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Three Steps to Avoiding Overwhelm

Has this ever happened to you: you have a wonderfully relaxing tropical vacation, you come home feeling calm and grounded, and then you check your e-mails, text messages, phone messages, snail mail, and work inbox and immediately become overwhelmed?

It happened to me this week. My sense of overwhelm was so intense that my first reaction was to avoid all the messges, laundry and unpacking and stay in vacation mode for as long as possible. In other words, I started to procrastinate. All I could see was everything I needed to do as one big pile. The mountain was just so high I didn’t know where to start, so I didn’t.

Finally, I decided it was time to tackle my mountain. I scurried around the house starting lists, putting away a few things, firing off an email here and there, doing a load of laundry, sending a few texts, then back to the lists, doing one thing, distracted by another, and avoiding something else.

I finally took a break and thought about how ineffective my strategy was. By doing a little

bit of this and a little bit of that, somehow my brain thought I was avoiding the seemingly huge mountain. By scattering my attention and not giving anything my full focus, I was getting a lot less done than if I were to finish each task I started. I decided to devise a strategy for overcoming the overwhelm I was feeling.

Here are my Three Steps to Overcoming Overwhelm:

  1. Write it all down. It can really help to get it all out of your head and onto paper. Write down everything you need to do. That way you don’t have to worry about forgetting anything, and you won't need to keep going over and over and over your list in your head, which can be crazy-making. You can also always add items to the list if needed, and you may find that crossing them off as you do them is extremely satisfying and motivating.

  2. Prioritize. Figure out which tasks are priorities, and do the really important things first. In my case, a lot of the priorities were things I would rather not do, but once I started in on the tasks I was fine. And as soon as they were done I was relieved because then I no longer felt the pressure of a huge mountain that had to be climbed immediately. I am often tempted to do the easy or more fun tasks first and then do the ones I don't enjoy as much, but it is actually is a tremendous relief to do the ones that are a priority first instead.

  3. Do one thing at a time. Don’t think about the mountain. Write your list, note which items are priorities, and then start working on them, one at a time. Focus on the task at hand and don’t think or worry about everything else you need to do. Take it one piece at a time and don’t overthink it. You will get it all done and by using this strategy you won’t waste valuable time deciding what to do, procrastinating, or worrying how you’re going to get it all done.

Whether you are coming home from a two week vacation, a long weekend away, or are simply facing the pileup than can happen in day-to-day life, the two biggest strategies for avoiding overwhelm are:

  • Organizing yourself; and

  • Not letting your mind catastrophize and run away with you.

The Three Steps to Avoiding Overwhelm that I’ve given you here will help you stay calm, focused and efficient. Before you know it, your mountain will seem like and ant hill and you’ll have more time and energy for the things you really enjoy.

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