I have so much to do, I don’t even know where to start.
Have you ever felt this? Maybe your to-do list is 5 pages long, or you have so many ideas for new projects, or thoughts about a range of issues swimming in your head. It’s likely some version of this:
I need to finish that client project. Oh, but there’s that new client and I haven’t even started on that other project. I have to create a marketing plan for my business. And generate more leads. Oh, and a client newsletter. I need to publish a blog post. When am I even going to write the blog post? I have to return calls. I forgot to schedule the doctor’s appointment yesterday. What am I going to do with the kids when they are off from school next week. What are we going to eat for dinner tonight?
When you’re in this place of overwhelm, what do you do?
Many highly creative people struggle with overwhelm. For those of us with ADD, staying out of the swirl can be a constant battle. The gift of a creative mind is a never-ending stream of ideas. The curse of a creative mind is a never-ending stream of ideas.
There are many strategies we use to get out of overwhelm. Some never work, at least not if you want to be productive. Others may work for some people, but perhaps they haven’t worked for you, or for a person you’re trying to help.
Let’s review some of those, and then I’ll share a better way.
Here are 3 common strategies that many people try to get out of overwhelm.
For many of us, overwhelm can send us right into escape mode. When you have so much to do that you don’t know where to start, it’s tempting to escape into something else. You pull up the news, check social media, get a snack, organize your desk.
You find a distraction.
In the short term, this is helpful. It resets your nervous system. But in the long term, it doesn’t really help. And you know it.
(2) Make a List
Ah, lists. Almost every productivity system involves making lists of some sort. Capturing incoming thoughts and ideas, creating “next actions,” etc.
In their proper time and place, and for the right purpose, making lists can serve you by getting everything out of your head.
What I’ve found, in my experience and in my clients, is that in moments of overwhelm, lists often add to the problem. Everything I extract from my head is like opening a Pandora’s box. Writing down one idea or thought leads to several more. My lists have lists.
Keep in mind that if your list was helpful, you wouldn’t be in this place of not knowing where to start.
(3) Ask: What Needs to Be Done Right Now?
There are two big problems with this one.
First, “what needs to be done right now” puts you in the dimension of urgency and importance. This is the stress zone. In your current state, it’s the last place that you want to go. This framing triggers the escape mechanism, and sets you up to run and hide.
Second, if you believed knew the answer to this question, you wouldn’t be saying “I don’t know where to start.” If you didn’t feel like everything needs to be done right now you wouldn’t be in a state of overwhelm.
This might be a fair question to ask yourself in a state of calm, but you physically cannot answer it while your nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode.
A Better Way
Here’s a better way to handle those moments when you’re spinning in tasks and don’t know where to start.
(1) Stop moving
Recognize that when you’re in this state of overwhelm, your body is in fight-or-flight mode. The first thing you must do is stop moving. Get still for a few minutes.
If possible, sit on the floor or even lay down on the flood. Connecting your body to the earth will ground you. This helps your body know you’re safe.
This may sound obvious, but how often do you think about breathing during the day? Most of us don’t think about it enough, because it happens automatically.
But often when we feel stressed we will hold our breath without realizing it. So bring some focus to your breath. It helps to put a hand on your belly or on your heart. This will give you a physical cue to help you focus.
Give yourself at least a few minutes to sit still and focus on your breath.
There is nothing that cannot wait for a few minutes.
Usually, these first two steps are enough to give you a little clearing in which the most important item will emerge for you. If not, go to step three.
(3) Ask a better question
The quality of our lives is determined by the quality of the questions we ask ourselves.
What’s a better question you can ask in this moment?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share in the comments. I’ll share the best question I’ve found in Part 2.