3 Cures for Overwhelm in December and Beyond

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It’s that time of year! So let me get right to the point to minimize the odds of making it worse . . .

3 cures for overwhelm, and not just for now, but throughout the year.

Challenge: pick one idea from this list to try out for the rest of the month. Unless that feels overwhelming. In which case, just drop it ( ;

ONE:   Get your To Do’s out of your head and onto paper (either actual or electronic) If you already do this, skip to #2.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done notes that it takes a lot of energy to hold your To Do’s in your head. You not only worry about how and when you will do them, but you also worry about not forgetting that you have to do them. Getting them out of your head and into a trusted tool or system reduces overwhelm and frees up headspace that you can then direct toward creative and productive action.

Two tools that serve well for this purpose are:

  • A Master Project List (per David Allen)
  • A Daily/Weekly To Do List + Calendar (per Christine Carter, and me)

The Master Project list is a place to write down all the projects – both professional and personal — you have going on now or want to make happen in the future. A project is any activity that requires more than one action to get done.

(“Call the plumber,” is not a project because it is just one action, assuming you already have a plumber and their phone number handy. “Fix dishwasher” would be a project if you need to first find a plumber, or will do it yourself – more than one action must happen for it to get done.)

Whenever you think of projects coming up, you capture them in your Master Project List. Here is an example of some of the projects on my list, in two of my major categories:

Class Offerings

  • Marketing plan for Spring classes
  • Outline and handout for Feb parenting class
  • Habitot Children’s Museum speaking event
  • New posters for parenting class

Family and Friends

  • Xmas gifts
  • Kids TimeFrames pictures
  • Birthday party for Mer

I like Trello.com for my project list. Other client favorites are Wunderlist, OmniPro, or a spreadsheet or Word document.

The daily or weekly To Do list is simpler and focused on actions you will take that day or week.  Every day, take a few minutes to write your short-term To Do’s onto a list or add them directly into your calendar, allocating enough time for that activity.

I prefer the physical act of writing things down so here’s what my list looks like today. to-do-list I’ve also blocked time in my calendar for two of the activities that will take more time.

This process takes about 5 minutes of thinking and dramatically reduces that feeling of overwhelm. Even if you discover that it’s not possible to do everything on your list, you now know it and can make conscious choices about what to drop, delegate, defer, or dumb-down.


TWO:   Do Less by implementing the 4 D’s: Drop, Delegate, Defer, or Dumb-It-Down

Part of the reason we feel overwhelm is because we really do have too much on our plates. So please, just take some off.

Christine Carter, author of The Sweet Spot, recommends you start by highlighting items on your (now created) to do list or project list that you dread doing. Then decide what you can defer – it doesn’t really have to happen this week, this month, or even this year. Maybe your daughter can take that art class next trimester, when soccer is over.

What can you delegate? As for me, making daily dinner was a source of dread. So, I delegated it. Most nights I pay someone else to cook for me. Best money I ever spent (and not as much as you might think!) If you are like most parents, there are probably many tasks your children could be doing (laundry, making lunch, wrapping gifts, addressing holiday cards, etc.)

Now, what can you just drop? I’m looking at my project list now and noticing items I’ve had on there for years. Just deleted two items. Wow, that felt good! I also decided (for now anyway), that I’m not doing holiday cards. I bet most people won’t even notice.

This last one is for you if you tend toward perfectionism. Dumb-It-Down simply means do it less well. Not everything on your list needs to be done well. Some things are worth doing good enough. What are those things?

I invite you to consciously decide what you will get a C on. Or even C minus. I dare you. Today it’s the gluten-free dessert I’m to bring to a dinner party. It will also be labor-free because I just bought it. Now I have time to write this blog!

THREE:   Block time in your calendar every week to tackle your To Do list

Crossing things off your list works wonders in relieving overwhelm! Obviously. However, it’s amazing how often we fail to allocate appropriate time for the To Do’s.

So to start, please pull out your calendar and block off chunks of time to just get things done. Think of this time as “committed” time – the same way you would think about a meeting with another person.

One of my clients has blocked off what she calls, “Focus Time” every Monday and Wednesday from 9 – 12. I’ve blocked off my entire Monday and most of Friday for “Planning and Preparation” – no meetings except for a weekly check-in with my assistant and the occasional 30-minute coaching discovery session.

You could also block off time in your calendar for specific To Do’s. If one of your “To Do’s” is to “plan menu for holiday dinner,” block off a specific day and time for this activity.

If the task you’ve blocked time for still feels overwhelming, David Allen recommends you break the task down into the smallest next action required to make progress — not to complete it — but to push the ball forward just a little.

The next little action for “write blog” might be to simply open up a Word document and jot down ideas. That’s it! Then often that little action leads you to the next little action, and before you know it, you’re (I’m) done.

Finally, I invite you to write, “enjoy the people I love” on your To Do list. That one feels especially good to get done, and when you make that your priority, there simply is not enough time to sweat the small stuff. And, as they say, it’s all small stuff.

What helps you reduce overwhelm?  I’d love to hear your comments below!

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