prioritize
Once you have made your decision, you will have work to do. To do it, you will need to manage your time as effectively as possible, which means learning to prioritize.
Here’s the key: Everything is not equally important. When you are working toward one big goal, tasks that help you reach that goal should come first. To gain clarity on what those tasks are, ask yourself, “What is the one thing I need to accomplish today that will have the biggest impact on my goal, my week, my month and my life?”
Next, categorize people and projects by urgency. Think of the people who are waiting on something from you and the people you need to reach out to. Identifying these individuals will help you to measure or gauge urgency and “get ‘er done.”
5. Smell the Roses
The key to serving other people is to serve yourself first. You are a human being, not a human doing. Take walks every two hours of work. Sleep away from your phone. As a result, you will be replenished, which will help you stay focused and be more productive. Take vacations, too.
6. Love the Journey
Let’s say that you are now working on your goals, but they are taking a lot of time to come to fruition. This time is when frustration tends to come up. Think of accomplishing a goal like a pregnancy: Not each stage is comfortable, but each is necessary. Choose to see every discomfort you experience and every issue that comes up as part of the process.
In life, not only can you not avoid the struggle, but you actually need it. The process is what creates learning. It’s where the magic is. It’s just that it doesn’t need to involve overwhelm. Striving is good; overwhelm is optional.
As you start to see joy in the process itself, it will become the payoff. You will stop seeing life as an overwhelming struggle and more as a passionate adventure.
No matter which stage or state you are in, if you heed these tips, I am confident that you will live free from overwhelm and, instead, with courage, joy and productivity.