Unless you’re a robot of some kind, there will come a time when you feel like you’re behind on everything. Absolutely freaking EVERYTHING. Even your favorite TV show and your best friend’s gossip.
You will feel like you can never, ever possibly catch up, and you will consider throwing in the towel on your entire operation.
You will forget your commitment to yourself to make this work, your commitment to your soul to let this work into the world, and your commitment to your clients to deliver what you promised.
You will, quite simply, be washed in waves of overwhelm. And your brain will tell you there’s no way out. You’re hosed. Doomed. Screwed. Fucked. Except you’re not.
It’s Overwhelm’s job to make you think you can’t possibly get it together. But you can.
You’ve got to keep aware of just two things: your energy levels and your overwhelm levels.
It’s entirely possible that you’re so freaking tired that you simply can’t do anything more, even if you dutifully put in another two or three or ten hours. So rest.
Truly, rest. Go to bed and don’t get up until your body says you’re ready. When you hit this point, you should also let yourself cry. Or slam doors, or shower, or listen to the loudest LOUD music you own. Or soak in the tub listening to that one Enya song on repeat. However you choose to process the overwhelm, do it.
‘Cause when you’re stuck in waves of overwhelm, you can’t do jack shit. You just spin. You’re victim to the circle of tasks swimming around in your mind, and you can’t quite get a grasp on any single one. So you spin some more. And then you beat yourself up about how you’re not getting anything done when THERE’S SO MUCH TO GET DONE AAGGGGHHHHHHHH.
There were times during the creation of the Brand Camp event that I felt absolutely, utterly exhausted and overwhelmed. The ferris wheel guy needed a call and my accountants needed endless tax documents and I was teaching a masterclass the next day and I needed to finalize the schedule and look over the camp menu and tally the survey results of the vegans and vegetarians and special food needs to report back to camp staff, all while going through some deeply personal, overwhelming stuff.
Prioritize the exhaustion. And deal with the overwhelm later.
Trying to deal with overwhelm when your cup is empty just leads to more overwhelm.
I’ve learned to get myself to bed with a book and wake up at my regular time the next morning — without allowing myself any guilt about how I got those twelve (or thirteen or fourteen) hours of sleep — to start fresh. With a scheduled list.
Overwhelm takes the list-making parts of our brain out of commission. We’d like to start, but we don’t know where to start, and so we spin and spin and spin. Sleep gives our bodies and brains a break from the logical thinking that got us into this jam in the first place. Sleep gives your body a fighting chance of getting you through the next day.
Sleep is the magical icing that makes your life taste sweeter. So freaking sleep.
This is not rocket science, and you know this already. Sleep.
But we give ourselves 3,475 excuses to put it off. We check our e-mail one last time. We catch up with the Real Housewives. We play the game a little too long. We let our screens mask our exhaustion and steal away minutes that we could be putting to good use: sleeping! Once you’ve slept, you’re ready to conquer overwhelm.
Overwhelm cannot survive itemization and scheduling.
Itemization, meaning you bust out a sheet of paper and list all the things you need to get done today. And in the next 3 days. And in the next week.
That list should have at least 20 things on it…keep going. And going. Get it all out on paper. Even the stuff like getting your eyebrows waxed or your pedicure updated. If it takes up your time, it counts.
Now, prioritize your tasks.
When is that task really due?
Is there someone who can help you complete the task?
Is there a way to batch the tasks so that they’re completed in one dedicated chunk, or do they require daily time?
Finally, schedule the tasks.
Create chunks of time for those things you simply must accomplish, with looser periods of time for working on smaller, less important, or less urgent tasks.
Whatever you do, do NOT make a to-do list.
You’ll naturally want to throw everything onto a to-do list and skip the scheduling, but this will only lead to more overwhelm. You’re scheduling the work in order to prioritize it on your calendar. You’re working on the hardest or most urgent tasks first thing in the day, then working on less and less important things as the day goes on. That means you’re tackling the hardest tasks when you’re freshest.
Given a to-do list, you’ll tackle the easy wins first — post office, grocery shopping, mani/pedi, email, software update, CHECK! You’ll avoid the hardest things on the list, whatever they happen to be for you, and naturally shove them to tomorrow. And tomorrow, you’ll do the same thing. Which is why you haven’t sent an e-mail newsletter in six years or updated your blog in six months (psst! how to get out of a blogging rut!) or finally written your bio so it still says “Coming soon!” even though you’re really embarrassed about it.
Scheduling your most challenging tasks makes the difference between getting shit done and…not getting shit done. Period.
Kaboom! Did your brain just explode!?
Now go and do one of three things: sleep, itemize your to-do’s, or schedule what you’ve got to get done.