Getting on Top of Overwhelm

Overwhelm is something that is more and more common these days. I don’t recall feeling overwhelmed until about 15 years ago or so. I believe it’s more common because the problems and decisions we have are more complicated in that there are so many more options. 

I coach lots of people dealing with overwhelm.

Our brains are the biggest consumers of energy. It is designed to solve problems. Overwhelm is our brain screaming that there’s too many problems to solve/too many options and that it can’t handle it. 

Overwhelm is not actually a problem. It’s an indicator that you have served your brain too many problems and options.

The solution is to reduce the number of problems that you are giving your brain to solve.

I want to offer three strategies to implement this reduction.

???? Get really efficient at making decisions. We make around 35K decisions per day. Everything from what to eat to what to wear to what to think. When you are inefficient at making decisions, you use up a lot of energy because you have to think about it longer.

Here’s a process I use to efficiently make decisions.

  • Define the decision
  • List all the options
  • Cross out any options you know you won’t do
  • Visualize yourself doing all the options and note how you feel
  • Pick the one that feels the best
  • Alternatively, give each option a number and roll a die until you get one of the numbers. If you feel disappointed, throw that option out and repeat until you get to the one that feels like a “hell yeah”. This is my favorite method as it is quick and quite effective.

Don’t allow your brain to indulge in second guessing. If it doesn’t work out, chalk it up as a learning and make a new decision. Failure is required to grow. The faster you do it, the further ahead you will be.

???? Close your open loops. An open loop is a decision you have already made, but haven’t executed yet. The brain will focus on these and keep you thinking about them over and over again because it doesn’t like open problems. It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect if you want to go geek out on a google search. It’s like having lots of open tabs in your browser. That slows your browser way down and it does the same to your brain.

Here’s a process I use to close open loops:

  • Write down all the open loops (you’ve committed but haven’t executed)
  • Pick one and knock it off or delegate it
  • Repeat

????Practice constraint. Limit the number of new problems you are allowing your brain to work on. 

  • Make as many decisions ahead of time that you possibly can. What to eat, what to wear, what time to exercise. Your brain uses energy more efficiently when things are on autopilot.
  • Say no to additional projects/tasks if you are feeling overwhelmed. You want to get back to a baseline of equilibrium before you consider anything new
  • Retire your massive to do list. Seeing all the things that aren’t done puts the brain into a tizzy. Focus on the three things you want to accomplish today. If you get them all done, add another if you feel like you have the energy for it.
  • Limit your input of negative and potential problems. Our brains are always listening. When you allow negative stories and problems in, your brain goes to work trying to solve them. My opinion is that I have enough of my own problems to solve without taking on everyone else’s.
  • Eliminate task switching. I think I hear the word multitasking at least 20 times a day. It’s used in the context of being super productive and being able to handle it all. I’m here to tell you that multitasking is a lie. Let’s call it what it really is. Multitasking is task switching and there is a large body of research that indicates that it is the enemy of productivity and that you use 28% more energy when you do it. Stop doing it. Focus on one thing and get it knocked out before you move on to the next thing.

These three strategies will go a long way in minimizing how often you are overwhelmed. Pick one and put it into practice.

PS. I help people stop overworking. I went from 80 hours a week to 30. I can help you do it too. It’s just a matter of reprogramming some inefficient work habits. Get to know me here.