Overwhelm is the pits, isn’t it?
It feels like you have a backpack full of rocks on your shoulders, dragging you down and backward at every opportunity.
It’s heavy and hard and no matter how much you seem to mentally push back against it, it doesn’t get any easier. You’re stuck, you’re stressed and you’re about to lose your sh*t.
Here are the common signs of overwhelm;
– You don’t know where to begin no matter how much you think
– You’re not physically or mentally able to start your task at hand
– You procrastinate and do everything BUT the task you’ve set for yourself
– You get headaches or backaches from too much stress
– You forget important things
So what can you do?
Step 1 – Stop
I was recently on a spa day with my sister who couldn’t relax and was extremely overwhelmed. She’d got too much on and too little time; building work in her home, a weekend away she hadn’t packed for, Christmas decorations and faulty Christmas lights were strewn around her house and her daughter had a school performance that night.
With the spa date too, it was too much. She had over-committed and had too little time to do everything. In the absence of a time machine or pulling an all-nighter it was time to stop, breathe and refocus.
When your brain is whirring and whizzing with too much, staying in that frantic energy is not going to help you. I am someone who sits comfortably in frantic energy so stopping and taking a moment feels like you’re asking me to climb Everest. I’m the type of person who will sit at my computer and click tab after tab, hoping for a magical solution to make all the tasks go away. I’ve got better at stepping away from my desk, facing my window that looks out over some green fields, and stopping, shutting my eyes, and taking some slow deep breaths.
It doesn’t always work and I will often stay sat in my sh*t, stressing and flapping but even writing this out to you now will help me remember that this is the first step to stopping the overwhelm next time I feel I can’t catch my breath.
Step 2 – Audit
Once you’ve stopped and taken a breath, get a pen and paper and speed-write a list of all of the things that are piling up on your to-do list.
In my sister’s case, for me being an outsider, it was obvious. The Christmas decorations were a mess but they weren’t a non-negotiable task that absolutely had to be done.
“Shut the door on that room and tackle it when you come back,” I said to her. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Her neat freak personality was going to think about the mess all weekend. I know many people struggle to relax when their homes are not orderly, but when time is of the essence you’ve got to draw a line through anything that isn’t urgent and important.
My overwhelm is almost always linked to work tasks. The nature of my work is very deadline driven and working with multiple clients means that I not only write this audit list but I put time estimates next to each task and grade them by importance. At the moment it feels like EVERYTHING is important but looking at the list, looking at the time estimates, and cross-referencing it with my schedule soon gives me a clearer perspective of what needs to be prioritised.
Once I have that list in front of me and know I can’t possibly do it all, it’s time for step 3.
Step 3 – Use the Eisenhower Matrix
Once you have your list of tasks, you could also divide them into these four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix. Yes, I know this is a wanky corporate thing and you’ve probably seen this on a bajillion PowerPoint presentations but have you ever tried it for your personal stuff? Give it a go before you think it’s just for work stuff.
Urgent and Important – REDUCE
This is crisis management. When it comes to festive stuff, a lot ends up here because of last post dates or stuff that’s needed for Christmas dinner.
Not Urgent but Important – SCHEDULE
Can you schedule it in? Perhaps add it to your online calendar, set some alarms or ask someone to keep you accountable.
Urgent but Not Important – DELEGATE
So this needs to be done, but by whom? Could you delegate this to someone else?
Urgent and Not Important – DELETE
This needs to go! Scrub it off the to-do list, it’s just adding to the overwhelm.
A Tool For Prioritisation
The Eisenhower Matrix was named after President Eisenhower who was known for his excellent organisation skills and commitment to doing tasks that were both urgent and important.
The Matrix is a great tool for prioritisation and improving productivity and time management. For me though, it’s one of the best ways to organise and prioritise an overflowing to-do list according to how urgent and important your tasks are.
Step 4 – Communicate
You’ve done the Eisenhower Matrix and it’s time to communicate and either reset some deadlines with others or get some help.
That might be a conversation with your boss or team about the things you can’t possibly get done before Christmas.
It could be a request to your partner, friend or loved one for help – whether that’s with the Christmas shopping or childcare or getting the house ready for visitors.
If you don’t speak up and ask for help, you’re going to stay stuck in overwhelm.
Consider starting a message or call like this
“Hey so I’m at a point where I’ve reached my limit, I’m really stressed and overwhelmed and I’m hoping you might be able to help me?”
Step 5 – Put it in the F*ck It Bucket
If there’s anything on your matrix in the final ‘declutter’ quadrant that you can’t possibly fit in, it’s time to eliminate it.
I like to imagine it heading into my imaginary F*ck it Bucket! Because I can’t possibly give any more energy to this issue if it goes in the declutter box.
I hope that helps you feel less overwhelmed this festive season. I know there’s a lot to do but with a bit of head space, you can do it!
For more tips on productivity check out my books
Gemma Ray is radio presenter, best selling author, communications coach and always the most filthy person in a WhatsApp group chat. Gemma tells it like it is and opens up about the stuff most people would never even dare admit to themselves, let alone put out in public.
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