We all get our fair share of it. That heavy or stressed feeling that there’s so much to do, you don’t know where to start, especially if you’re juggling work and kids.
Not to mention, we live in the age of distraction with a hankering for instant gratification making some days feel like you haven’t made it very far.
Overwhelmia is awful and can render you unproductive with the simplest of tasks on your to-do list. Instead, the thought of getting done what you need to makes you feel exhausted.
So here’s a few simple strategies I find helps when I’m in a hole!:
Reduce the multi-task. Focus on something until it’s done.
I know I know. That’s your special woman magic right? It’s the switching between tasks that’s the problem. You lose time and energy in trying to pick up where you left off. Contrary to popular belief, your brain isn’t cut out for it.
There’s no shortage of published research from neuroscientists proving this. It shows only a small percentage of us is capable of multitasking effectively – the rest of us are walking around like halfwits when we switch back and forth.
When my twins were three, I was working from home thanks to a weekly arrangement with my employer. Every Wednesday I moved my computer into the living room and had one eye on the screen and the other on my kids (in front of another screen). I was also going between the kitchen where dinner was slowly progressing and the washing line where a basket of clothes was being hung up in stages. And I had the bath running for a good measure. The point is despite several hours, and all my energy, nothing was really getting done. I was wandering around aimlessly between each task with my head all over the place. It was tiring and of course the damn bath overflowed and flooded the carpet too.
If you’re doing laundry with one eye on the kids, don’t run between making dinner and sending business emails. Stay on it until it’s done rather than coming back to it several times. It’s a lot faster I promise. Note: I don’t view drinking wine as a ‘task’. That one can run alongside most things.
Batch stuff together
With thanks to Timothy Ferris and his famous ‘4-hour Work Week’ book. Audit how you run your weeks to see where time can be clawed back. It can be a real eye opener.
For example, why do we visit the supermarket several times a week? It’s crazy. Just because it’s open all the time doesn’t mean you should hang out there more than you want to. Plan your meals and go once. Remember how the Baby Boomers only went once a week as we were growing up? How liberating! Same goes for bills – chuck into a folder and pay every four weeks in one go. Or tending to the kids’ school admin tasks, which can suck up time logging in and out of apps (especially if you’re dealing with more than one school). Schedule 20 minutes once a week to stay on top of it in one go. Which is a great segue to the next tip.
A weekly schedule with EVERYTHING
This sounds too obvious and boring but here’s one of my favourites for smacking away overwhelmia. Thank you Robin Sharma. On a Sunday, get a piece of paper and draw up a table for the week: seven columns for each day and three rows for morning, afternoon and night. Then start entering in all your commitments and the tasks you want to achieve, beginning with the non-negotiables. The idea is unless it’s scheduled, it doesn’t get done. I include exercise, blocks for getting work done, spots for things I don’t want to do, appointments, social stuff, kids activities, grocery shopping etc. In other words, EVERYTHING. And make sure you reasonably allow for things like travel time etc.
It can take 30-60 minutes but it’s an investment in your mental health! Two important things will happen: you’ll identify a problem in advance (this usually relates to me forgetting to book a babysitter or communicating with my husband about my travel etc.) and you’ll understand whether you can fit anything else in that pops up. It’s amazing what clarity can do when you’re suffering a bout of overwhelmia.
Put blockers in place to stop the energy leaks
This depends on your habits and what you find is slowing you down. For example, do you need to hear, watch or read news more than once a day? It doesn’t change that much and it’s a distraction. Do you need to get Insta or Facebook off your phone for a period of time every once in a while, if the scrolling habit is out of control?
Sometimes the sheer volume of text messages, Messenger or Whatsapp chats back and forth gets too much. Do you need to respond less to the low priority ones or even quietly exit some? On that note, sort out your phone notifications so you’re not constantly being interrupted.
Also say NO to stuff! I’m referring here to little things AND big things. When you’re clear on your priorities and the realistic schedule that supports them, it much easier to say no because you’ll feel quite genuine about it. Rather than going along with someone else’s agenda because you couldn’t scramble an excuse together in time without feeling awkward.
Complete a survey? Nope. Join our store club? Sorry. Help out with X, Y and Z at the last minute? Another time. Go out for lunch when you really can’t? No thanks. It’s liberating to guard your diary and only do what’s right for you.
Dump it, delegate it or do it
Take a ruthless look at your to-do list and sort into three categories. What can you dump or delete that’s not in line with your priorities? Is there something that’s been hanging on there like a bad smell for a while? What can you ask someone else to do? Delegating to my husband is a good one for me since I automatically tend to take stuff on in the first instance myself. And finally what do you just need to push through on and get done.
When it comes to your daily to-do list, I like to hone in on three or four non-negotiables to keep my focus where it needs to be once the distractions start rolling in. I get clear and set my intentions first thing BEFORE I check my phone, emails or social media etc. Otherwise my phone and other external factors end up dictating my day, not the other way around. It’s a tiny shift that springs results.
Of course there’s other obvious things. Outsource certain chores if you can and stay on top of your exercise. There’s some great books as well. I’m a huge fan of ‘The Five Second Rule’ by Mel Robbins or Timothy Ferris who I mentioned earlier. Just remember, you are the only authority on your life. You need to run it rather than let it run you.