You know those days when you wake up and immediately feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do? I used to wake up feeling like this all the time. These days not so much, but yesterday was definitely a day when I did. So I thought I’d share with you how I dealt with this feeling of overwhelm, in the hope it might help if you’re feeling this way too.
The first thing I did yesterday was head out for a long walk with the dogs. I needed to do something to make me feel better straight away, and I find getting out in nature is the best cure for calming my overactive mind. Once home I sat down at my desk and did a brain dump, of everything that was swirling around in my head.
I had three different pieces of paper that I wrote everything down on. One was for work, one for things we need to do around home (like staining the deck or hanging a painting), and one for general bits and pieces (like sending a card, or finding someone to shear our sheep). Once I had finished I set the home and general lists to the side, and focused on the list of work tasks - because this was the list that was giving me the biggest headache!
The second thing I did was look at this list and I ask myself a very important question. Was this list causing me to feel overwhelmed because I had taken on too much, and was this going to become an ongoing problem? If the answer had been yes then I would have had to do some soul-searching, and I would have had to contemplate reducing my commitments. Thankfully this wasn’t the case. What I realised was that there were things on my list that were big, one-off tasks. Things like updating staff profiles on our work website, and writing a manual handling session for a presentation I’m giving next week. If these one-off tasks weren’t on my list, then my regular commitments were still quite manageable.
Another reason I like doing a brain dump, is that it often makes you realise your list of things to do isn’t as bad as your mind has made it out to be. Our minds like to over dramatise things. But when everything is laid out on paper in front of you, it allows your mind to see things for what they really are. And that’s usually not quite so dramatic as we believe them to be.
The next thing I needed to do was decide how I was going to tackle the list of work tasks. My usual method is to chip away, ticking one thing off my list at a time. There is a lot written about this subject. Most people will tell you to tackle the big projects first, or the things you don’t really want to do. I do this differently. I like to tackle the small things first. This might be replying to a few emails, uploading a blog post onto my website, or sending off questions to someone I’m interviewing for Creative Countryside.
The reason I like to do it this way, is that it gets things off my list quickly. I find that if I tackle a big project first, and that is all I achieve for the day, then I’ve only ticked one thing off my list. And for me it’s about the size of the list, not what is on it. So if I can spend a couple of hours ticking off five or six tasks, suddenly the list isn’t so long and it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.
This time though I decided to batch everything I needed to do. As you know I work Monday to Thursday as a physiotherapist, so all my additional work is usually done on a Friday. I try not to work too much on a Saturday and never on a Sunday, but our weather is so dreadful here at the moment I knew we wouldn’t be up to much this weekend. So I had three days to spread everything over. I divided the tasks into three days. Yesterday I spent on my Physiotas and Creative Countryside work, today I am writing this blog post and my newsletter, and tomorrow I will write the manual handling course.
I also knew that I didn’t want to spend more than three or four hours on work each day, so it was a case of setting aside the time, putting my head down, smashing it out and not getting distracted. It is actually amazing what you can get down in a short period of time if you put your mind to it!
So by the end of tomorrow I know I will feel back on track. Even just spending yesterday ticking off a large part of my list made a huge difference to how I am feeling. Instead of feeling overwhelmed I now feel in control. Instead of my mind controlling how I feel, I have controlled those swirling thoughts.
Whether it’s work or life that is making me feel overwhelmed I use the same method to deal with it. I brain dump, I ask myself whether something on my plate needs to come off, and then I tackle the tasks at hand.
I also think it’s important to remember that life continually tilts. Sometimes it is busier than at other times. It’s learning how to deal with the busy times that is most important, to allow us to eventually tilt back the other way.