When I was just starting my career, I was asked to submit a 3-month learning report – a document that the management team used to track my progress and asses my performance at work.
The day after I submitted my initial report to my line manager, she gave her feedback. As I approached her desk, It felt like I was transported back in high school – when I approached my teacher on her desk to get my test result back.
She asked clarifications on some of the points that were vague and noted down spelling and grammar errors that comprised majority of the red marks on the paper. Just when I thought we were done with our discussion, she pointed out a word which she encircled with a red mark – Overwhelmed.
She looked at me in the eye with much concern and asked, “What overwhelms you?” She explained that I cannot submit a report telling the management team that I am overwhelmed with my job.
She was eager to know. She intently listened as I expressed random things that overwhelms me at work – unclear processes, non-responsive partner groups, multiple project deadlines, uncooperative customers and unrealistic targets.
After allowing me to rant about my concerns, we spent another 30 minutes discussing. She walked through them one by one- addressing bottlenecks, clarified my targets and prioritized my deliverables.
I walked away from her desk feeling lighter, confident and clear. I was no longer overwhelmed. I feel in control and excited to get back to work.
Being overwhelmed is normal. It is a natural emotion that arises when we are faced with daunting responsibilities, too much choices or a mountain-full of tasks.
We focus on the enormous nature of the situation, which cripples us from moving forward. And we use the overwhelming nature of the situation as an excuse not to do anything.
But then, life can be overwhelming, anytime. A simple thing for a person can be overwhelming for another – running 20 minutes a day, learning how to cook or finding 5 minutes of quite time in the morning.
That incident with my line manager was a pivotal in transforming my approach to overwhelming situations. Since then, I have found a useful process to turn an overwhelming situation around into that off simplicity and clarity.
1) List down everything that overwhelms you.
Just as how my line manager allowed me to express my concerns and intently listened to me, allow yourself to do the same.
On a sheet of paper, write down all your worries and concerns even if you feel they are unrelated to situation.
Let’s say you are overwhelmed by your desire to lose 20 kg. Write down what overwhelms you – adding a daily exercise routine, figuring out what exercise will work, looking for a gym, paying for the membership fee, preparing your food, learning how to cook, waking up early to make time to exercise and cook, fear of failing on your 10th attempt to lose weight. Write them all down.
Give yourself time to think and feel. Be honest. Listen to yourself.
I personally, love doing this exercise. Writing all my worries and concerns allows me to free my mind and have a peace of mind knowing that I take into account all of them.
2) Know Your Why & Your Objective
Now that you have freed up your mind from worries, you have the capacity to think objectively.
Step back and ask yourself these 2 important questions, “Why am I doing this?” and “What is my objective?”
Your Why will fuel you to get to your destination and Your Objective will determine where you end up. Without these two, it will be hard if not impossible, to start and to succeed in accomplishing these.
You will always face bottlenecks and detours ahead whether you are creating a new habit, acquiring a new skill, accomplishing a project or working towards a goal. Your Why and Your Objective will serve as your fuel and compass to get back on track.
3) Start with One Thing.
Having defined Your objective, you can now create a blueprint on how to get there.
This should not overwhelm you. What I mean by a blueprint is a simple list of ideas, at least 3 things, that you would take to get started.
Refer to the initial list you created in Step 1. Sort them out – which ones will you keep? Add additional action points that you want to take. Then, prioritize them and indicate timelines. Choose One Thing to start with.
Simply identify the first 3 things that will get you started. And then, choose One Thing that you will start with.
Let’s say, My Why is to be mindful – clearer, calmer and happier. My Objective is to build a habit of daily meditation.
The three things will start with are:
– Read about meditation and its benefits
– Write about your experience
– Mediate for 10 minutes in 10 days
Doing all these 3 at the same time may still be overwhelming. So, just start with One Thing.
“What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” – from The One Thing by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan
When I started building the habit of meditation for the 4th time, I decided to start with by Meditating for 10 minutes in 10 days.
As I progressed with the practice, I realized that the benefits I got form doing it are so powerful. It energized me to do the other 2 tasks of reading about meditation and its benefits and writing about my experience.
Being overwhelmed is normal. What we do in face of this emotion is what matters. Do we use it as an excuse not to do anything or do we accept its reality and find ways to cope with it?
Next time you feel overwhelmed, I suggest you to try these 3 simple steps: 1) Write down what overwhelms you 2) Know Your Why & Your Objective 3) Start with One Thing.
This will help you be objective, focused and move forward.