I have spoiled people’s problems and I know it. At home I’m renovating a kitchen (with roughly 10 decisions to make every day), planning a vacation, shopping for my child’s senior prom dress, and making it to as many of my son’s basketball games as possible. At work I’m juggling four significant leadership programs, a large handful of coaching clients, and potential new business with recurring clients and new ones. My assistant sent me an email listing the twenty-plus people I have to schedule meetings or calls with in March, in my already too-tight schedule. All this while trying to practice Thoughtful Leadership™ and maintain my self-care. And writing a blog post. Again, I know these are “spoiled” people’s problems and I’m not complaining, but I am in overwhelm.

I found myself trying to do too many things at once and snapping at my son for asking me a simple question. I feel myself wanting to handle none of the decisions I have to make or tasks I have to accomplish, or to rush through all of them just to be done. I sense myself burning my candles at both ends (did I mention I’m sleeping poorly) and getting to the end of my rope, to call out a few colloquial sayings. I am in overwhelm and I’m not at my best.

It happens to all of us. Sometimes what we have simply feels like (or is) too much. We may be facing good problems or troubling concerns; it almost doesn’t matter. When what is on our plate no longer fits, for whatever reason, we need a plan to gain perspective and relief. Hence the following four steps:

  1. Slow down and breathe – even when, especially when, it feels like I don’t have time to slow down and breathe, I need to slow down and breathe. This Sunday afternoon, faced with too many home tasks that had to happen by the end of the day, as well as work that I really “should” get done before the workweek starts, I made a cup of tea and sat for five minutes. And those five minutes gave me enough pause, enough space, enough peace to gather up my strength (and gain more strength) to keep going.
  2. Remember that I probably can’t get it all done – no matter how well I plan and how efficient I am, there currently IS too much that I have to do, and there isn’t a way to do all of it within the next twenty-four hours, especially if I sleep at night. I have to be realistic about what can happen and what can’t. I’ve heard it said that lowered expectations are the secret to a happy marriage, and I believe lowered expectations for myself are the secret step out of overwhelm. Once I realize I can’t do everything, I let off the pressure to do everything. I can then focus on what really needs to happen so that I do those things.
  3. Prioritize – it sometimes doesn’t matter how I prioritize, as long as I do. I may choose to do the quick and easy tasks first, so that I can cross them off my list. I may be truly Thoughtful and figure out what’s important (as in Stephen Covey’s Urgent and Important matrix), so that I do the things that matter. There may be times when my best prioritization is to focus on the tasks that are the most fun and bring me the most joy. What’s essential is that I devise a method of breaking down my seemingly endless to-do list, so that I can make headway.
  4. Slow down and breathe – I do realize that this is the first step, but I repeat it because I can get caught in the craziness of overwhelm over and over again, and after I prioritize (and while I’m accomplishing and crossing off tasks) I need to remember to breathe, to take a pause, to notice all I’ve accomplished, to take five minutes of rest – so that I can keep going and keep going Thoughtfully and successfully.

These steps work for me. They help me see through the overwhelm and do the things I need to do, usually without complaining or losing it. They even helped me write this blog post.

How do you move successfully through overwhelm?
Please leave a comment to share.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For support in minimizing your overwhelm (and maximizing your peace) contact, Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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