Do you every feel overwhelmed? I’m sure we’ve all felt this way, at time or another. But how do you deal with it? I find that a lot of my clients, and my students, report an inability to handle these feelings of overwhelm, which begs the question: is it the tasks that need to get done, or the perception of them. There is a difference.
As one who is very busy, with my fingers in several things, I often feel overwhelmed, such as right now. I just finished teaching one course but started another, and I’m also on my last week for another course; I have a talk I’m giving next week, plus several others, and I run a coaching association, with a meeting next week. When I look at this, I admit my anxiety kicks in a bit as I wonder IF I will get them done. I know logically that they will, as they have in the past, but it doesn’t make me feel any different.
That is the funny thing with feelings – they set the tone for how we think and behave. Perceptions of our situations cause us problems when we believe the stories we tell ourselves. I hear clients say ‘I can’t deal with this,’ or ‘I don’t know if I can get all my tasks done.’ Believing these statements will lead them (and you) exactly where you are now….stuck. I know these feelings and ‘stuckness’ as well.
However, I’ve developed a strategy that works for me, and hopefully, it will for you. Because I’m a very visual person, I need to see what I’m dealing with. The one strategy that works for me is to create a picture of the tasks I have to do, along with the dates. I take a piece of copy paper and made headlines for each task I need to get done, such as one for each school I teach at, each of the talks I’m giving, writing, networking, etc. Then, under each, I list specific steps I can need to take along with a due date. I find that this simple act helps me to be more aware, which helps to relieve any anxious feelings I have, and keeps me feeling in control and focused.
It’s not a hard exercise to do but the results you get from it will decrease any fears and feelings and help you to take action. As an added bonus, I talk to myself, helping me to remember times in the past when I said I couldn’t handle what was on my plate but they got done; this actually is effective to challenge any negatives thoughts and then bounces back positive feelings from previous accomplishments. These work well for me – they can for you, too. Staying in negative patterns doesn’t have to be the norm; you can alter your thought patterns, creating positive habits and getting more done.
I had several clients today who had the same issue going on – they were feeling unfocused, which led to feeling frustrated that they could not accomplish the things they needed to do. I can certainly identify as there are times when I have so many things going on that my head is spinning. I get into overwhelm and have to learn to prioritize, delegate and let go; this is the advice I gave to my clients which may help you.
Before we come to the solutions, I think it’s important to address some possible root-causes for this issue:
- Perfectionism – feeling that you have to be the best or that things have to be perfect actually signals a feeling of not being good enough, but the drive to ensure perfection is exhausting and leads to procrastination
- Low Self-worth – feeling that you don’t deserve to have the things that you want will cause you to put little effort into making them happen and actually leads to lower levels of self-worth, frustration, and depressed feelings
- People Pleasing – feeling that you have to accommodate others wishes, often before your own needs, can have you over-extended in all areas, which results in your tasks not getting done while theirs are
- Poor Time Management – not planning or incorporating enough time to get tasks done will have you playing catch-up or showing up late; the intent might be there but the preparedness and urgency are not
- Medical or Mental Health Issues – being under high stress, anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, or other drug or medical problems can leave one feeling unfocused and unable to get tasks done
There may be others but these are the ‘symptom’s I’ve witnessed that can have an adverse effect on one’s life. Now, for some solutions to help put tasks more in focus and done:
- I think it’s important to track your activities and time spent on them during the day; it’s amazing how many time-wasters we involve ourselves in, i.e. surfing the internet or social media sites, games, watching TV.
- Armed with this info, schedule times for these activities but not until after your important ones are worked on or completed
- List out all the activities you feel you need to do, in all areas of your life (health, home, family, school, work, etc.), along with the due dates, and then prioritize them by order of importance. Place those in your schedule.
- Develop checklists or use a whiteboard – these help to give us a visual representation of what we’re faced with as well as feeling more accomplished once that item is checked off
- Use a timer, such as on your cell phone, for tasks – this forces you to focus but for a short period of time; it’s amazing how easy it is to keep going on a task when you know you only have to sustain that activity for a short window of time, like 5 or 10 minutes – you keep on increasing that time daily which then creates a new habit (without feeling like one)
Feeling unfocused can have a huge negative impact on one’s life so identifying the source and then using strategies, like the ones above, will help you regain that focus, get more accomplished, and feel successful in the end!
If you consider yourself and expert at doing multiple things at the same time, you might want to rethink that. Multitasking, or doing several activities at the same time, has become the norm for most of us as we try to juggle our busy lives. Talking on the phone, while you are having a phone conversation, jotting notes while sitting in a meeting, or texting and driving may seem to help you get more done but, according to the latest research, multitasking is not only a myth but is also bad for you in several ways.
When you perform several functions at the same time, they actually may arise from the same part of the brain and are, essentially, competing against each other for your attention. According to the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory, at the University of Michigan, when you perform multiple tasks that each require the same processing channels, “conflicts will arise between the tasks and you’re going to have to pick and choose which task you’re going to focus on and devote a channel of processing to it.” Essentially, the brain can’t handle two functions at the same time; it actually switches back and forth between activities you are engaged in but it does so between the language channels. Depending on how you process information, this switch can occur quickly making it seem as if you are doing tasks at the same time.
However, while it may seem to help you cross items off your ‘To Do” list, the act of multitasking can actually create more stress for you, as over time as your lists get longer and results need to occur faster. The brain will shut down when it feels overloaded, shutting down certain functions like critical thinking. The more you try to do will actually create more stress and, according to the Brain lab mentioned earlier,those tasks can take “50 percent more time or longer to complete, depending on the complexity of those tasks.”
So what can you do if you are a multitasker (I admit to being in this group)? Here are 3 ways to make more use of your time and get more done:
1. Self-regulate – Know exactly what is on your plate, so to speak, and when you need them done. It can often seem as if there is too much to do so understanding exactly what is on the task list will help you to prioritize. List every activity you feel needs to get done (you can categorize them if that helps, i.e. finances, household, work, etc.) and then list out due dates for completion
2. Time-manage – Know how you work best, such as the time of day you are most productive. If you have several projects that need done, plan for how long it might take to complete, or commit to working on a task for a block of time
3. Schedule – Once you know tasks and time, you can now put them into your planner, Outlook, wall calendar or whichever way works best for you. Scheduling allows you time to think, plan, and then act on your projects until they get done
As you can see, multitasking is not an art but a myth. Uncover your activities and then scheduling time to work on them will put you more in control – you might be surprised at how much you actually get done, and you might be safer in the process!