If you’re like me, you’re probably freaking out that it’s already February. I feel like just last week it was September and now we’re already to February. Where did the time go?! I’ve got a lot to do and no time to do it. Today I talk about how to stay motivated when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed. So many people and things are competing for our 24 hours a day; partner, kids, boss, coworkers, employees, those we volunteer with, social media, civic commitments and responsibilities, etc. Sometimes it can be hard to stay on track when we’re being pulled in so many different directions all the time.
Have you ever been in an interview where they ask you, “How do you prioritize multiple work projects?” Its such a lopsided question because you don’t have enough facts about each project. You don’t know how many projects you’re working with, their individual deadlines, which projects are most important, etc. It’s like saying a+b+c+d=45, solve for a, b, c, and d. You need more information. There are too many variables to solve as is.
Fortunately when it comes to staying motivated when you’re overwhelmed you have some options. Some may work for you, others may not. Experiment and see which of these fit best with your lifestyle. Then use them next time the overwhelm is starting to build up.
Prioritize. Make a list of everything that needs to get done. Every single thing. Don’t assume that a task is too small to put on your prioritization list. When you do that, you fool yourself into thinking you have less to do, and that alone can create an overwhelming feeling.
Then prioritize each item in a way that makes sense to you. It may be by which things take the longest and shortest time to get done. It may be by rating which thing(s) are the most urgent down to which aren’t time sensitive. If you use a prioritization system that is meaningful to you, you’ll have a better chance of getting things done on your terms.
Use overwhelm to your advantage. When your time is limited, you have to be strategic with how you use it. I always find, that I’m more productive when my time is limited. Maybe because I need a fire lit under me. If I have lots of free time, I will waste it. But when it’s crunch time, I can get shiznit done! It’s like when I’m having anaphylactic shock and I’m have trouble breathing, then I get an EpiPen shot and the adrenaline floods my body. Okay, so if you’ve never gone into anaphylactic shock, that might be an examples that you don’t understand.
Divide and conquer. If you don’t have time to physically get everything done that needs to get done, consider outsourcing it. Are their things you’re partner and/or kids could do for you? If there are things you dread doing, like cooking or cleaning, consider paying someone to do these things. Find people that you can trade jobs with, where each of you does things you like best. If you like grocery shopping, offer to do that for someone who hates it. Then they do something for you that they love doing and you hate doing, say take the dog for a walk. Trading jobs allows people to do the things they like while taking away the dreaded tasks from others.
Along those same lines, ask for help. In my experience most people want to help. They just need to be asked and then given tasks. If they don’t know you need help, they can’t offer it. Reach out to those around you. Then reciprocate when they need it.
I’ve even seen neighbors ask each us for help in the Nextdoor app. If you’re not familiar it’s an app that allows you to communicate with your neighbors even if you don’t interact with them in person (that’s me!) I’ve seen people rush to the help of others they barely know. Everything from helping stuff envelopes for a real estate agent, to helping paint a garage, and miscellaneous help around the house.
Batch work. Group similar tasks together to get them done faster. Read and reply to emails, make calls to clients, and researching information require different skill sets. Set aside time to complete each kind of task.
As this article points out the brain isn’t designed for heavy duty multitasking. It takes it a while to readjust for a new task. My first job out of college I read that it takes 15 minutes for the brain to catch up when you switch tasks. This article says now that
Don’t panic. Stressing about everything you need to get done can stop you in your tracks, which is counterproductive. Instead, just keep moving forward. Do what you can when you can. Use down time to your advantage. If you’re sitting in the carpool lane at you’re kids’ school, you can use the wait time to get some little things on. Same with when you’re on the phone sitting on hold, waiting for the cable company, waiting in a doctor’s office waiting room, etc. While you’re making dinner, plan out your schedule for the next day so you can tackle all that you need to get done
Go old school. Fancy planners are great but sometimes you need to go old school. When I was in college, I loved making a color coded calendar for my classes. Start by printing off a blank calendar. Then add all the things you need to get done each day, along with the time it will take. Block off times for each. For example:
Monday 8-9 AM, read and respond to email (red)
Monday 9-10 AM, make client calls (green)
Monday 11-1 PM, research article topics (blue)
Monday 1-3, write blog posts (yellow)
I find that by giving different tasks different colors, it’s easy to see and differentiate all that I need to get done. Also, the act of physically creating the calendar makes me feel more aware and connected to each task that I need to get done.
Set limits, for yourself and others. You can/t be all things to everyone. And you can’t do everything that someone asks of you. There’s just not enough time. Sure, you don’t mind bringing treats to a meeting. But you shouldn’t be the only one being asked to do this week after week, especially at the last minute. And you don’t mind driving carpool but you shouldn’t be the only one being asked to do it. Sure, you’re reliable. That doesn’t mean that you should always be asked to go above and beyond.
Sometimes the best way to prevent overwhelm is to stop committing to every project and event that someone asks/ invites you to. Yes, it’s nice to have people want and need you. But if it’s overwhelming and exhausting then it’s counterproductive and you need to put your foot down.
Do the things that mean the most to you. Do the things that bring you joy and politely pass on other things. Those closest to you will understand if you need to decline. And those that get mad are being greedy. If you’re getting overwhelmed, don’t take on as many commitments. You can always say yes as the event gets closer and your schedule permits.
Take a break. Sometimes the best offense is a good defense. Wait, what?! Sorry, with the Super Bowl a few days away, I felt like I had to throw that in there.
When you hit a wall and feel like you can’t get anything done, sometimes the best option is get a way from it. Take a 30 minute break. Go for a walk outside. Do yoga or meditation. Sometimes even a short nap will do the trick. Anything that will leave you refreshed afterwards. Then return to your work feeling relaxed and ready to kick ass.
Feeling overwhelmed can really zap your motivation and productivity. Fortunately, there are things you can do to combat overwhelm and rock your work load. Here’s to staying motivated and productive.
How do you stay motivated and productive when you feel overwhelmed?