During a recent coaching session with the CEO of a large company he was complaining about the enormous number of items he was juggling at that moment, and feeling quite overwhelmed with all the plates he was spinning.
To be truthful, he was not terribly thrilled when I pointed out that experiencing overwhelm is a choice you make! But, you see it is true. We choose how we feel in every moment. Now that may seem like a tough statement, but it is true. At any given time, we choose our thoughts. We allow overwhelm to build up because we give those thoughts more “air time” in our heads and this builds up over time to increased overwhelm.
We don’t like to accept that we choose our thoughts, but we do. Now, that is a subject for another set of articles, but let us just agree that the state of overwhelm is something that we have allowed to build up – we have chose to give it the aforementioned “air time” and it has now built up to something quite disturbing.
We are now overwhelmed!
As in all cases when overwhelm hits, or indeed any other significant problem, the best approach is to break down all the “stuff”, dismantle it and start to analyze in more detail.
The object of this simple exercise is to determine whether we had just accumulated a “bundle” of work or were we indeed focused on the right things.
You see we are all guilty of accumulating “stuff” and adding it to our to do list. We are guilty of allowing others to “pass the monkey” and then we take on their problems and they become ours!
Overwhelm happens when we lose sight of what is important and our mind starts living in the future.
What I am suggesting here is a process to manage this overwhelm and regain control.
This is such an easy exercise to do, but, guess what? We get too busy to do it, which is pretty insane!
So, if you are feeling the same as my client then here is a quick and easy way to check to see if, as the late Stephen Covey, used to say, “you are leaning your ladder against the right wall”
So here is the exercise:
- Make a list of all the items that are causing you overwhelm – don’t analyze them, just list them so that you have a complete list of all the “stuff” floating around in your head.
- What is your vision? This is not an exercise in creating a vision, but is assuming that we have one! So, it is just a quick recap to remind you of the vision.
- What are the key elements of your strategy? Again, it is just to recap on the 5 or 6 key elements of the strategy. Just the top line, not the detail.
- What are your goals for this year? This is a quick review of what your top goals are – they will be written down somewhere, so it is to remind you of what they are.
- What are your goals for this month? Obviously these are a subset of you annual goals, but I just want you to recall them again.
- Of all the items that are causing you overwhelm, which ones relate to your key goals for this month? You then capture those and separate them from the list you created in No 1.
- You then do an analysis of the items left over and ask yourself the following questions:
- Why are they on my action list? If they do not relate to my key goals, why am I doing them?
- If they are items that need to be completed right now, for whatever reason, then the question is – should I be doing them, or should someone else deal with it? If someone else, I just delegate. If I am satisfied that I need to do them, then must they be done today, or can they be allocated to a future time.
- Should these items be on my radar at all, or have they just landed there because “the item seemed like a good idea” at some stage?
This exercise, which I learned from a coach of mine many years ago, is a wonderfully simple way to a) make sure that the actions you are taking today are the right ones, and b) reduce that awful sense of overwhelm and “busyness” that hits all of us from time to time.
Being focused on the right things ensures a peace of mind that is critical to performing at our best – it frees our mind to be creative and efficient.
I hope this straightforward exercise will help you to focus on the right things, but I would love to hear if you have any tips that really help you to reduce overwhelm – we would all benefit from your experience.
So, let’s hear them!