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Overwhelmed? Here are a few steps to walk your way out

by The Happy Rock on May 22, 2007

sailboatatdock.jpgMy todo list has been overflowing lately. How did I know?….I was subconsciously avoiding adding any tasks to it. I was barely finding time to get the basics done, let alone attack anything on my list. Like a deer in headlights, I wasn’t even getting things done when I had time. My so called productivity system left me wasting valuable time searching Steve Pavlina’s sleep experiments for more time. For days and maybe weeks I was making feeble attempts to drag myself out of the hole I was digging. Nothing was working. I wrote these steps while having too much on my todo list in mind, but I think they are applicable to creating freedom in other areas like debt and finances.

The breakthrough came when I asked myself “What would I say to a reader who asked for advice?”. Here is what I came up with and what I have been personally working through :

Realize You Are Overwhelmed – The first part is realizing that you are overwhelmed and not just procrastinating on a few tasks. If you are just procrastinating, look here for some tips. It may sound stupid, but I often find myself wandering frustrated for days until I recognize my patterns that point to deeper problems. My signs were the not using my PDA for processing and recording tasks, needlessly unproductive in ‘free’ time(avoidance), looking for quick fixes, and devouring of some junk food.

Accept Reality – Again, this sounds easy, but it really isn’t. For me, it took the form of admitting to others that the ship is sinking. I mean an author of a productivity blog, can’t admit this sort of stuff, right? Father and husband of the year(sarcasm), can’t admit to his family that he is struggling. Well, I did. I resigned to write a post addressing the exact issue. Then, the next morning I shared with my wife how I was feeling. In a world that tells you not to show weakness or rely on others, it sure feels cathartic to let those false pretenses go despite the uncomfortableness. It paves the way for true change.

Get Perspective – This took two forms :

  • Step Outside Yourself – First, I started thinking through my blog post. What would I tell someone who asked me how to deal with a similar situation? The answers become a lot more clear, manageable, and practical when not trying to deal with my own baggage. Stepping outside myself on my journey also leads me into prayer.
  • Life Is A Journey – Again a productivity blogger has to have it all together, right? Nope, that is why we call it a journey. Epiphany moments are rare, so most of life is filled with gradual up and downs. Some months are better, some are worse. Remember, we are steering a boat through this journey. You don’t automatically turn a boat around 180 degrees, it takes time to navigate that big boat from the valleys to the peaks. This type of perspective helps us to accept our reality without the self-pity and frustration that helps keep us trapped in the mud.

Priorities – At this point we can begin to look at the overwhelming list of things to accomplish. I like to keep these rules in mind when sorting through which tasks are the most important, which can be put off, and which can be outsourced/delegated or deleted:

  1. People are more important than things – For me family comes first
  2. Bills before thrills, or more clearly needs before wants

This time around there wasn’t anything that I removed from my list, but I did realize that there were a at least dozen tasks that would probably take less then fifteen minutes each.

Seek Simplicity – Focus on removing clutter from your life, your time, your systems, and your mind. It is amazing how quickly ‘stuff’ builds up as time goes on. I will let Leo over at Zen Habits who is a master at writing about simplicity guide you through some of that process.

Focus and Do – Finally, comes the DOING! After I told my wife about how I was feeling, she let a gentle pearl of wisdom fly. You just need to “reorganize and tackle one thing at a time”. Yeah, great pearl of wisdom, right? Well maybe it was more of a motivational boost, but it did help me remember that this is how I should be tackling things. It gave me some control back. Even with a trip to Longwood Gardens for Mother’s day, I was able to take a few hours on Saturday to focus and tackle one thing at a time with the help of The Happy Rockette. There were a bunch of small tasks that I knocked out, and even a larger one or two that I got through. It has been much better sailing the last few days, and it will continue. Hope this helps, I know it helped me. I’ll leave with a Thoreau quote :

Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify! … Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.

– Henry David Thoreau (“Where I Lived and What I Lived For” Walden)

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