I woke up this morning with an anxious knot in the pit of my stomach. My thought pattern went much like this:

I’m traveling to Cincinnati at the end of the week, so my mind is racing with everything that needs to happen before we leave Thursday night. There is a ton of stuff to do to get ready for the trip. (passports, health insurance info, video equipment, laptop, clean socks, toothbrush etc. etc. etc). Drop the dog off at the kennel. Drop the other pets off at their Grandparents’ house. Get pet food. Get fish feeder block. Pack. Figure out how to fit all our crap in the Jeep.

And that’s just the trip preparation. Then there’s work! I have to write a proposal, co-write at least one episode of our show, finish some web content, follow up on umpteen proposals and advertising contracts, develop navigation for a new web site, and make sure our design team has enough to keep them busy while we’re away.

All of this occured to me within about 30 seconds of waking up this morning. No wonder I am anxious.

I sat at the computer, heart palpitating at the thought all I had to do, and what email demands were awaiting to distract me from those tasks. My eyes hit Chris Brogan’s post about Drowning almost immediately. Sometimes hearing about someone else who is feeling similarly can allow a different perspective to flood in. It worked, snapping me out of my ego-minded selfish way of thinking. “Hey, I’m not the only person in the world with a long to do list,” I thought to myself. “How am I going to handle it?” I sat back, took a deep breath, and reminded myself of how I deal with extreme busy-ness.

I’m really in to top ten lists lately, so here’s my top ten list of things anyone can do to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Make a list on paper. Prioritize the list, and schedule when you will accomplish certain tasks.
  2. Once you’ve scheduled a task, don’t think about it again until it’s time to do it.
  3. Re-write the list when necessary. Check things off and don’t worry about them once they are done.
  4. Don’t be afraid to do like Chris did, and ask not to be disturbed. 99% of people will respect that. If they don’t, ignore them.
  5. Turn off the distractions. No email, no CrackBerry, no phone calls until you’ve accomplished a certain task.
  6. Minimize distractions, but don’t wait till 5pm to check your day’s worth of email. That will only overwhelm you more. Make time right after lunch to spend 1/2 an hour dealing with email. File anything you can’t address within 1 or 2 minutes and deal with it when the rush is over. If you have to, send a quick reply telling the person when you will be able to get back to them.
  7. Take a break. The world will wait while you spend 45 minutes to take a walk, do some yoga or have lunch with your spouse. Don’t think about your lists while you are on your break.
  8. Sleep. Nobody is asking you to stay up all night. If you need to rest, even for a couple of hours, do it. You will be much more productive if you aren’t exhausted.
  9. Eat. If you don’t eat, your brain won’t work. Your blood sugar will crash leaving you emotional and frustrated. Make sure you get protein and veggies. And a Big Mac doesn’t count as protein and veggies.
  10. This too shall pass. You WILL get through your list. The crazy busy time will end. You WILL get to take a break. And you’re not alone. We all feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Anything you’d add to the list? How do you avoid getting overwhelmed?

I’m off to get cracking on my list now. Happy Monday!

Photo credit: bourgeoisbee on Flickr.

6 Responses

  1. Excellent tips. I will add one thing: spoil yourself a little tiny bit. Get the venti vanilla latte on the way to the office, or whatever your poison is. If you’re slogging through mountains of work, having that treat to sip on (or nibble on or whatever) actually cheers you up. “Oh, this proposal sucks. But oooh, this latte is so delicious.”

  2. Number 7? I suck at that one when I’m working. It was really bad when I worked from home. Also bad at #9. At my last job I was really good at #1 but it usually went out the window as soon as I opened up my email in the morning (which come to think of it was part of the reason why I left, ha!).

    I agree with spoiling yourself too. Sometimes those late nights are just better when you have a belly full of take-out Thai food.

  3. #10 is flat out wrong. The lists will never be finished because just of all the things you’re putting off while finishing what’s on the list.

    That said: Have you heard about the husband and wife who both kept lists? His was all neat and tidy, one by one, he clicked things off. Hers was a mess, no matter how many times she rewrote it. The difference? He only added something to the list when it was done and he could cross it off immediately. Now that’s efficiency. 🙂

  4. Sleep! Sleep! Sleep! “Giving myself permission to sleep” has changed my life – *and* my productivity.

    And as for #10, I often complete to do lists. There’s always more to do, but I do finish my lists, and certainly the feelings of being overwhelmed do subside as you get things done, or even simply by getting organized and getting through a few things that are driving you crazy. 🙂

    Great post!

  5. sleep … oh what a luxury. I’ve tried lists but I get distracted and go off and complete some tasks before I finish the list. must be ADHD. the stuff I’m doing now is so fun, i can’t help but get involved in more projects. I just launched the THEM=US project that I talked to you about recently and submitted to slideshare http://www.slideshare.net/aisfan/change-the-world (thx for the vote). I think I may have just gotten involved with another project in cause based social network space.

    but I’m not yet drowning, I’m surfing … just gotta watch out for a crash or the beach … whichever comes first!

  6. I try to break things down into as many small pieces as possible so that I can get a sense of accomplishment once I’ve completed something. This makes the project slightly more enjoyable and not so difficult to accomplish. Otherwise, it’s easy to let the feeling of being overwhelmed completely engulf us…to the point that we’re deterred from continuing at all…

    Anyway, that’s what I do. And some good music like Cirque du Soleil helps too…. :-p

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