How do you get out from under?
I talked in my last blog post how you might feel overloaded or overwhelmed – tired, forgetful, irritable and apathetic! Our current lifestyles have us busy multi-tasking. Our brains are working overtime! There is physical clutter, mental clutter, and scheduling clutter! In order to clear the clutter, we need to tackle head-on the ways in which we are choosing overload.
If we want to reclaim some control, we need to make some changes in the way that we choose.
From overloaded to clarity: clear the clutter
Unfortunately, clutter results in stress hormones being released into the bloodstream. To clear the overwhelm, you need to clear the clutter: physically, mentally and in your schedule. This includes interruptions. It means setting boundaries, which can be difficult and painful with some people.
Additionally, with phones, computers, and open-plan offices, it’s easy to see how we live with too many interruptions. Others are interrupting us – and we are interrupting ourselves! Flow states – getting things done – typically does not happen in a sea of interruptions. And our poor brains get us more tired, forgetful, anxious, irritable, and finally hopeless.
Start by clearing your space(s)
Where possible – clear all your spaces (home office/work/kitchen – whatever your space is). Some days this feels like procrastination – I am clearing up to be able to do more.
It is procrastination if all you are doing is moving the mess from one place to another!
Clutter – is simply a decision you have failed to make. How many decisions are cluttering your office/kitchen/closet? Does it stay? Or should it go?
Clear the interruptions
One of the best lessons I learned in managing staff was to start my morning going around the office and answering everyone’s questions and clarifying things that needed to be completed. Be proactive in managing (stopping) interruptions. I held few meetings but stopped daily to check in with staff before sitting at my desk.
Once I had been around the office and checked on staff and their needs, THEN I entered my office and closed the door. I typically had 90 minutes of uninterrupted time to get things done before my first call or meeting. Hold the calls and take a message. Hold your questions and documents that need my signature. If they weren’t ready when I arrived, they can wait 90 minutes – unless you got my approval to interrupt for signatures when I talked to you.
The reason that I worked that way was that I liked to get in “late” and work late. So, before I left in the evening, I would organise and delegate tasks and client work. I would intentionally arrive about an hour later than others – giving them time to get started and realise what they needed from me. Then, as I arrived, I checked with each team member that they understood. What are you responsible for? When is it due? Which client contact should you coordinate with? What questions do you have? What additional information do you need to get working on this and where do you intend to get that information?
Making sure everyone is productive, not just me
If I were to go straight to my office and close myself in for 90 minutes with “no interruptions” – they might sit for 90 minutes. Time lost because they had unanswered questions. The alternative – they would interrupt me, in order to move forward.
Being proactive in my approach – I made sure that when I closed my door for my uninterrupted work time, I had already taken care of the possible interruptions. They had the answers they needed to move ahead, and I had a clear schedule.
How can you be more proactive in staving off interruptions?
Clear your schedule by setting boundaries on your availability:
Another secret to getting things done is to work in “flow” – to get deep into concentration. They say it takes us twenty to twenty-five minutes to concentrate and reach a state of flow. So, if you are getting interrupted every 30 minutes, you get 5 minutes of flow. That might account for some of your irritability!
One of the best lessons that I learned, early on in my law career, was to manage my availability.
I had one day a week when I was simply “unavailable” – every week. This was the day that I could choose my priorities and getting work done. No client appointments or calls. No interruptions from staff. On this day, I could choose which clients I would focus on, in which order, and when I would choose to return phone calls.
Client calls and meetings
On the one hand, this meant pushing all client meetings and calls into four days a week. I would typically try to put all calls/meetings on the same day. So, I would only have one or two days a week when I would meet with clients – and those days were typically pretty manic. Meeting after meeting, with calls fitted in between.
But it meant that the rest of my week and schedule were open to getting the work done!
Set boundaries that work for you and the type of work that you are doing -when will you choose to be available that works best for you and your business?
How can you clear the clutter of appointments – so that your time-blocking can work in your favour?
Deluged with too much work: priorities
Possibly the hardest lesson of all – learn to say “no” and don’t accept all the work that is passed your way! I particularly struggled with this as a lawyer, although as I got more experienced, I got much better at it!
Just because someone would like you to do a job, that doesn’t mean you are the best person for the job.
More importantly, does this work align with your priorities? Do you want to learn and grow in this particular direction? Or is this work actually taking you onto a different path than the one you have chosen?
Clear your priorities list
Declutter your priorities list – you can’t have twenty priorities! Twenty priorities are as good as no priorities!
Are they on your list because you feel that they “should be” important? Who are you letting down by having twenty priorities?
This doesn’t have to be “work” as in your professional and career work – this might be in your commitments and family priorities. It is perfectly valid and useful in any setting – not just in your career or office priorities.
This area of priorities is one where you might find it useful to work with a coach, who can take you to look at yourself and these tasks from another angle – to see the forest as well as the trees.
What do you want to focus your energy, time and attention on?
I remember, many years ago, learning the Eisenhower Matrix from reading Steven Covey’s book – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I would take my little matrix of Importance and Urgency and put everything in my task list into those boxes.
Unfortunately, I failed to eliminate things from the list before starting! Some things should never make it onto the Matrix!
Covey makes a really important statement in his book about the ladder of success – make sure you have it leaning against the right wall!
And so it is when you are looking at your priorities – are they actually your priorities?
Or are you busy prioritising someone else’s priorities? Don’t jump throw tasks into your matrix because they are important or urgent for someone else. Add into the equation your motives for even having them on your list of priorities!
Clear your focus: stop multi-tasking
By now, you have hopefully learned that multitasking does not actually work. For anyone.
Yes, I know they say that women are better at it than men are. But the reality is that we are simply jumping faster from one activity to another, and then jumping back again to the original one. We are not literally doing both at the same time!
Allowing yourself to focus on one task – one activity – at a time, allows you to enjoy the moment more, and it gives your brain a break! I noticed, over the weekend, I was getting frustrated and irritated, because I was trying to write while I was looking after my daughter. Let’s be honest – I was neither writing nor looking after my daughter! Deciding to abandon the writing until she went to sleep and simply give her my full attention created much greater happiness and peace – for both of us.
Clear your mind:
One tool that I have used regularly over the past few years – whether it be professionally or personally – is simply having a notebook (or Penzu, online) for brain-dumping. Sometimes I use this tool in the morning before I start working on a project. Other times, I use it before I go to sleep at night.
For me – in these cases – the purpose of brain-dumping is simply to clear the clutter of the monkey mind and inner critic. I write down all the things I remember that I need to do, and all the thoughts that are bothering me about a process or a problem. I note down everything that I am noticing and all the chatter. It doesn’t need to make sense. If the thoughts are specific to a project or task that I have a notepad about, I will collect all those notes in that place. Otherwise, they just into the brain-dump.
But, in order to focus (or to sleep) – I need to be singularly focused. So, all that information and those ideas need somewhere to go – they cannot continue swimming around in my mind!
My experience is that once I have written them all down (“see, there, I paid attention to everything you were worried about and needed to tell me“), I am then able to focus on the task at hand. Be that a project I want to work on and focus deeply into. Or just going to sleep.
You may experience, in the beginning, that this takes forever (an hour or more). As you start the practice, you write and write and write… over the course of a few days, it finally starts to settle. You get greater clarity and are better able to quiet the mind. You’ve listened to what it needed to say – and now it is ready to listen and do what you need it to do.
Hopefully, you have already heard about this way to lessen the load – fewer decisions. Choose a uniform for work, even if your workplace doesn’t have a uniform. Empty your closet down to minimums, so that there are fewer but easier, choices. This reduces mental fatigue.
In your schedule, allocate one day a week/fortnight/month for paying the bills, grocery shopping, and other routine tasks. In some areas of life, more routine means that your mind gets a break!
Prioritising self-care, sleep and rest:
As well as clearing the clutter, if you are overloaded, overwhelmed and tired – you need to rest. Reduce your sleep debt – and choose a lifestyle where you are not in constant debt!
This might consist of:
- afternoon power naps
- a short walk daily
- weekend getaways
- a momcation
- meditation or mindfulness – just turning your brain off
- a regular, good night’s sleep
- sitting down with a good book.
Whatever it is – choose when and where you will relax and disconnect.
Get present in your body – in yourself – not just in your head with all your thoughts. Make sure that your self-care is part of your daily and weekly schedules, not just something you do at the last minute to avoid burnout. This includes sleeping enough for your body – at this time.
I’ve had to do some work and experimenting to find a sleep environment that truly works for me. As much as I love my dogs, that sleep environment involves no dogs hogging the bed! It also means that there is very little light entering the room and that the temperature is cool, but not cold. Additionally, I have tried different types of meditation music, hypnosis for sleep, and other deep sleep sounds.
Each of us has different ideal environments for getting the best night’s sleep. I invite you to experiment and find how many hours and with what environment you sleep best.
Choice is power: choosing a different way
While you might feel that there is never enough time to get everything done, feeling overwhelmed and overloaded – this is also a reflection of your choices. I’ve outlined above some of the techniques that I use to clear the clutter – but sometimes you have to look at the big picture of lifestyle.
I invite you to make some choices that will change your approach to overwhelm and overload. These small choices will also help you to clear the clutter.
I don’t remember who said:
Show me where you spend your time and money, and I’ll tell you what’s important to you.
Change your language:
One of the biggest changes that will impact your mental well-being is a small change in the way you say “I don’t have time for this”. You could choose to make time for it. You are choosing to give priority to other things instead. So, say that! “This isn’t a priority for me at this time”.
Perhaps you feel like it should be.
But your current reality is that it is not – you are not choosing to allocate time in your schedule to it – so rather than saying “I don’t have time”, change the way you frame it – for yourself and for others.
This might mean saying “I’m not interested” or “I can’t make it this week”.
I don’t value this highly enough to invest my time
What do you value? What is worth investing your time and energy into? Start to get clear on where you want to invest your energy and what is not worth your effort!
What will you no longer tolerate in your life?
What relationships do you want to invest in, because they mean a lot to you? Does the way you spend your time reflect their importance to you?
What are you choosing for yourself as you look at your time and energy? These are both resources that you have – and you choose, each and every day, how you will invest them.
- Do you choose to clear the clutter – or allow yourself to be overwhelmed?
- Are you choosing to be realistic – simple and real – about how much you will get done today, this week and this month? And then focusing your energy into being present for those tasks?
- Can you choose to stay focused, motivated and productive on the things that matter the most to you?
- Are you willing to release the non-essential – those things which are simply cluttering your life and time?
- Possibly the hardest question of all – can you choose to proactively build relationships that are beneficial, and lose the relationships that are not worth your investment of time and energy?
You may need to make some lifestyle changes to eliminate exposure to prolonged stressors: especially if some of these stressors are particular relationships or situations that will take you time to transform. One choice is to get a coach or a mentor to find out what your longterm triggers are – what is the real source of your overload and overwhelm?
Ideally, instead of “managing” the stress or the overload, you want to find a way to eliminate it.
What will you choose in your life to clear the clutter?Introductory Call
Are you curious about where your time goes? Why not complete the Worksheet “Where does my time go?” – which allows you to take a good look at:
- Where do I think my time goes?
- Where does my time really go?
- How would I like to invest my time?
I typically recommend that you look at where your time really goes over the seven days of a “normal” week. Not the week when you are on holiday – but your average week when life is simply happening for you as it has been regularly.