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Getting Out of Overwhelm

Insights From Kevin | April 23, 2019  

Overwhelm is something everyone deals with. There will always be many, many tasks for us to resolve. The list of tasks doesn’t get smaller, it grows and it’s infinite. And we all know that it’s not possible to get all of the tasks done. Sometimes we find ourselves with too much on our plates, and we begin to feel overwhelmed. In those moments we see no way of getting any of it done. When we become overwhelmed, we are ineffective. The feeling of overwhelm has its own inertia. It becomes larger than life, halting all action. It becomes a condition in which you never get anything done, and you’re upset about it. You are stuck. And while you’re busy being stuck you will surely fail. It’s like trying to move forward while running on a circular track.

You can handle and manage the demand on your capacity until you reach one more unit that puts you in a state of overwhelm. In the second diagram below the demand has exceeded your capacity ~ that’s when overwhelm takes over, and when you’re in a state of overwhelm you’re never going to get it all done.

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What does OVERWHELM look like? (All the squares represent your total capacity. “X” equals one unit of capacity)

Before that point your available capacity is manageable. When that one more item is added you hit the overload, overwhelm condition that puts you over the top and beyond your ability, your capacity, to manage the tasks at hand. The definition of overwhelm is: “bury or drown beneath a huge mass.”

How can you be powerful in the face of overwhelm? What are you doing to get out of that condition? American soldier Creighton Abrams first said, 

“How you eat an elephant is one bite at a time”.

And it’s true. Everything we have to do can be broken down into manageable and finite units. Until you break the mass apart into these units you will never get anything done, because you will be buried in the mass of the story about what you can’t get done.

You either delegate some of the tasks or cancel them. What’s essential is to get things to a level that is confrontable. Overwhelm is a psychological phenomenon. It is not “real”. All that is are the tasks that you will do and the tasks you will not do. It’s our psychology that has us believing that we have to get all of the tasks done.

Once we prioritize the importance of each item, get each item into your calendar, in real time to deal with it. In fact, when you consider the whole list of things to do, you’re going to see something really interesting ~ there are things you are committed to doing, and there are things that you’re really not committed to doing. You may find some things you may want to get to at a later time, so create a way of keeping those things in existence. You’ll also find there are some things you really will never get to. Eliminate them. Keep in mind that life occurs in units of time ~ you have the capacity to fill only so many units of time.  You either have to stop doing one of the things you’re already doing or give away ~ outsource ~ some things. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Is it a good investment to outsource any given item?” If it is, and you find the right person to outsource to, you are left with time to work on the things that you should be working on, while experiencing relief knowing that the other things are being done by someone you trust. This then leaves you stress free, effective, confident, and productive.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com