Miscellaneous

3 Steps to Stay Productive When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

So many people I talk to are overwhelmed. They can’t keep up with their to-do lists and escalating requests for their time. Sometimes, they’re confused about what to do next or how to get started. The work keeps piling up, and they are falling further behind.

The good news is that there is a way to deal with this– a way to get ahead. Think about your list of projects like your dinner plate. We can fit only so many things on our plate. Our eyes are often bigger than our stomach, and not wanting to miss a potentially delicious bite, we often put more on our plate than we can consume. When that happens, we feel stuffed, we can’t move, and all we want to do is sit on the couch.

When we follow a diet, however, we have a process for deciding what goes on our dinner plate. The decision is made for us through prepackaged items or lists of what we can and cannot eat. If we follow the diet, we are apt to have more energy, focus, and productivity.

The same principle applies to our project plate. When we are conscious about what goes on our project plate, we can focus, we feel light, and things get done. When we have too many things on our project plate, we feel overwhelmed, are not productive, and can be frozen by inaction.

The similarities between eating too much and being overwhelmed are compelling and I believe the solutions are the same. We need to know what to put on our project plate, when it should be added, and in the right quantities.

Here are three steps you can take to transform feeling overwhelmed.

1. Reframe your feeling into something more empowering.

When we can go beyond feeling overwhelmed, we can start being productive. We can’t just stop feeling something, however. We need to replace it with another feeling.

So, what would be a better way to feel? Productive, energized, empowered, determined, grounded, confident, capable, decisive? When we transform that feeling from being overwhelmed to one of these words, we will start to make decisions. What if you felt empowered instead of overwhelmed? What would that look like? I’m guessing you would choose a project on your list to get started. Movement creates momentum.

So, do something to start the process of neutralizing overwhelm. You can decide to not be overwhelmed. Since it is a feeling, you have the power to change it anytime you want. You can choose another emotion. The truth is, no one else controls your emotions. We decide how to respond to a situation.

Steven Covey captures it nicely in his foreword to Prisoners of Our Thoughts, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”

2. Take action.

Feeling overwhelmed can cause us to freeze because we are not sure what to do next. When you take action, you create momentum for yourself, and it becomes clearer where to focus and what to do next.

So choose a goal that is important to you, and ask yourself what is the next action needed to take to move this goal forward. Then, go do that and enjoy the momentum.

3. Protect your time.

Now to avoid feeling that way to begin with, think about protecting your time. The most productive people have a mindset of protecting their time. They will not let anything new on their plate unless it aligns with their roadmap, they are clear about the priority, the request is fully thought through, and they have considered who is asking. The most productive people are also master delegators.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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