While use of the word overwhelm as a noun is grammatically incorrect, I am going to use it here to describe the state of being overwhelmed.
Weekend retirement stands in direct opposition to the overwhelm many of us face in a typical work week. While we may not be able to change our work assignments or the unrealistic expectations that are often thrust upon us, we can take specific actions to overcome the overwhelm.
Journalist Brigid Schulte tackled this state head on in her book Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love,and Play When No One Has the Time. Schulte, a writer for The Washington Post, interviewed experts from the fields of time management, neuroscience, and productivity as well as behavioral science, anthropology, and leisure. She mentions in her preface that if readers don’t feel they have the time to read all 354 pages, they can turn to Part 5 of the book and learn how she went from experiencing “time confetti” to “time serenity.” Here are some tips from that section of her book.
One major concept she learned from a Time Triage workshop she attended was that you can’t manage time, you can only manage the activities you choose to do in time. If we wait until we clear our plate, we will never get to the good things we want to do with our lives. So the answer? Decide what is most important to you, then create a system and routines to help you do it. Schedule the most important pieces first, then fit the rest in around what is most important. Realize, too, that you will never get it all done.
Here are some other actions Schulte found useful in her journey from overwhelm to serenity:
- Clear your desk to give your brain a rest from the visual clutter.
- Notice if you are obsessing about something. If you are, take 5 minutes and write down everything you’re thinking about. Capturing it on paper gets it out of your head.
- Work in 90-minute blocks of time, then take a break.
- Pick several focus areas–for her they were Write this Book, Have Quality Time with Family, and Be Healthy. Everything else goes under The Other 5 Percent, stuff that should not take more than 5 percent of your time.
- List your daily to-do items on a Post-It note. Everything else goes on a master list.
- Carry a small notebook or use your iPhone to capture random thoughts and ideas.
- Avoid decision fatigue by creating rituals around your activities. For example, she lays out her running clothes the night before so the decision is already made that she will run and wear that outfit when she wakes up.
- Look at email at specific times of the day rather than whenever a new message appears.
Which of these actions could you take this week to reduce the overwhelm in your life?