Excessive overwhelm can be a significant contributor to stress, anxiety and depression. Overwhelm happens when a person is faced with more to be done than they can manage, and where some of those tasks involved are beyond their current capabilities.
Often, the initial reaction to overwhelm is to work harder, work longer hours, try multitasking more quickly. Clearly this is just a short-term solution.
Here is a simple strategy to pull you back from overwhelm and put you back in control. The approach may appear simplistic but its impact on your life could be profound. However, it will take effort and focus on your part to put it into action – if following this strategy was the easier option for you, you’d already have come up with something similar without my input.
There are four D’s we can do with each item on your to-do list.
Delete it – just get rid of it!
Some years ago, I was working through my huge email inbox. I accidentally knocked a book and it fell on the delete key, and before I knew what was happening my inbox went from over a thousand emails to just a handful. You can imagine my emotional response. Some very choice English colloquialisms were uttered. However, my life did not end, and the overall impact turned out to be minimal.
Look at your to-do list. The truth is that if you simply never did a lot of the things on the list, it would have no impact on your life and the lives of those around you. However, it takes courage and insight to know which things you can get rid of. After all, occasionally one item you decide to delete will turn out to be important, and then you must deal with the consequences.
So, deciding what not to do requires you to have a degree of resilience and flexibility to deal with situations that may be a consequence of not doing something. The good news is that these situations will be remarkably rare.
Delegate it – give it to somebody else
We like to think that we are the only person that can do these jobs. Maybe it’s true that you are the only person that can do this job exactly the way you’d like, but if someone else did the job, in a slightly different way, then you’re not putting your time and effort into it, plus it’s one item off your long list.
The specific strategies of delegation will take a bit of working out. You can sum it up in a simple quote: “Only do what only you can do.”
Delay it with intent – put it on your schedule to be done at a specific time later
Delaying with intent is only for those items that you know for certain must be done and that only you can do.
It’s about planning precisely when you will do the task. Not a vague, “I’ll do it later” – it must be allocated a precise time and recorded in your diary. My personal preference is for a paper scheduling system and for writing in pen.
As your subconscious starts to trust that you will follow through on these plans, you’ll find that these delayed items will stop renting space in your mind, freeing you up to focus on what you need to do right now. When the time for the task comes, you’ll be able to focus on that task and without hundreds of other items renting space in your mind at the same time – this makes it more likely that the task will be easier and quicker to do to a higher standard.
This activity requires you to have a degree of discipline around planning your future time.
Do it now
It only makes sense to do something right now if there are no other options.
Some people will say that you should deal with things the moment they arise as this is the easiest way to do it. Whilst there’s an element of truth here, our brains work far more efficiently if you can batch together a series of activities that are very similar and do them all together. So, if you’re replying to emails, do several at once. You’ll need to remember to schedule when you’ll do the activity, but only do something right now when there is no alternative.
I have been using this strategy with clients for many years now. It can take us two or three sessions to really get it working for somebody, but the benefits to them can be massive.
If you are aware that overwhelm is significantly contributing to the stresses and anxieties in your life, consider the strategy above. Contact me if you think you need help making it work for you.