Ever feel like you’re overwhelmed? That maybe a stupid question in the world we live in…. especially if you’re a working mum!
No matter how much we’re a time management ninja or productivity queen, we all get overwhelmed from time to time.
We’re mums for a start, that can be an all consuming job on it’s own! But add in a demanding career and a desire to live a full life, then sometimes it can all feel a bit overwhelming.
The problem is that when we start to feel overwhelmed that inner chaos can create outer chaos. The million and one things we need and want to do. The kind of person we want to be. They all take up room in our head and heart and leave us in a spin if we’re not careful.
It then becomes really difficult to get things done in a meaningful way. Learning to spot signs of overwhelm, and have strategies to overcome it, might be the best gift we can give ourselves. Because the relentless demand for our time and attention is probably never going to cease – especially if you’re an ambitious, achievement orientated working mum.
So here are five steps to deal with overwhelm when it comes knocking on your door:
1. Drop anchor
When we find yourself in overwhelm we’re normally caught in a storm of racing mind and competing demands. Feeling like your head is going to explode? Flipping between what hasn’t been done yet and what needs doing?
If you want to steer yourself effectively out of overwhelm you first need to ‘drop anchor’. Which often feels the most counterintuitive thing to do.
When we’re overwhelmed we often feel like we need to power through or get more done, not slow down or stop. But the only way out of overwhelm is by doing less – not more!. So to stop the overwhelm storm steering you off deeper into the chaos, the best thing you can do is to drop anchor and ground yourself in the present moment.
The first step to do this is to connect with your external environment – this gets you out of your own head.
- Notice five things you can see around you
- Notice four things you can hear
- Notice three things you can feel against you skin
- Notice two things you can smell
- Notice one thing you can taste
Put both of your feet on the floor and really get a sense of the ground beneath you. Then breathe. Breathe deeply and use your breath as an anchor to being in this present moment.
2. Create some mental whitespace
Overwhelm normally shows up as mind overload. That feeling of competing demands and racing thoughts that we haven’t got time to properly capture, let alone action. The experience of all these unclosed loops and out of control actions leaves us little space in our head to get clarity. So to capture all these thoughts and actions somewhere is vital. This clears your head enough to give you the clarity of how to move forward.
So grab a piece of paper and a pen. Or get in front of a whiteboard. Or grab a stack of post-it notes. Basically get a good old fashioned way of capturing all these things. Avoid using technology to capture your thoughts, as often it’s technology which is the root cause of our overwhelm. You’re likely to get an email or app notification pop up whilst doing this exercise which will not only distract you, but likely to further overwhelm you.
Jot it all down and dump it all out. And I mean ALL of it. All the big actions, little actions, concerns, decisions, questions, niggles. Get it all out in one big list.
The simple action of getting all that stuff out of your head and onto a piece of paper is powerful. It goes from being a swirling mess in our minds to a concrete list. It reduces the internal feelings of dread, worry and overwhelm as you’ve put it outside of yourself.
3. Grab a friend or be your own best friend
So the next step is to approach your list from a different mindset. To do this it’s useful to grab a friend or a trusted mentor to help you look at the list objectively. Or at least become your own best friend.
We tend to have high expectations for ourselves and become unhelpfully emotionally attached to our to-do-list. Holding unrealistic deadlines and guilt to things. These tendencies can become heightened if we’re tired and overwhelmed.
Then go through your list and review based on the following criteria:
Delete! Cross anything off your list that:
- is outside of your control or, if you’re really honest, doesn’t need doing
- will never get done so you might as well stop worrying about it right now
- will take care of itself over time
Delegate! Assign a task to someone else if:
- they’re more skilled than you to do it
- it’s more cost effective for them to do it than you
- they enjoy doing the task more than you
- it doesn’t serve your best purpose and highest leverage work – if it’s not something you love doing and/or are uniquely positioned to do
Don’t worry if you haven’t got a Personal Assistant or team around you to delegate to. Sometimes all it takes is a mindset shift. Getting comfortable asking for (and receiving) help. Can your friend, partner, neighbour, colleague, child or social media connections help?
Give someone the gift of helping you. I’m pretty sure you’d feel good helping someone else out if they were feeling overwhelmed. Particularly if you’re asking for help on something they enjoy doing and are good at – they get the chance to shine and help!
Defer! Reset timescales and deadlines for any actions that you can.
This is where a trusted friend can play devil’s advocate. We tend to be overly conscientious and responsible. Meaning that if we’ve committed to do something (either to others or ourselves) we can unhelpfully hold ourselves accountable which feeds our overwhelm. Can you push that deadline back a week? Can that project be deferred until next quarter? Do you need to phone that person back this week? Reset timescales and expectations where you can.
The point here is to challenge your assumptions of what you have to do and get brutally honest about what you truly want to spend your time (and your life) doing.
4. Do it with purpose
The next step is to look at your remaining to-do list and approach it with purpose. It’s about taking action, but action which is guided by your true priorities. Not the million and one things that are dragging you by the hand saying – “Look at me! Do me first!”
If for the week ahead you could focus only on three things, what three things would be most important? What are your highest leverage activities? Planning and productivity expert Michael Hyatt talks about your highest leverage work being where your proficiency and passion combine What are you uniquely positioned to do and adds the most value to your life and work?
Once you’ve focussed on your three most important priorities for the week, ask yourself
“What are the three most important tasks for today?”
I get it, there are probably ten times that number screaming at you for your attention. But what are the three things that are going to drive the most results in your life right now? If you can reduce your to-do-list to that it’s a game changing mindset. As it’s a game you can win.
5. Rest, replenish and refocus
By the time we’ve hit overwhelm we’re already overstretched. We’ve had more on our plate that we can manage and we’ve probably been trying to work longer, harder and faster to get on top of it all. Our minds are normally exhausted from being on high alert for action. But we’re also emotionally exhausted.
So before you begin to tackle your top three priorities take a break. Maybe this is about getting a good night’s sleep. Maybe it’s getting outside for a walk and some fresh air. Maybe it’s about making yourself a nice drink and taking some deep breaths. Or maybe it’s watching something completely irrelevant on Netflix.
Whatever gets you in the best emotional state to refocus. The more you can rest and replenish the more energy you will have to tackle your priorities. Because our time is not renewable but our energy is. And that’s our superpower when we’re feeling overwhelmed! So top up your tank and get ready to refocus.
I hope these strategies help free you from the times when you get caught in overwhelm. Hopefully supporting you to live your life on purpose rather than reacting to the daily onslaught of demands on your time.
We’re genuine, like-minded women, just like you!
We’re a community, reinventing how we combine work and motherhood without sacrificing our sanity and wellbeing.