Copyright 2005 Kathy Gulrich
Amazing thing, overwhelm!
You don’t usually see it coming. It just kind of creeps up on you, doesn’t it?
Even those of us who love juggling a million projects at a time get overwhelmed once in a while. And if you’re happiest with just a couple of projects on your plate? You might be looking at overwhelm a bit more often.
No matter how we like to work, I’d be willing to bet that all of us have been there at least a couple of times. And that we didn’t much enjoy it….
So today I’ll be sharing some practical ways to get out of overwhelm – fast – the next time you’re right smack in the middle of it.
SO WHAT, EXACTLY, IS OVERWHELM?
Overwhelm is not having too many projects on your plate. It’s not getting a really tough assignment. It’s not having to juggle several things at once. Overwhelm is not being uncertain about where to head next.
Overwhelm isn’t about the “what.” It’s about you.
No matter how many, or how crazy the projects you’re working on, they’re only a problem when you feel out of control … or overwhelmed.
So what happens when you’re overwhelmed? It’s a bit different for everyone, of course. But overwhelm does come with some fairly common side effects.
Take a minute to think of the last time you felt overwhelmed. Which of the following did you experience:
• Physical reaction: upset stomach, headache, tiredness, sleeplessness, lack of energy, wired, etc.
• Mental activity: lots of ideas, pros and cons, worries, plans, possibilities, etc. bouncing around in your head
• Emotional reaction: upset, angry, sad, worried, irritable, detached, needy, etc.
However different our physical, mental, or emotional reactions to overwhelm, we usually end up in one place: stuck!
Which brings us to the next part of this article…
ONCE YOU’RE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE OF OVERWHELM, HOW THE HECK DO YOU GET OUT OF IT?
Well, there’s no easy answer to this one.
I think the best strategy is to have lots of strategies. Then, when you’re totally stuck, you can hopefully reach out and find something that’ll work for you!
So here goes….
1 – Do something! Anything.
Find one thing that you can do, right away, to get one of the projects moving – and do it.
The key here is that It doesn’t have to be a big thing, or an important thing. Just take one small step, right away.
Choose the pen you’ll write that article with. Turn on your computer. Fill your water pitcher. Anything you do will help get you out of overwhelm, and into action
2 – Stop at three
I love to have lots of things on my plate. So one of the ways I used to get overwhelmed was to start too many projects at once.
Now (well, most of the time…) I’ve learned to limit myself to a maximum of three big projects at a time.
If there are more than three things I really want to work on, I choose three to start – and tuck the rest away in my “idea box.”
Two benefits from this one.
First, I can avoid overwhelm by limiting the number of projects I’m working on at any one time.
Even better, I always have something to look forward to. And that’s a great incentive for me to finish my active projects!
3 – Prioritize
Hey, I know, I know. When you’re overwhelmed, prioritizing your projects may seem next to impossible.
So I’m not suggesting that you work out your priority list for the next several months – or even then next couple of days.
Keep it simple.
Just decide which project you’re going to tackle first. You don’t have to actually do anything. Just decide what you’ll do first.
You’ll be totally amazed at how much energy that’ll free up for you!
4 – Toss something off your list
Which projects can go?
Someone once suggested a rule to me that’s worked pretty well, so I’ll share:
Every project you work on should have at least three benefits to you or your business.
For example, this newsletter helps me build the smART artist community, and it gives me the opportunity to write regularly (I love to write, so that’s a personal benefit).
It’s a great way to share information with fellow artists.
And the newsletter also provides a forum for announcing whatever new stuff I’m working on.
So those are my three (okay, four…) benefits.
Next time you’re overwhelmed, look at the projects on your list. Which will benefit you in at least three ways? They’re the keepers.
And the projects that don’t have three benefits? Toss ’em!
Once you’re out of overwhelm, come back to the projects you put aside, and see if you’re perfectly happy without them – or if you’d like to tweak them so they do have three benefits for you.
5 – Come back from the future
Ever notice how overwhelm is usually all about the future?
What you’ll do after…
What’ll happen when…
How you’ll feel if you can’t…
How horrible it’ll be if you don’t…
How soon they’ll find out that you…
Stop, stop, STOP!
Take a deep breath, and get a feel for where you are now.
Where are you sitting? What’s around you? Are there any particular sensations in your body? Are you warm, or cool? Can you see outside? Are you alone? With others?
Notice what’s going on right now. In this moment.
And from this space, think of the projects you’d like to work on. (Chances are they’ll be a lot less scary, and not at all overwhelming.)
Where would you like to start?
From “now,” you can go absolutely anywhere you like!