"There is more to life than increasing its speed. " ~Gandhi~
There are days in everyone’s life when they feel overwhelmed by the stresses and tasks and projects and phone calls and emails that weigh upon them. Yes, even those who look the most organized in their lives, get stressed from time to time. How do you deal with it? There are many ways, of course, from eating and smoking and drinking to exercise and meditation and more.
My recommendation: Cut back. Simplify. Unload.
Why We Get Overwhelmed: I think the tendency for most of us is to say “yes” to most of the things coming into our lives. Maybe it’s that we’re too nice to say no. Maybe it’s that we are overly optimistic about how much we can get done. Maybe we don’t want to look bad by saying we can’t do something. Or maybe we’re afraid to miss out on opportunities by saying no. For me it's because I thrive in chaos. I am used to doing things quickly but am less efficient because of it. I don't get nearly as much done as I would if I were more focused. Taking on more things, doesn't help us get more done, it actually leaves us feeling, stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted.
So what do we do if things get outta hand and we are starting to feel the ramifications of our previous choices?
The Effects of Stress and Overload: We all know that too much stress is bad for us. Sure, you can’t avoid stress completely, and without some stress we would never grow. But too much stress leads to problems.
Stress leads to many health problems, for example: headaches, muscle aches in your shoulders, neck, back … it ages you prematurely, can lead to ulcers, heartburn, high blood pressure, heart disease, overeating and more. Not a pretty picture.
But there’s more. Overloading yourself also leads to decreased effectiveness. Taking on too much means we don’t do as good a job with the work we attempt. We often switch between tasks, jumping from one to another, so that we actually take longer to do things and often don’t complete tasks. Or we’re so rushed with the tasks we do complete that quality suffers.
I say that doing less makes you more effective, and thus more productive. I am currently working on making a list daily, (recommended by my business consultant and friend). The best part of my day is crossing things off the list. I use a large black sharpie. I feel accomplished, and focused. Like I am finally getting something done, and making large strides in the direction I am headed.
Coping with Stress: There are many ways to cope with stress, as I mentioned above. Not all of these methods are created equally:
Negative coping: Some of the more common methods of coping with stress and overload include over eating, smoking, drinking, and shopping. Not only does choosing these methods not help you de-stress, but in fact, they can actually lead to more stress. Eating, smoking and drinking, if overdone, are unhealthy … and when you do something unhealthy, that’s stressful to your body. Shopping is bad for you financially (again, if overdone) and that leads to financial stress. While these things can give you temporary relief, they are not good in the long run.
Positive coping: These are things I always recommend, exercise, relaxation techniques, yoga and meditation, taking a hot bath. These lead to less stress, and you should do them every time you get stressed. I like to lift weights when I am stressed. It releases a chemical called Endorphins that makes me feel like I am on top of the world, (in a good way) and can think clearer, and for some time I am more focused.
Reducing the stress: Even better than the positive coping methods, of course, is reducing stress at the source. What is stressing you out? See if you can reduce that source of stress. For this article, we’re going to assume that it’s your workload, whether that’s personal or business work. And the way to reduce that source of stress is to cut back on your workload. Let’s look at how to do that.
How to Cut Back: The problem is, most people who are overwhelmed feel like they just can’t cut back. They feel like they need to work harder to get everything done that needs to get done. Me, I just work faster, and when it doesn't all get done I think I just didn't work fast enough. Or better yet I think I just didn't have more time in the day. But guess what? WE ALL GET THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME. And the worst or best part is that others get more done in a day then I do. So I had to change some things. Don't think that taking a break, or cutting back on your workload, is out of the question, because it's NOT!
If that’s you, you’re probably the person who needs to cut back the most. Of course, I’m not in a position to judge you, but it’s something to consider. I know I can get stressed out and overwhelmed as I am right now, (in my life) as I write this blog. But as I work out the kinks I am confident, as you will be, that I will get my life back in order and working like a well oiled machine, (preferably with as little maintenance as possible).
So how do you cut back when you feel like you can’t? Based on stuff that’s worked for me, here are my recommendations: and I still, from time to time, have to go back to this list as we let life get a hold of us, and we enter the stress spiral yet again. So keep referring back to this list when you feel stress creeping back in.
1. Step back. In order to make the decisions necessary for cutting back, you need to take a few minutes to clear your head and think. Stop whatever you’re doing (or if you can’t, then schedule 30 minutes for sometime today), and take some time to consider everything you have going on. Take a walk to clear your head if necessary. Get some fresh air.
2. List everything. Make a list of all your tasks and projects (or one list for each if you like). Put everything on there, including house chores, projects, activities, everything. In order to make good decisions, you’ll have to see everything at once.
3. Set limits. It may seem impossible, but if you set limits for yourself,(and I will tell you first how hard this can be) you will be forced to choose only the most important. The actual limits aren’t as important as the act of setting them at this point. You can adjust the limits later depending on what works for you. I recommend you choose just 3 important tasks to accomplish today, and limit yourself to only 3 projects.
4. Prioritize. Once you’ve set the limits, you can take a look at your long list of tasks and projects, and choose which ones you’re going to focus on. Which tasks and projects are the most important? NOT the most urgent, but the ones that will get you the furthest on your journey. Which ones will have the most impact? Often some tasks and projects will seem urgent, but it’s only in our head. If you ignore them, they often lose their urgency (not always, but many times).
5. Eliminate. These are the ones you chose that were not your priorities. Can any of these be eliminated? Any that you can put on a someday list? Any that can be delegated or automated? You don’t need to do everything on your list — Cross if off!
6. Give up some commitments. This may be a time you give up some commitments that you made but just can't seem to do at this time. Go to the person or people you’ve committed yourself to, whether that be a boss or a client or a team or a spouse or friend, and tell them honestly that you just cannot do everything on your plate right now, and ask for a different deadline or timeline. Can they wait a week? A month? Set a new date, and try to stick to it.
7. Take time off. Take some time for yourself. Even if it’s a total of 1 hour. Use that hour to regroup, take a deep breath, and re-center your focus and energy. That will mean renegotiating everything on your list, probably, so that you don’t feel stressed while taking time out or overwhelmed when you get back. Push everything back a week, two weeks, or a month, depending on the commitment, so that you don’t have anything urgent when you get back. Then take time off, and don’t do any work. Don’t even think about work. Do that when you get back — upon returning to work, take at least 30-60 minutes to prioritize and plan so that you can focus on your most important projects and not be overwhelmed (see next step).
8. Create the ideal workday. What would your ideal workday be? When would you work on your most important tasks? When would you start and end? When would you take breaks, hold meetings, have lunch? I suggest mapping out your ideal workday, with blocks of time for certain types of tasks. For example, I might choose 2 hours in the morning to write my plans for bootcamp, another hour for communication (email, facebook etc), 2 more hours to work on my most important project, an hour to exercise, an hour for smaller tasks, etc. By creating this plan (and sticking to it as much as possible), you create a structure that will prevent you from becoming overwhelmed, thus helping you be the most effective during your day.
De-stressing can increase your success rate of your healthy journey.