Overwhelm is everywhere. Founders I’ve spoken to often talked about the overwhelm they feel. They are under pressure from their day jobs, their families, their social life, and in the other spaces of time they are getting their nonprofit off the ground. Executive directors and small nonprofits I work with feel the pressure of running the organization and getting funding. They have Boards that don’t always know or understand nonprofit management or fundraising. Other Boards feel everything is the Executive Director’s responsibility and check out. I remember working in a Development Department of a large nonprofit wearing so many hats. I counted up one day I had 20 projects on my plate and no one to delegate to in order to get the less important projects off my plate. I felt overwhelmed and confused. In fact, I remember thinking, this must be what drowning feels like! Even today in my business, I have moments when overwhelm tries to control me.
Getting the overwhelm under control is important. As long as the overwhelm has you under its power, you will not feel or be productive and the never-ending task list will remain never ending. So today I’m revealing the three things I do when that feeling starts to creep in.
I have found over the years that overwhelm is 80% mindset. I will start to see a growing to-do list and I would begin telling myself:
- There’s too much to do.
- How will I get it all done?
- There’s no way I’m getting it all done.
- I can’t let anyone down.
- I can’t drop this from my list.
- I can’t delegate. It will take more time to teach someone how to do it then it will for me to actually do it.
- What am I going to do?
- I have to get it done.
- I don’t have time to organize or prioritize.
- I’ll never get it done.
- I should just quit trying.
And the list would begin to replay in my head. Each time, the voice would get more urgent, more panicked and suddenly I was putting things off and felt as though I was spinning out of control. Overwhelm was now controlling me.
It wasn’t until I changed the looping dialogue within myself that overwhelm was put under control.
How do I change my mindset when overwhelm rears its ugly head?
First, I got really clear on what I was telling myself. You may need to get a journal and begin writing down what’s going through your mind when you start to feel overwhelmed. Maybe you have been overwhelmed for a while. That’s okay. Begin writing down what you are telling yourself. Like my long list, you will begin to see the pattern.
Next, sit down and figure out your fears behind each statement. For me, one fear became part of my dialogue-you can’t let anyone down. For me, letting down the people closest to me felt like failure. Other fears surfaced, like in delegating. To me delegating felt out of control and I already felt out of control so going deeper in that lack of control felt like an endless spiral and I’m the type of person that likes to have as much control as possible.
Now, take each dialogue and fear and write out a positive statement to replace those things. For me, I can’t let anyone down became I can ask for help. There’s too much to do became what three things must I do today to feel productive? And what are my priorities for each item? What can I put off until tomorrow or next week? What can wait?
And so on down my list. Now when ”there’s too much to do” thought pops in my head – I immediately say:
- What three things must I do today
- what can be done tomorrow
- what can wait
- what really doesn’t have to be done by me
Usually that’s as far as I get these days. My feeling of overwhelm goes away and I am in control of my to-do list. Suddenly, I say to myself I can do this!
Organize, Prioritize, and Focus
When you are in the middle of feeling overwhelmed, the last thing you want to do is to take time away from your to-do list and organize and prioritize it. You would rather check those suckers off. At least, I did. What I found was when I took 5 to 10 minutes to organize and prioritize my list, I could get more accomplished. I would break out each task into smaller ones. Yes, it added to my to-do list but when I looked at the smaller tasks, I said I can do that. It won’t take but a few minutes. Then it was something I could easily check off and that felt like progress. I can do this. Before long the bigger task was complete.
When I set out to focus on my task, I put in my full focus planner the time blocks for the next task. This allowed me to focus on that task or related list of tasks. Before I knew it, I could completely check the bigger task off. Boy, did that feel good! Each time I told myself I can do it.
Some days, though, I check one task off my list just to have someone else put two in its place. That is disheartening until I go back and reprioritize or simply tell the person no. I know it’s hard to do but sometimes you have to say no. If you really can’t say no ( like it’s your boss) let the person know that in order for you to do it, it will be next week or next month ( whatever fits in your schedule) before it can be done. If your boss says they really need it sooner, show them your priority list and ask what needs to be moved down to accommodate the new priority. Let them help you figure out the priority.
Time blocking really helps me focus on tasks that need my full attention or that take longer than a few minutes. The focus helps me stay productive.
What is time blocking?
The technique where you allot time for certain tasks or related tasks. I protect that time on my schedule. When the time comes, I sit down and perform the task. An example, is writing this very post. I block all day to sit down and write a month’s worth of posts. Instead of one post each week, I can check off the posts for a whole month.
Take Time to Decompress
I know it sounds counter-intuitive. Take time away from the list to do something that energizes you. Many founders I talk to quickly tell me their mind would be racing with all the to-do’s! If you’ve prioritized and gotten to-do items scheduled, you may find that your mind is easier to turn off. In a more relaxed state, your mind has the time needed to rest and work through problems. This time away from your to-do list will help your mind find creative solutions to some of your hardest to-do’s. I’ve often come back from some time away and suddenly did it and I could have had a V-8 slap and said why didn’t I think of that sooner?!?
One of the best books I’ve read on focus and getting your daily to-do’s under control is Michael Hyatt Free to Focus. It’s made such an impact that I am giving away a copy. Go to the sign-up page to put your name in the hat. My birthday is December 9th so I’ll be announcing the winner on my birthday!
Now until December 8th at 11:59 p.m. eastern time. I’ll draw the winner and confirm the prize by email so keep a lookout December 9th for my email. If the winner does not confirm by email by December 16th, a new winner will be announced. They will have a week to confirm.