In today’s world of non-stop distractions, it is normal for most of us to be stacked with information, tasks, and oftentimes, problems that may fog our mind. This is how we enter a state of overwhelm. Being overwhelmed is a state of mind and it is up to us to get out of this situation or flounder in whatever is causing us overwhelm. In this episode, Kat Nieh shares five crucial tips on how we can overcome this circumstance including clearing your mental bandwidth and setting mental boundaries. She also talks about the five Ds of productivity which can greatly help us figure out our priorities and combat overwhelm.
Listen to the podcast here:
[ Episode 4 ] Overcoming overwhelm
We are going to talk about overwhelm. Yup, everyone has experienced overwhelm before. I knew I was and that made me think about what one of my mentors Michael Silvers told me: Overwhelm is an emotional state. When I first heard that, “Really? How was that an emotional state?” I have some good news and bad news to share with you, but I want to start with the bad news first, which is I’m sorry to say, but you chose it. There is no one else to blame for your overwhelm.
Here’s the good news. You can get yourself out of it as well. What exactly is overwhelm? It is you looking at everything all at once. It’s all about your thoughts—You’re thinking about the projects you have to work on, the tasks you have to do, and some other random thing in the back of your mind. It’s all the physical things happening around you as well—you have your long to-do lists in front of you. You have your emails piling up. You have your Slack messages flashing at you. You have people talking at you along with all these other distractions are in your space.
With both of your thoughts and physical environment combined, it is creating your state of overwhelm. When you’re overwhelmed, you’re thinking, “How am I going to find the time to do all this? There’s not enough time in the day to do everything I need to get done.” I want to share with you this formula, which is your thoughts create your feelings, which leads to your actions and creates your results.
How does this apply to overwhelm? Think of this. The thoughts of overwhelm are starting to bubble up in your head and you start thinking about all the things that are going on, which creates your feelings. They are your fears, your worries, or your anxieties. All those feelings are coming up and all that leads to action.
Your body is creating stress through the hormone cortisol, which leads to your actions of being frantic. You’re being rushed to do everything. You’re multitasking, which ends up leading to your results, which aren’t great because you’re half-assing stuff. You’re not getting everything done or you’re so overwhelmed that you end up procrastinating instead and not doing anything. None of that is desirable. That’s not what you want when you’re in overwhelm.
What do you do instead? I have five tips for you:
[ 1 ] Stop. Take a breath, and step back from everything that’s going on right now.
The first thing I want you to do is to calm your mind down. It is very important for you to take that moment to relax and it is worth it to take as much time as you need to take a break. Calm down. Either you want to meditate, you want to go take a walk somewhere, go get a cup of coffee or journal. Anything you need to do to hit the reset button that as you calm down and taking a breath, you could come up with a much better plan of action.
[ 2 ] Clear your mental bandwidth.
As you’re doing all the stuff, you have all these thoughts and have ideas and maybe tasks or more to-do list of things you need to do inside or outside of work. Get it out of your mind. Write it down somewhere on a list, brain dump everything so you actually clear your mind to have more open space to think more effectively and to be more present at your current moment. I want you to think of your brain as a computer, that they have mental buckets. If you have so many windows and programs all open at the same time running, what does that do to your computer? It slows it down. As you’re juggling all these things at the same time, you don’t have enough mental bandwidth to process one thing properly. Get it out of your mind. Dump it all out and handle it later.
[ 3 ] Use your overwhelm to your advantage and notice what your priorities are.
This is actually the good thing about overwhelm for you to think about it. I want you to consider these three questions as you’re dealing with your overwhelm:
a) What am I not willing to sacrifice no matter how busy I am?
b) What are the tasks I don’t want to do, but I delegate to someone else to do?
c) What makes me happy?
Use these three as filters for your life. Use overwhelm as a way to filter out what are things that you don’t enjoy doing, you don’t want to do and focus on the things that make you happy and the things that you would not sacrifice at all, no matter how busy you are. This helps me know what your priorities in your life are.
I want to go back to the delegate part of the question and elaborate on that some more. There’s this thing called the four Ds of productivity, which is Do, Delete, Delegate and Defer. These four little words actually help out a lot for your productivity. Start off with, can you do it right now? If you can’t do it right now, can you defer it to another specific date on your calendar? Can you delegate it to someone else to do? Evaluate in thinking about it, “Do want to do it? Is it crucial for you to do this thing?” If not, delete it. It’s leveraging overwhelm to figure out what your priorities and where are your values in your life. It guides you to make much better decisions when it comes to all the things that you’re doing in your life that are leading to your overwhelm.
[ 4 ] Set mental boundaries with work.
That means scheduling downtime and taking breaks that you need to be able to have mental boundaries from work. You need to be able to put it aside and actually reset—take care of yourself. Take a break, and not even think about work. It’s you practicing on being more present and not multitasking as well. There’s actually a Forbes article that says, “Multitasking actually kills brain cells.” I know I am so guilty of this one as well. This is something I’m still working on. It is true. When you’re multitasking, you aren’t focused on one thing. You’re doing everything all at once.
It goes back to what I was saying before about your brain being like a computer. If you’re doing so much stuff, are you doing anything well? There’s a part of multitasking that continues leading to your overwhelm as well. Because you’re telling your brain to be doing and thinking about multiple things at once by having a conversation while listening to a podcast and also doing dishes at the same time or some other kind of task. All that is certainly creating little bits of overwhelm that continues to build in addition to all of the other stuff that’s going on in your head. Don’t overwhelm your mind with too much to do all at once. Let it focus on one thing and do that well, which leads to my last one.
[ 5 ] Be kinder to yourself.
Know that there is always tomorrow. You don’t have to do everything on your list right now at this very second. Focus on each thing that is taking you closer to your goals—not distractions, the nice-to-have’s, or could-be-doing’s. Throw FOMO out the window. Truly focus on what will be you closer to your own goals, and then tackle things at your own pace. Your pace is different than someone else’s pace. It’s okay to go at whatever pace you’re going at, because that works for you.
I also know that putting yourself down does not help your situation either. All that negative mind chatter that goes on is actually hindering you. Let those negative stuff go. And instead, I want you to celebrate your successes. I want you to anchor in each and every positive vibe that you can come up with. No matter how big or small your success is, celebrate it and have fun, even in your overwhelm.
Let your attention fuel you towards your bigger goals and turn it into something so empowering, because you are deciding what you want to do with your precious time. It is your choice. My dear workaholics, I am telling you that being a workaholic isn’t a bad thing at all. Overwhelm totally happens to everyone, but you could do it differently by it using it to your advantage. It’s reminding yourself that it’s just a state of mind. You could choose to get yourself out of it at any time, or you choose to wallow in whatever pain it’s causing you right now. Which one do you want to be in?
It’s important to set your mental boundaries. It’s by taking a step at a time—one action at a time—to get yourself out of your overwhelm. Turn that negative state into seeing what positive driving force that will power you through your challenges and towards the goals that you want to achieve. All this is learning how to properly direct all your amazing passion and dedication in the right direction.
I know that you got this, and I’m here with you.