Think about the advice most of us give others (and ourselves) when overwhelmed:
Even, “double down.”
Truth is, down is the opposite direction we’d really like to go when things are difficult. What we want is to rise above, to overcome, to ease up. To fly free of the tremendous weight of too much to do and too little time to do it in.
When we’re stressed and overwhelmed, we do things like work through lunch, and come in early, and leave late, and get by on as little sleep as possible. (Read this new study on sleep and the link with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, which is fascinating.)
And none of our struggle and effort necessarily makes the end product that much more fantabulous. What it does is makes us more anxious, and exhausted.
After years of exploring this subject, I’ve learned that there’s just one way to overcome overwhelm. Ready for it?
Do the opposite of what you think you should do.
Stuck for a creative idea? Take it from someone who’s tried – sitting at your desk twirling a pencil in your fingers like it’s a flaming baton and pretending you’re a Texas twirler wearing white go-go boots ain’t gonna make any lightbulbs appear.
What does work is a simple sequence of steps:
Set your intention – “I will come up with a great solution to the client problem”
Take a break and do some completely unrelated activity – get in a brisk walk, eat lunch, take a nap, call your BFF and talk about your vacation plans.
During this break, your brain will continue to work in the background on the problem you gave it and nine times out of ten you’ll have a moment of inspiration which leads to the last step:
Houston, we have a solution.
I also believe strongly in the power of mono-tasking. Mono-tasking is when you tackle one thing at a time and do it completely before moving on to the next thing. When I was just starting in my career, I was taught to “touch it once” – which, granted, was in the days when we actually touched paper at the office – and that’s the general idea of mono-tasking, too. When I focus 100% of my time and attention on the task at hand, I can complete it thoroughly and quickly. If you think about it in terms of units of energy, I can put 10 units on the task at one time instead of 40 units picking the project up and putting it back down again over the course of several days.
Which means that you will finally have enough time to do what you need to do. Now, the more you use this sequence and mono-task, the better you’ll get at it. You may find that solutions come easier and the time that it takes to get from A to B gets a lot faster. This gives you time to do the other things you need to do to live your life fully.
Which means no more overwhelm.
Now, I am going to say this: Some bean-counters have a real problem with people sitting at their desks less than a ten hour day. Breaks, unless scheduled, are unsettling to these dear souls. They also struggle with not seeing you sweat beads of blood from your brow as you hunker down (yes, that word again) to the pile of tasks at hand.
These people think that the end product of ten hours of work is always better than that of five hours of work, because there are more hours to count.
And, of course, some folks see being overwhelmed as the Red Badge of Courage, and the totem signifying that you have really made it. Anyone who’s anyone has stress! We’re all busy!
It’s the siren song of our age, and it’s easy to fall into step with those who believe it. But you know it’s not true, right? Anyone who’s had a real eureka moment which has led to efficient accomplishment knows what really works.
And it’s not stressful overwhelm.
It can be a lonely road to travel, this being unstressed. This taking strategic breaks. This flow through your tasks. These eureka moments. This joy in your work. This success.
But, let me tell you, it is so worth it when you can honestly say, “No, I’m not stressed – I feel great about my job.” Totally blows people’s minds.