January is my busiest month with my business. Which is great. I welcome the work. But I also struggle with overwhelm, and this year is no exception. Adding COVID (my own) made things exponentially worse. I didn't have time to take time off (not a recommended strategy, but such is life as a solopreneur) because doing so would have made my return to work so much harder... but pushing through and working while sick made the slog so much harder.
Anyway, I'm better now, maybe a bit more tired than usual, but just looking at my to do list makes me exhausted all over again. And super discouraged. Completely overwhelmed.
I'm doing my best to coach myself through it and thought I'd share my strategies with y'all.
First off, be completely kind to yourself. No one ever got more done by being called a lazy sack of sh*t. Or being told that your situation is hopeless.
Second off, prioritize quality sleep whenever possible. Not only will you feel better but your brain will work a whole lot better, which means checking things off your list a lot faster.
Once you've done those two essential things, here's what's next.
1. Remind yourself that you can only do one thing at a time. Multitasking is actually a misnomer. No one can really do more than one thing at a time, unless one is mindless. Instead, what you end up doing is spend a lot of extra energy switching from task to task.
So pick the most important thing on your list and focus on that. Get that done and then move on to the next.
If you have a lot of interruptions, well, welcome to life as a working parent. Do your best to minimize them and then get on with it. If you can possibly work in a location where you are less likely to be interrupted, choose that.
2. Make a list. Get everything down on paper (or on your phone) so that you don't waste any mental energy trying to remember things. That is wasted energy that can be better used elsewhere.
3. Go through your list (quickly) and star the things that are most important. Things that are the most urgent are usually not the most important. Example, I was working with my accountability partner last week on business generating activities and the first thing she did was: call her daughter at home to ask a question about scheduling gymnastics class. This felt urgent -- and my friend no doubt felt like her brain would be freed up once it was done -- but it wasn't actually important, not like business-generating activities. A very human impulse, but one to watch out for.
Another common trap is emptying your inbox. This does not move your life forward. Do it at at the end of the day, if at all. No one is more productive from having an empty inbox, as tempting as it sounds.
4. Either get those starred things done immediately, or schedule a time that they will get done... and stick to your resolve. Do the most important things first, or when your brain is at its best (for some people, this isn't until the afternoon.) Usually these tasks feel uncomfortable and you'd rather do other tasks instead, easy things that take no brain power. Save those for when you don't have brain power.
5. And fourth, take care of your nervous system. When you feel overwhelmed, don’t try to convince yourself to just push through. This takes enormous energy and is exhausting, as well as rarely successful.
Take a moment to breathe in these moments. Try to focus on the feeling of overwhelm in your body. Allow it to be there. Send oxygen to it.
The more you fight an emotion, the more it fights you back. Don’t tune into the story it’s telling you – “it’s too much, you’ll never get it done, it would be better to become a letter carrier instead!” – but rather, “Oh, I see you are in the tight muscles in my shoulders and back, you feel like a big heavy stone, making it hard to breathe.”
I know this all sounds really simplified, and it is. This is just a jumping off point. Schedule a free life coaching session (scroll down past sleep coaching to life coaching) and let me show you how I can help you get your overwhelm under control so that you can truly enjoy your one wild and precious life.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.