When was the last time you felt ahead of the game because you were lacking items on your to do list? For me, if I ever felt that way, it was so long ago that I don’t remember. But even with a mile long to do list we can still learn how to be more productive and less overwhelmed.
I have a bad tendency of adding things onto my to do list faster than I can cross things off. Do you ever feel that way too? It can be really frustrating that’s for sure. For me, I’ve come to accept that there will always be things on my to do list. Simply coming to terms with that fact has helped me stop obsessing about the number of things I have to do, which helps keep me going.
The Paralyzing Grip Of Feeling Overwhelmed
I was watching a movie on the plane the other day, The Single Moms Club, and one of the scenes stuck with me. A newly single mother of 3 young children, Hillary, is struggling to watch her kids all alone for the first time. Newly divorced and suddenly having to take charge of her own finances, she just let go of her long term housekeeper, who was more of a mother to her kids than she was.
In this scene, Hillary can’t get her baby to stop crying while her middle child runs circles around her, and her eldest storms off furious that the housekeeper is gone. The overwhelmed Hillary starts sobbing in frustration when her soon to be friend Lytia, another single mom who is struggling to make ends meet, comes knocking on her door.
1. Stop Over Thinking!
Seeing the frazzled state that Hillary is in, Lytia swoops in, and calms the kids down instantly without batting an eye as Hillary looks on in awe. Lytia explains, “You can’t think about it or it’s overwhelming. You take one snotty nose and one dirty diaper at a time.”
I liked this scene a lot because I have a bad habit of over thinking things and getting overwhelmed before I even give myself a chance to tackle what’s at hand. Our emotions can get the better of us and have quite a negative impact on our productivity if we don’t keep them in check.
So instead of thinking things like, “I have so much to do and there’s no way I can get any of this done” or “I’m so stressed out I don’t know where to start!”, take a deep breath and pick one thing you can start working on right away. Putting yourself in motion will quickly get those suffocating feelings of drowning to subside. Avoid standing still and over thinking things so you won’t get stuck.
2. Experiment With Hyper Focusing
Hyper focusing is a productivity method that involves taking the largest chunks of time you have each day to work on one specific task or goal in order to do it extremely well. It contrasts to working on multiple aspects of a project simultaneously, a little bit of each at a time.
The risks with hyper focusing are that you spend a lot amount of time perfecting something that may not end up being important. Or you could fail to succeed at perfecting your goal and end up losing all of that time in the process that you could have been working on other things on the side.
On the other hand, the benefits of hyper focusing are that the likelihood of achieving above average results is high. And by keeping focused on just one thing, you will see faster results on your task at hand.
One example of hyper focusing is living abroad for six months to learn a new language instead of attending language classes once a week for several years. Hyper focusing is all about immersion and concentration.
We’ve all suffered from burn out. I’m actually going through a bit of blogging burn out myself right now. I have a lot going on in my personal life, and I haven’t been able to keep up with visiting and commenting on other blogs like I normally do. Since publishing regularly is very important to me even being burnt out, I decided to put some of my normal blogging tasks on the back burner in order to keep me going with writing. That has given me enough of a stress release to at least keep my publishing schedule on track while I sort out other things.
Other great releases you can use to help stay productive and be less overwhelmed are exercise and getting help from others. I used to be rather stubborn and thought I could do everything by myself. That foolishness slowed down my productivity because I got so stressed to the point I couldn’t think straight. And my productivity grinded to a halt.
Going for a run to clear your head, having a quick coffee break with a friend, or delegating some of your to dos can give you a much needed release that will boost your productivity.
4. Motivation First, Abilities Second
We need both motivation and abilities in order to get things done. But between the two, motivation can be improved a lot faster than your actual abilities. And the more motivated you are, the better you’ll be at developing the skills you need to get your work done.
Without motivation, why bother trying to get things done? So go get pumped about the benefits of completing the items on your to do list and use your excitement to propel you to research, take training classes, watch how to videos, and learn on the job.
5. Get Good At Being Organized
I’m a bit of an odd ball, but I get excited when someone asks me to organize something. I’m the type of person who can’t have a cluttered desktop on my computer, and needs a clean workstation in order to think straight. Although I might be slow at things like writing, I’m really fast at finding files, knowing where things are around the office and at home, and rarely lose items.
Being more organized than the average person has definitely helped me be more productive. It helps me focus and keep track of multiple things at once. So if organization doesn’t come naturally to you, I encourage you to work on getting more organized. It will help you be more productive and reduce stress in the process as well.
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Updated for 2016 and beyond
Greer Parry says
Being overwhelmed is a real problem for me. Will definitely give hyperfocusing a go. I find prioritizing is important to ensure the important jobs get done first because (like a lot of people I guess) I realize that their isn’t really enough time to get everything done, especially at work.
Hyper focusing sounds like something I will experiment with. I tend to get sidetracked when doing things like blogging and reading, so maybe setting aside a chink of time for one task, even if I don’t finish it, would be a better strategy. I really agree with the idea of just doing one tangible thing when you feel overwhelmed. Something as simple as washing the dishes or folding the laundry can help clear your mind and take one thing off the to do list.
Yeah even if it’s something small, it’s still one less thing to do later on. I have to remind myself not to do too many little things so I don’t end up putting off bigger projects.
Poor Student says
My problem for me is that I over plan things… I try not to be overwhelmed by making plans so I can divide all the things in my to-do list into smaller doable activities.The thing is, I end up only making plans and procrastinate the things that I actually have to do…
Really liked this, Sydney. I’m feeling this way very much these days. I never measure what I do get done, only what is left on my list. It’s kind of a negative way to look at it and I need to remind myself of all I accomplish in my personal life and at work. Because when you have things piling up everywhere you just feel overwhelmed!
I like #1, as I also have a bad habit of overthinking things. If multiple tasks get thrown at me I get a little overwhelmed. Taking things one at a time and prioritizing has really helped. I have also definitely been foolishly stubborn before, wanting to complete everything myself. It’s so much easier when you put pride aside and ask for help.