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5+ Steps to Overcome Overwhelm

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Have you ever felt like you’ve just hit a brick wall in life?

I’ve been feeling totally overwhelmed lately, and looking back, it’s been brewing for a while, but I’m just now noticing. Needless to say, my productivity is just not there.

But even when we’re overwhelmed by life, we still need to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

When I’ve been overwhelmed in the past, I’ve always followed a three-step process:
1. Make a list.
2. Make a plan.
3. Get to work.

However, I’ve been reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which breaks stress-free productivity down into five steps.

Getting Things Done is an excellent productivity book filled with tips to get organized and finally streamline your to-do list.

5+ Steps to Combat Overwhelm

If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed (or just in a funk), here are David Allen’s five steps to pull yourself out (or at least push through it so you don’t feel so unproductive).

1. Capture

Make a brain dump. List everything that you need to do or that’s on your mind. Even if you don’t need to do something for another month or longer, if you’re thinking about it, it’s probably causing you stress.

Write everything down, and then give your brain room to breathe. This is especially helpful before bed, too.

When you're trying to get organized, doing a brain dump and writing down your tasks is a great way to be more productive (and free up space in your head).

2. Clarify

Look at each task on your list. What IS the task that you need to complete? Is it even actionable?

If it is actionable, how long will it take to complete? If it’s a quick task, either do it, delegate it (i.e. get some help), or defer it (schedule some time to complete it later). If it’s an in-depth task, add it to a project list.

3. Organize

As you’re clarifying your list, file the items in categories. For example, if the item isn’t actionable, is it a note that you want to remember for later (the cupcakes you need to buy should be made in a peanut-free facility), do you want to add the item to a “someday/maybe” list (plans for a trip to Rome when you retire), or can you trash the item and forget about it forever?

If the task is actionable, do you need to create a plan or project list to complete it (a kitchen renovation) or is it something simple that you could do, delegate, or add to your calendar to complete later?

Use a planner or tracking app.

4. Reflect

Especially if you added an item to your calendar or created a project list, you’ll need to spend a few moments reflecting on it. What else needs to be done? Have you scheduled enough time to complete it? Do you even have the time required to complete it.

I typically spend a few moments reflecting before starting large tasks (is this what I need to be doing right now?), at night before bed (did I finish everything that needed to be done today? What needs to be done tomorrow?), and on Sunday nights (what’s important next week?).

5. Engage

Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

According to Allen, there are several different methods for dealing with your work (and the way that you work). Bottom line, you’ll need to get to work based on your priorities and time available.

If you’ve broken out your to-do list based on the steps above, you should have a good idea of what needs to be done and when (and how long each item will take to complete). If another task crops up in the meantime, add it to the list and break it out accordingly.

Bonus step: Automate your tasks

The main problem with overwhelm (at least in my case) is that you feel so stressed that you don’t know where to start, which then leaves you with no motivation to start.

In addition to dealing with problems as they arise, as you can do using David Allen’s steps, you could try to streamline your tasks. By streamlining your tasks, you don’t even need to make a decision or go through a process each time you do a task.

Take the guesswork out of cleaning. If you follow this cleaning plan, your house will sparkle from top to bottom.

When it comes to dealing with overwhelm, try to see if there are any tasks that you can automate. For example, to deal with my cleaning overwhelm, I made a list of every task that I complete on a daily, weekly, monthly/quarterly and semi-annual/annual plan. I then laminated it and put it in my planner (you can download a copy of my cleaning plan here). As I’m going through my week or getting my home ready for a holiday, I check off the items that I completed. It frees up so much space in my brain, especially when I’m trying to frantically get ready for a holiday party.

If you’re struggling with overwhelm, see if you can create a process to automate some of your activities. If not, try David Allen’s method to deal with your overwhelm.

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