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Have you ever felt overwhelmed or stressed? In today’s world, we are getting busier and busier. There are increasingly more demands on our time so how we use our time is absolutely vital. I recently outlined 15 Tips You Can Use Immediately to Increase Your Productivity but there is one factor above all that we must deal with before we can even look at increasing our productivity. That factor is dealing with overwhelm or dealing with stress.

How often have you felt feelings of overwhelm and stress wash over you? There is so much to do and you just don’t know where to get started. Your “to do” list seems to be increasing faster than you can get things done and you don’t know where to start making an indent. You try working harder, longer, faster – but trying to do things faster leads to silly mistakes which at best require rework and additional time (something you already don’t have) or at worst have massive consequences for you, your work and your company. It all just seems too much and you feel like throwing in the towel!! Does that sound familer? Is overwhelm a feeling you deal with constantly?

For me, feeling overwhelmed and stressed is something I used to face often and I had to get really honest with myeslf. Continually having feelings of overwhelm and stress was not great for my health, my happiness or my productivity. It almost seemed like the more work I had, the less productive I got which stressed me out and overwhelmed me even more. It seemed like a completely negative spiral, which is what I now call The Negative Spiral of Overwhelm and Stress.

So below are my top thirteen tips on how to get yourself out of The Negative Spiral of Overwhelm and Stress, start being productive and moving forwards once again.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #1: Be Courageous: Recognise and Accept when you are feeling Overwhelmed. You need to be honest with yourself and admit that you’re overwhelmed and it feels like things are getting out of hand. For many men, this is tough to do because we feel we have to be in control, which is complete rubbish. It takes courage to be honest and it is only once we accept the truth that we can make a change. So acknowledge that you feel lke things are getting out of control.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #2: Stop! Take A Break! When we’re overwhelmed, we have a tendency to keep working harder and harder, thinking that’s the only way to get out of the situation. That would be like if someone who has a problem sticking to budget kept spending to get their way out of trouble, or if an alcoholic kept drinking to sober up. Sounds dumb right!! Just as dumb as trying to work your way out of feeling overwhelmed.
Instead, take a break. If nothing else, get up and go grab a glass of water. Just moving your body will help you change your state, and that will change your mindset. For me, when I can, I’ll take a long break and go to the gym. The exercise and the moving of my body gets me back into a more positive state of mind. The greater benefit is that the break allow my subconscious to go to work for me and it’s amazing how I am able to find a solution the moment I return to my desk after a good workout.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #3: Make A List. This is something many of us resist. I know I did – I figured I was intelligent and I could remember everything. Besides, writing things down was only going to take  me more time and I did not have any time to start off with. Can you imagine someone who was trying to cut down a tree with a saw but he never stopped to sharpen his saw because he said he was too busy? I’m sure you can see that if he just took a few minutes to stop and sharpen his saw, he’d be far more effective, productive and he’d get the job done in a lot less time. Consider, your writing of your list as your sharpening of the saw. In fact, Stephen Covey in his brilliant book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about constantly sharpening the saw as the final habit, the habit that allowed the first 6 habits to be supported and allow them to flourish. So make a list of everything you have on your plate right now. Don’t try and order it, just write it down. Often, just being able to see everything you have to do, even if it goes over multiple pages can give you back a sense of control because now at least you know how big the elephant is that you are trying to tackle.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #4: Now write down your timeframes and deadlines next to each one – when do you need to get each task done by?

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #5: Write down approximately how long you think it will take you to get each task done. This is often the hardest step for many of because we don’t know. So at times, you’ll need to just take a guess. What you’ll find is that over time, you will get a pretty good sense of how long something will take you.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #6: Add 30%. Since you don’t know how long things will take you, and because of Murphy’s Law (If something can go wrong, it will), give yourself more time than you think you need.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #7: Now put your list of tasks into order of priority. Don’t just use urgency as the key factor but also use importance. For example, going to the gym is not urgent, but it is probably critically important to your overall health and well being. Make sure your top (yet non-urgent) priorities for your week are scheduled and work your life around that. If you find that you are getting so busy that you don’t get to spend enough time with your kids, with your partner or on your health (ie: on the things you value most!), I guarantee this will only make your feelings of overwhelm even worse.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #8: Eliminate: Congratulations – you are almost there! You now have some sense of order for what is facing you. Instead of stumbling through the tunnel blindfolded, you can now at least see how much work you have to get done. It still may not seem very pleasant but now you can start moving forwards again. However, look at your list and now see what can you eliminate. Are there meetings that are waste of time? Are there tasks you are doing that don’t get you anywhere. Remember that doing a task well that did not need to be done at all, is one of the greatest time wasters there is. So look at what you can eliminate from your schedule.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #9: Outsource and Deligate – Are there tasks you can deligate to a team mate or outsource? Remember, you don’t need to do it all yourself. This is another tough one because people will often tell me that there is nobody else to do the work, or nobody else can do it as well as they can. If it’s the first part I understand. There are certain specialist tasks that only we can take care of. However, if you think nobody else can do it as well as you can, I’d advise you to check again. Is it your ego talking now? Remember, some people, as overwhelmed as they are are and as stressed as they are, actually get a perverse sense of enjoyment from this because it makes them feel significant. We all know people who seem to wear the fact that they are busy as if it was a badge of honour. “I’m so busy” can often be heard being bellowed by these people. Don’t be one of them. Understand that other people can do a job well, if you give them enough training. Sure, that may take more time in the short term, but the longer term benefits of having less on your plate will certainly be worth it. Also, look for opportunities to allow your team around you to step up and take on some of your responsibilities by giving them more challenging tasks. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #10: Creatively Procrastinate - We’re all good at procrastination so let’s use it to our advantage. Look at your list and work out what you need to start now and what can you delay starting. Procrastinate on the low value tasks (even though they may seem easier and perhaps even more enjoyable). I’ve often procrastinated so long on these lower value tasks and focused on more important and higher value tasks for long enough that the low value tasks just dropped off my plate.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #11: Set Expectations - If you know you can’t deliver something for 4 weeks, don’t agree to do it in 2, just to make the client or other staff member feel good. All that’s going to happen is that you’re going to be stressed and overwhelmed and the odds are you’ll let something slip. Either you’ll slip on your promised deadline or the quality of work will slip, both of which will be detrimental to the relationship with the person you promised the deadline to.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #12: Renegotiate: For example, if it is your boss who is putting the pressure on you, take your existing work list and timeframes / deadlines to him. Remember, you did that in steps 5 and 6 and explain that for you to meet the deadline for her new task, something else will need to give. Be very polite and cordial about this but at the same be upfront. More often than not, your boss will be impressed that you are so organised.

Dealing with Overwhelm & Stress #13: Keep Fit and Healthy – Clarity of thought is a key ingredient when dealing with times of high workload and high pressure. A high level of health, fitness and energy will allow you to mentally operate at your optimum levels for longer, increasing your productivity and reducing your chances of entering The Negative Spiral of Overwhelm. An additional benefit is that exercise is a great stress buster and as I said in step 2, it can change your physical state which is sometimes all you need to snap out of your feelings of overwhelm and stress.

So now you know my top thirteen tips for dealing with overwhelm and stress. By knowing these steps, will you now never feel overwhelmed or stressed again? Of course not – the truth is that you will feel overwhelmed again at some point or another. However, by following these steps, not only will the number of times you feel stressed decrease, but whenever you do feel overwhelmed or stress, you will know exactly how to get yourself out of it in just a few minutes. Good luck and I’d love to hear how these 13 steps helped you overcome your stress and overwhelm.

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5 Comments to this post:

  • October 2nd, 2009 | 12:17 pm

    Great Post! Couple of weeks back I went and bought a Magnetic White Board. Now my wife and I write down all the things that we want to do for the week. Whenever I see the white board it reminds me of my priorities for the week. As soon as I complete a task I strike it off in the white board. By the end of the week I know my progress. Been working well for me.

  • Niro Says:
    October 2nd, 2009 | 03:05 pm

    Hi Tech Thinker, that is awesome!! Well done to you for following through and I’m so glad the post was valuable to you.

    All the best,

    Cheers, Niro

  • bee-auty Says:
    September 8th, 2011 | 03:03 am

    Love the post. I already use lists for my objectives and projects that need to get done, but I love adding the timeframes and priorities. Any tips on how to maintain on-going projects (that maybe span over a few months) to daily focus?

  • Grace Says:
    January 17th, 2012 | 11:12 am

    I agree that one way to overcome overwhelm is to get into physical fitness and have be happy about it. It’s a stress relieving way and it’s effective too. I came across a video that tells us about how we can better overcome our low feelings and turn it into positive vibes. It’s a funny video to watch and learn. http://marieforleo.com/2011/02/deal-overwhelm-free-video-workshop/

  • Niro Says:
    February 9th, 2012 | 03:48 pm

    Thanks Grace for sharing.

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