My State of Overwhelm


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Yesterday I fell into a state of overwhelm. I’ve had some personal/family worries going on plus a number of significant and unpredicted work projects that landed on me in the past week, which not only raised my level of anxiety but are also squeezing me to get more done in a relatively short period of time.

My initial reaction was to feel immobilized, not knowing where to start or how to proceed in dealing with these challenges. It seemed like they were all not only big but of equal importance. So I spent my day shifting my attention back and forth from one task to another, in the end feeling quite unproductive and emotionally unsettled.

So today, I took a step back to think through a better process for managing all that I have on my plate. Here are my thoughts. Hopefully, they can be helpful to you, as well.

First, I took a few minutes to pause and breathe. Even though everything in my body and soul wanted to speed up, I knew that was the wrong reaction. I needed to calm myself. I did so by sitting in a recliner, took in some deep breaths, and focused on my breathing, releasing stress each time I exhaled.

Second, I channeled my energy in a positive way by organizing the room and physical space in which I would be working. I organized my inbox, consolidated a few files, got rid of some clutter, and even took a few minutes to dust my office furniture. The value of this step was to get some positive momentum going and feel the success of getting something done. Maybe it doesn’t work this way for everyone, but it does for me. Doing a little cleaning and organizing helps settle my mind.

Third, I turned my attention to all of the projects, demands, or worries that were weighing on me. I wrote each down on a sheet of paper, not the details, just a word or phrase that captured each concern. By the time I’d finished writing I had a list of about twenty items. Some were big (producing an online course on the topic of a book I’m publishing), some smaller but urgent (writing a speech I’d be giving later in the week, writing this blog post), and some more personal and emotional (the passing of a friend, a surgery of my brother).

As a next step I prioritized my list of tasks and concerns. Using a gut-feel, based on importance, urgency, and emotional impact, I numbered them from one to twenty. Writing them down and prioritizing gave me a little more perspective. Things started to feel manageable and less overwhelming.

Next, I wrote down a date by when each needed to be addressed or accomplished.

Then I made a decision about what to do with each of item. A few went on a to-do list for the day. I would be able to dispose of them pretty quickly. Most were bigger and so would require more thought, planning, and energy. I wrote down the highest priority and, if I hadn’t done so already, made a list of four or five actions to either deal with or complete it. I did the same for priority two and so on. For the bigger projects, the actions were not a comprehensive list but rather a high level list that framed the major steps to complete the project.

Naming, prioritizing, identifying actions and a time frame for each concern allowed me to feel like I was moving forward. My list, still big, was manageable. I could now schedule what I could do today and this week into my weekly and daily plan.

So my final step was to open my calendar and do some time blocking. I find I’m not very efficient if I try to give attention to too many priorities any given day. Feeling overwhelmed causes me to do that, flit from one thing to another in an unproductive way. Instead, I scheduled three hours of uninterrupted time for priority one on Tuesday, an hour for priority two on Wednesday evening, and two hours for another priority on Friday. Some items were pushed out a few weeks. Another project, a couple of months. I even said “no” to a couple of demands. I simply can’t handle everything. Nor can I do everything at once. But I have a plan so things are manageable.

Now I have to get to work. I do my best to be mindful while working. I choose to give full attention to the task at hand and let go of anything else, email, phone calls, and other distractions. I lock myself in my room and make all the headway I can and then stop, take a break to renew my mind, body, and spirit, and move on to another activity.

What I’m talking about is not complex. I suppose it’s a simple form of time management. Call it what you will. What I know is that it’s a useful process if I’m feeling worried, stressed, or unproductive. It’s a way for me to get back on top of things.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

5 responses to “My State of Overwhelm”

  1. Jim Arbuckle says:

    Hi Roger,
    I always enjoy your blog. Thanks for doing it, and thanks for being a friend all of these years.
    Jean and I are going to retire this June and go have some fun; maybe do some traveling. I am turning my business over to my son. We are hoping to live off of the cash flow on our properties.
    I hope all is well with you and your family.
    JIm

  2. Joe Merino says:

    Roger:
    Thanks for that short but most useful advice. This last week I was in a state of mucho overwhelm – my purchase of a small home, my shifts at the temple that were interfering with my assignments on the high council and the Spanish-speaking branch; my small talk to be given at a family history fireside, the death of my good friends’ mother whom I have known for 50 years, my concern for my mothers deteriorating health in the last few weeks; and my desire to not let ANYTHING slip through the cracks!!! So, what happened? My mother passed away peacefully in her sleep 2 days ago here in St. George. Luckily my sister and niece made it in time to say good bye and to stay an extra day to help in the arrangements of getting mom back to San Diego for her services and burials. My mom is still here; we are awaiting permission to transport her across state lines, but at least the paper work is in the right hands in SLC. Right now I am taking deep breaths and letting the stress leave me more settled and comfortable. Now I will see if I can successfully do as you suggest. and accomplish in proper order what needs to be done. Thanks.

    • Roger Allen says:

      Hi Joseph. I can appreciate that you were in a state of overwhelm. You had a lot going on. My consolences on the passing of your mother. I think that a lot of our overwhelm is not just the amount on our plates but emotional impact of many of these concerns. I’m glad you’re able to take some deep breaths and let some of the stress go. Roger

  3. Rich Forrest says:

    Roger,
    I’ve been involved with hi-tech gadgets for so long that I forgot there are some really effective paper-based products that are more effective than the electronic ones. One such product that I’ve used for 5 years now is the Planner Pad. I felt like it was taking a step into the past but it’s simple yet very effective in design provides sections for just the type of big picture planning, narrowing, and assigning time that you described in your blog. I’ve found it quite effective at taking the overwhelming and filtering it down to manageable daily tasks that can be a day and time for accomplishment, while still keeping an eye on the big picture and the key actions / deliverables required. With this I feel like I’m accomplishing something positive every day. You might be interested in taking a moment to check this out, and no I don’t work for or represent them in any way. I just got tired of being overwhelmed and this worked for me.
    You’ve done it manually and can continue on that way. I just got to the point that I found a tool that was formatted to encourage the same thought process. By the way, simple tasks and appointments that are no-brainers can be scheduled as well. I think it’s a nice all-around tool.

    https://plannerpads.com/concept.asp

    • Roger Allen says:

      Hi Rich. I appreciate your comment and recommendation. I certainly trust your judgment and will check this out. I use the FranklinCovey planner and find it effective. Like you, I like paper planners rather than electronic. They are simple and effective. Roger

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