You know the feeling. The tasks in front of you are huge...the deadlines loom...the potential fallout of non-completion is massive.... Yet, unable to get started, you spend the evening watching You Tube videos of dancing cats. You have fallen victim to O.P. (Overwhelm Paralysis).
Read on for how to get out of that state and create the mental space you need to thrive again.
7 STEPS TO ELIMINATE OVERWHELM
STEP 1: STOP & BREATHE
Yes, I know that sounds elementary. Seriously though, when was the last time you actually STOPPED, closed your eyes and breathed? On purpose.
Do this right now. Stop. Close your Eyes. And take 3 deep belly breaths.
Open your eyes. I am certain you feel a lot of things right now. Hopefully your shoulders have come down a notch from your ears...some of you might even feel emotional. Our mental clutter is paralyzing. We need to give ourselves space to think, to be. Remember, we are human beings, not human doings.
STEP 2: EMPTY YOUR HEAD
The myriad of obligations and commitments that contribute to overwhelm swirl around in our heads, filling our mental hard drives. We have no RAM left! It's not only the tangible items taking up space, but perhaps more crippling, it's the emotional pieces that take up the most mental bandwidth. Perhaps you are concerned about your child who is having difficulties at school, maybe you are in a relationship funk, or are worried about your parents health.
The first step to regaining control is to look at what is causing your current state of overwhelm.
What is taking up space in your mind? If you name and identify those things, it takes the charge out of them and allows you to feel calm, in control again and ready to move forward again.
Take 5 minutes right now to empty your head by creating your REALITY CHECKLIST. This is simply an objective acknowledgment of everything on your mind right now. List everything on your plate. The big, the small, everything that's contributing to your feelings of overwhelm. This isn't necessarily a "To do" list of tasks, it's a list of stuff that's taking up space in your head. And that could include less linear things, eg/ how you are feeling about something, or a relationship etc.
Look at your list. Does it seem clear why you are in a state of overwhelm? I thought so! Writing it down takes the charge out of it, doesn't it? Name it and we tame it!
STEP 3: GET OUT OF THE RED ZONE
The Red Zone
is what I call the emergency zone, or crisis zone. In order to unlock, unblock and move forward, you have to first get out of the emergency Red Zone.
Look closely at your REALITY CHECKLIST. Is there anything on that list that is something that you would classify as an emergency? Something that if not attended to right away, would cause serious repercussions? If the answer is "Yes", then stop reading this, and go attend to whatever that is right now.
Here is another tricky part of the Red Zone: Even if it's not a life or death crisis, it feel like that in your head and be totally clouding everything else. So something non-life threatening could have the energy of a crisis. Which means you will want to tackle that first by going to Step 6 right now. Cycle back to Step 4 when you are safely out of the Red Zone.
Step 4 : CREATE YOUR CLD LIST
If you are unable to download the template right now, simply draw 3 columns on your page. Label the columns left to right as C, L and D. Now take a look at your "REALITY CHECKLIST" and calmly allocate those items into the appropriate column on your CLD list.
Column 1 C - CRITICAL
The first Column is your "C" Column - Your CRITICAL column. Decide what on your reality checklist is absolutely critical. Your business could depend on them being done now, heads may roll if the things in the C list are not done (and maybe even your head!). If you don't complete the stuff on your "C" list there most definitely will be negative fallout. Remember, your "C" list can contain stuff that simply feels urgent and is therefore taking up an inordinate amount of mental bandwidth.
Column 2 L - LIKE to do
The middle column is your "L" Column - Your LIKE TO DO list. Transfer the things from your REALITY CHECKLIST into the LIKE TO DO column if they are things that you would prefer to do sooner rather than later; if they are important to you, but not as time-sensitive as your "C" column. If they would make you feel good to have completed. Like to Do. Perhaps they are things that bring you joy.
Ideally, most of your list will have an L beside it. Important but it's not a crisis, it's not pressing.
Column 3 D - Defer
The third column is your "D" Column - your DEFER list. Transfer things here if you can defer them to a later date with no great fallout. These are "Someday" items. Items you don't want to lose track of, but absolutely don't need to be done right now. (or perhaps don't need to be done by you at all!) Open to that wise voice inside you that's telling you what you can afford to defer. Feel a sense of freedom by deciding what you want to do, not what you think you "should" do. Feel the sense of control that brings you.
STEP 5 : FOCUS ON THE "C" - WHAT'S THE MAIN THING?
Take a good look at your "C' LIST. Ask yourself: "What ONE THING on this list, if I managed to take a few bites of it, or even complete it, would make me feel better, lighter, in control again?"
The standard reason for overwhelm to hit is because there are too many things to do in too little time. That may well be true, as most of us are over-committed and over-extended - yet most of the time, the actual paralyzing part is usually ONE THING on the list.
Perhaps it is a task that is too huge to even contemplate, perhaps it is something you are unsure about how to do /or don't feel confident completing, perhaps it is something you have been putting off that you "should" do (eg/ your annual taxes), perhaps it is something that carries extra weight because others are depending on you , or carries a lot of emotional heaviness. Identify (without judgment) that one "main thing."
STEP 6 : THE POWER OF INCREMENTAL SHIFT
Q / How do you eat an elephant?
A/ One bite at a time
Start with the Main Thing from your "C" list. (Step 5) There are two huge areas ? Okay, start with 2. Look at your "Main thing" area and focus on the one thing that could make the biggest difference to relieving the overwhelmed feeling.
The latest research in neuroscience recommends "fractionalizing" your tasks in order to avoid overwhelm. In other words, break it down into bite-sized achievable, measurable pieces. If you consider breaking down that "main thing" , what one small thing you could take action on right away that will put you back in the driver's seat - having taken control?
One small completed action will break the logjam, start some momentum, and move you forward out of the state of overwhelm paralysis. Eg/ You want to declutter your house. That's a big, overwhelming task. What could you do in 30 minutes? Set a timer. Commit to working on that task for 30 minutes. When the alarm goes off, STOP. And do another 30 minutes tomorrow. Each 30 minute piece moves you forward. Each 30 minute piece is a piece that wasn't done yesterday. It's the power of incremental shift.
STEP 7: REWARD YOURSELF
A finely tuned reward system is critical. Celebrating and acknowledging your own efforts will keep you in motion. Be sure to add in some acknowledgment when you do get unblocked. Even a big checkmark beside that one item will focus you on the progress you are making.