How To Stifle Overwhelm Before It Suffocates You

stifle overwhelm - girl in hat

You probably wear lots of different hats, yes?

I don’t mean like a range of caps, bonnets and Stetsons.

Rather like a stack of metaphorical hats that brings with it responsibilities, demands and tasks – oh boy, lots of tasks!

It feels as if you’re desperately trying to juggle them – circus style, fast, furiously and … flawlessly.

There’s an unseen pressure to do HUGE amounts and to do them all super well.

Tiring. Very, very tiring!

I’ll be honest this has been on my mind for the last 6 weeks. You might remember I recently wrote to you about being overwhelmed? That’s because I’d tried to take my multiple hat juggling prowess to a sky high level by taking on a big project while already operating at my maximum capacity.

Well, if you don’t try sometimes, you don’t know 🙂

Now, I know – for sure!

But, the great thing was in going through the process of taking on too much, getting overwhelmed and just popping out the other end, I learned some killer tips on how to never get overwhelmed again.

And I want to share these with you in the hope that they can really help you.

But first, just so it makes sense, I’ll tell you what the big project was: One of the hats I wear is as a professional editor. It keeps me super busy most of the time but I love it. Alongside this as you know I write books, run our blog with Mark and write articles for a series of other blogs too.

All good fun. I’m hugely appreciative that I spend so much of my time doing what I enjoy most – writing.It’s my version of paradise despite the deadlines, late night Skype calls and those days when the words just won’t flow – aggh!

But back to the project. One of my main Editor roles is at WritetoDone, one of the biggest writing blogs online with an incredible pedigree and over 70,000 subscribers eagerly looking to improve their writing skills. It’s a fantastic place if you have even a hint of creative passion burning inside you.

Well, that incredible audience love to learn and we at the WritetoDone team had a great idea – to create the ultimate bundle of writing courses and resources that would help every single writer subscribed to the site take their skills to the next level.

Oh, eeeeek! Did we overcook how massive the bundle of courses and resources would be! As a team we’re all super enthusiastic and yes, we got very carried away with ideas. And then we upped those ideas even more.

(Is there an emoji for flat on your back exhausted? Because that’s what I’d put in here).

But I’ve emerged intact, unbelievable energized by the incredible Writer’s Bundle we’ve created and genuinely delighted by what I’ve learned in the process…

How To Stifle Overwhelm Before It Suffocates You

Sometimes, maybe even often, the many things clamoring for our time and energy aren’t self-imposed. We all have a duty to others in different areas of our busy, complicated lives which makes for a wonderfully caring world but it also pulls us in lots of directions.

While working to deliver on the promises I’d made I was very aware of the other people relying on me for a variety of different things: articles, editing feedback, advice, friendship, love – even the taxman needed my time and information (join the queue!).

So here’s my tips for stifling overwhelm before it strangles you:

Make yourself a clear picture of what there is to do (as far as you know)
I made an overall plan of how I thought the Writer’s Bundle would pan out, what was needed, by who, by when. Well, that was nonsense. By day 3 the team had collectively added many extra courses and resources. But, no matter, I revisited my plan and slotted in all the extra tasks. Sure it was bigger, but it was clear.

Chop tasks up into chunks you can envisage completing
All the tasks that had my name against them, I highlighted in yellow. It looked like a tray of custard! No matter, I could see clearly what I needed to do and by when – my to-do list was bursting but clear.

Allow enough time, and then allow more
Life isn’t neat, grrr! Stuff comes up and time definitely seems the least consistent force in the world, well, in mine when I’m seriously busy. So I worked out the time the majority of tasks would take me and then added a generous 20%. That wasn’t generous enough in hindsight – next time I’ll go for 30%.

Call for help
I’m hugely enthusiastic and hopelessly unrealistic when working on a new project. No matter, I (reluctantly) admitted defeat and called for help. It felt wrong and odd and not at all like me but it tamed my overwhelm. Better still, it gave some really great people the chance to shine and show off skills they had that would otherwise have been overlooked.

Let great ideas go
Ouch! This hurt. The whole WritetoDone team had great ideas but we all had to let some go to get the project onto a more realistic keel. No matter, we’ve got another project’s worth of stellar ideas to take forward in our next project. And our current baby, the Writer’s Bundle, has ended up so much better for having a streamlined focus.

Honestly I would say half the battle of overwhelm is that we feel guilty. I certainly did in those first 2 weeks. I felt I was letting other people down and not doing my best job in other areas. No matter, I came clean and apologized. I called time out on a couple of jobs, told some friends ‘so sorry, this time I just can’t help and told Mark ‘Love, I promise you’ll get your wife back very soon, apologies’. Everyone totally understood.

Streamline unimportant calls on your time

Inevitably a few urgent but unimportant things fell off the page. Emails other than those from our wonderful readers were missed, and we ate more sandwiches than hot meals because the shopping went undone. No matter, I learned to see what was really important and prioritize – some of the other stuff won’t even make it onto my to-do list next time.

Put something else on temporary hold
I had a lot of things I wanted to do: projects (small or big), new hobbies to start and new habits to master. No matter, I put each one on hold but made a date to start them up again – that way I didn’t feel guilty, just relieved at the reduced pressure on my time and energy.

Prioritize some time to look after yourself

Now, in truth I think this is the area where most of us fall down. Looking after ourselves slips a long way down our to-do list and sometimes off it completely. Late one evening Mark switched off my laptop and called a halt on late nights – thank goodness! I was being less and less productive as I got more and more tired. Looking after ourselves matters a lot – for us and for everyone who loves and relies on us.

Celebrate every little bit of progress

When too many things need doing life’s no fun! This is one area Mark and I worked out a long time ago. We noted that when we were over busy we got slower and slower. And often, we gave up doing whatever it was altogether. To combat overwhelm, it is ESSENTIAL to have fun. And what better way than to celebrate and reward yourself for every inch of progress. Each time you can tick something, have something you want. Go for it and overwhelm won’t stand a chance.

Sacrifice a little

I tried at the beginning to work like crazy to do all that I’d promised and at the same time to still meet up with friends for dinner, have drinks or hang over the fence for hours chatting. Something had to give but no matter. So I turned down some invitations, cut long chats short and asked for some space to get the Writer’s Bundle project finished and everyone respected that.

Communicate often
Struggling along on our own is like nectar to overwhelm. All our doubts, fears and worries… overwhelm feeds on all of it. However, I found when I took my head out of my laptop long enough to communicate with others,  overwhelm soon faded. We buoyed each other up, swapped time saving tips and congratulated each other for every little step of progress. We had overwhelm beaten and left starving – no nectar this time!

Slide your deadline a little (if you can)
This isn’t always possible, that’s true. I’d been determined this project had to be finished by 1st May – PERIOD! But other equally important projects were getting left behind. I finally realized I was adding to the stress by hanging onto a deadline that had no need to be so stringent.So I slid it along a week and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. Phew!

Stifle Overwhelm Now!

I haven’t counted how many mini lessons I learned from the bout of overwhelm that engulfed me but however many it is, they’ve changed my life. Overwhelm now knows it doesn’t stand a chance.  OK, it will get a toe or two over the threshold again, I know that, but I’ve got the tools to tame it. My new tactics made a HUGE difference to helping me not only get through this project, but do a really great job and best of all, still love doing what I had to do.

I hope the lessons I learned can do the same for you.

Speak to you soon


P.S. In case you’re curious about the Writer’s Bundle or have a creative streak burning inside you, you can find out more here.

Spread the happiness!

Laura Tong

Laura is on a mission to help you reduce stress and grow your happiness by simplifying your life. Download her free cheat sheet: 5 Guilt Free Ways To Say No Without Offending Anyone (Even If You Hate Conflict)

Laura also hosts the Re-write The Rules In Your Life interview series where she shares awesome happiness and positivity tips from experts around the world. Click here to listen free to the latest episodes.

Laura 's writing regularly features on such top blogs as Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and Goodlife ZEN. Her articles have been read and shared by thousands (and even translated into Serbian and Burmese).

She’s a published author (traditional and indie) and has written books as diverse as luxury travel, surreal fiction, autobiographical and personal development. You can get her latest book here:The Life-Changing Power of NO!

Laura is also Editor of Write To Done & Assistant Editor at GoodlifeZEN and hundreds of students have taken her course on building confidence.

Laura’s other passions include painting, renovating her house in France and building everything from Ozark float boats to hovercraft. She also loves travelling, adventuring and discovering just how awesome people are the world over. Follow Laura on twitter

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Mary Jaksch - May 9, 2018 Reply

Yes, overwhelm is a real problem. As part of the WritetoDone team, I know that you worked like crazy in the last few years I don’t know how you managed to create everything.

There are a couple of things I want to add about beating overwhelm.
1. For me, the backbreakers are not the things that I enjoy doing, like the writing and creating. The things that get me down are other pressures, like tax problems. I’ve found that what helps my feeling of overwhelm is to tackle the things that are putting pressure on me In the background so that I can get back to what I love.

2. I’m always optimistic about how much I can manage, but sometimes I overdo things. jMy tip is that when you realize you have come to a limit and need to sleep, rest, or change tasks, it’s important to pull the hand break and allow yourself to stop for a while. If you drive yourself too hard, the project can sour on you. Then, what can be invigorating can turn into a drag.

In all of this, it’s important to understand that stress is good. I don’t mean chronic stress, but time-limited stress. This makes us grow.

Laura - May 10, 2018 Reply

Thank you for these super helpful extra tips, Mary. You’ve made a great point about getting rid of some of the ‘other pressures’ – they can niggle away, stealing our focus and concentration for the bigger project and thus add to our overwhelm. Pulling on the handbrake – this is a must for me and often just a short break recharges my batteries and enthusiasm enormously.

I find that this kind of time-limited stress can be revealing: it shows us we can do more than we’d previously thought, or that we can master something better than we thought, for example. Sometimes, just being reminded that we haven’t lost the art of proper focus and concentration is a wonderful boost.

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