How to Tackle Overwhelm

February 25, 2013

Are you wasting the biggest opportunity of your lifeDo you sometimes feel overwhelmed by multiple projects? Trapped by your own ideas? That you’ve taken on too much, working on ten different things without finishing any? Is your computer riddled with half-written cards, books and posts?

I know. I get anxious just thinking about it. 

But I had to think about it when Ross, an astute Fear.less reader sent me this question last month. I’ve included it here so you could see if you resonated with his question, and if you do, you’re not alone. I work with almost all of my clients on this issue, no matter who they are or what they do.

It’s universal: When faced with too many opportunities, we rarely pursue any at all.

Ross:

“I’m sure tons of people go through this, but I always get myself into too many projects at once, and find myself quitting a bunch and finding new ones without finishing. When it feels like something’s not moving along because I’m spread too thin over many things, I end up quitting. I think I’m scared to stick to one project and thus miss out on other opportunities, but I’m not sure how to prioritize things and stick to one project to actually complete it. How do you decide what to work on at any point and keep focus to finish that project?” 

I love this question. I also love Ross because I AM Ross. I wake up with this question every day and it’s scary to think about when running your own business. Figuring out your own map and picking between opportunities can cause enormous emotional and mental stress. But there are things I do that help me that helped Ross, and if you’re struggling, can help you too.

Step 1: Have gratitude.

Recognize that drawing your own map is a blessing in and of itself. It is. Take ownership, don’t run from the responsibility, because you CAN make this decision. Ownership is everything + feeling grateful will help you quell the emotional madness that comes with this task. Don’t skip it.

Step 2: Realize that you’re wasting all your opportunities by not working on any of them.

Isn’t it true? By freaking out and half-writing, half-pursuing multiple things, you’re not actually producing anything. It wastes more energy because the longer you stay suspended in confusion and fear, the less you do, and the less you magnetize the right opportunities to you because you’re nervous. I intentionally titled this post as I did because the greatest opportunity of your life is in front of you this very minute. I know it doesn’t feel like it because your mind is clouded, but the moment is now. It’s not the one you’re dreaming of in the future, not the one you’re lamenting about from the past. It’s right now and even if it definitely doesn’t look like it’s worth it, seize it.

Step 3: Next, narrow down your options. 

I understand it’s scary to commit to one project. What if it fails? What if I look like a loser? What if they think I’m not good enough? These are real fears and I know they can be intense. But without committing to one project, you’ll feel anxious and helpless. If you’re in a rut now, you know it feels highly uncomfortable. It’s this moment where Facebook and Hulu and ice cream look so appealing. But you must commit and do it swiftly if you want to break the cycle. Less than an hour. You’ll feel like distracting yourself, but don’t.

So how do you actually decide? 

Think about the top 5 projects that take up most of your brain space, and write them down in a simple, concise way. On paper.

Ex:  1. Write blog post on decision-making for Fear.less
2. Write my digital manifesto on marketing
3. Interview five experts for a digital product launching in May.

Look at your options and ask yourself what you’re most excited about. 

What project makes you feel strong, has a clear direction? Which one makes you feel enthused? What could you actually finish if you put your mind to it and did the work for a week? That’s your winner.

I know this isn’t easy. You’ll hear all these thoughts in your head about the “right” option you should pick, other issues you should think about. But now’s not the time. It’s hard to pick the positive option because it feels easy, but it’s not, you’re not taking the easy way out. This is the right option because good emotions need to drive your decision, not your obligations or beliefs of what should happen. That just sends you in circles. 

While it feels strange to pick the feel-good option, don’t be reluctant to do so. It will get you out of your rut.

Do this with little angst and emotion. Both will arise, but focus only on the positive emotions. Use whatever you know about the project in the moment – knowledge, insight – and then ask yourself what will make you feel good. Now pick. This is the best way I’ve found to decide between projects that spill from my head to my computer documents but rarely get finished.

From your options, there IS one that you can pursue.

And if you try to pursue more at this moment in time when you’re confused, you’ll stay stuck. So pick one. Don’t worry about the outcome, just worry about the work.

Step 4: Next write down three action steps for your idea you can take right now with a time limit

Ex: Write article on “Why NYC Squirrels Don’t Read Fear.less” – 1 hr. Do the tasks quickly and soon after you’ve picked your project. Work on the tasks until you’re ready to ship and don’t get distracted. Decide right now that you won’t touch a new, amaaazing project until you’re done. The clarity and focus you’ll get from this is powerful and you’ll get your tasks done much faster than you thought.

Step 5: Pick one project a week to work on.

Work only on that project until you make serious progress. Stop the urge to work on something else the moment you get bored, restless, confused, annoyed. It is precisely this discomfort that we avoid going through when we run to another project, and it is precisely what we need to go through to make progress. So go through it and know you can handle it. Also, pick only 3 most important tasks a day
to work on and work only on those until you get them done.

It’s not about knowing what to do, it’s doing what we already know.

This is how we keep momentum, by exercising discipline after we pick. This is how we don’t feel spent, by focusing on one goal and doing it fast. This is how we don’t quit halfway – we pick only what makes us feel good. You’ll have to confront your fear to do all this, but you have a lot of good ideas that we need to know about. And we can’t if they always remains inside of you. So do things differently than you’ve done before, and see that this is only the beginning. You’ll produce great work. Start now.

Re-read this post is you feel like you’re losing momentum, because Ross is right; tons of people do go through this.

But we can stop waking up heavy with this problem if we know we have control. Check your emotions, don’t stress out, own the fact that you’re going to choose, choose, and then work like hell to produce. I want you to be able to say a month from now “I built that” or “I wrote that.”

This could just be the biggest opportunity of your life and it’s up to you to seize it.

Like Eminem says, “If you had one shot to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?”

I know what I’d do. It’s how I wrote this post.

About: Ishita Gupta runs Fear.less – an online magazine on how to overcome fear. Learn more about Ishita here.

 Photo by: Keaton Andrew

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna March 1, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Great article! I just saw your blog mentioned on Amazon, through your interview with Steven Pressfield, and being in the middle of procrastinating and in search for something to kick me out of that awful paralysis … I followed the link. First page looked promising and seemed to address *all* the issues I’m currently struggling with, yeah! But where to start?! Ah, “How to tackle Overwhelm” – just the ticket! So I sat back, took a deep breath and promised myself, that I would just read this one article, try to take whatever positive spark I might glean from it, and use that to get me motivated and get on with *something* productive! So I read the first sentence: “Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by multiple projects?” – precisely, I do! And now even more so, as this very first sentence already offers me a link to another article … should I read that one first, just to be sure I understand what kind of overwhelmed the current article is talking about? Maybe I should stick to one thing first, and read the other one afterwards. I open it in another tab, so I won’t forget … By the time I finish reading I feel energized, ready to get to work, as I said, great article! But I now have 4 more tabs open in my Browser, waiting to overwhelm me at the earliest opportunity …

Cross-linking is the power of the Web and it can be it’s curse. But since your post specifically addresses the easily-distracted, perhaps you could think about what kind of format would work *with* your message, rather than potentially undermining it. As Steven Pressfield warns, seeking “support” can be Resistance at its most seductive! Haha, maybe you could include some cookies in your site that track the reader’s time – when they spend more than 20 minutes send them off to do their work … ;-)

Anyway, I don’t have the answer, just some food for thought … As for me, I’ll be back to read some more of your stuff – hopefully just one article a day, and only after accomplishing something myself! :-)

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Pooja March 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Hey Anna,

Thanks for pointing that out. And your AMAZING tips!

Cross linking is like a double-edged sword, ain’t it? :)

I’ve been thinking and come up with this. Let me know what you think: We’ll put consideration to it that the next time a post goes live, we avoid linking right at the top in first few paragraphs so that the readers can get the point of this piece before they get the urge to go clikety click! Hope that’ll help! What say?

-
Pooja

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Anna March 4, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Sounds like a good idea. If you have a few links to related posts at the end, there is perhaps more of a reassuring sense, that they are all there together and easy to find again another time (not that it’s so hard otherwise, but just from the frazzled panicky point of view of an acutely overwhelmed reader :-) ), so it seems more managable.

It’ll be interesting if you get any feedback from others if you try it that way!

Thanks for your openess!
Anna

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Alissa Johnson April 3, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I just discovered your site from an article on Forbes and this post was just what I needed. Thank you! I’m launching my own business, and I’ve been telling folks for weeks that it gives me comfort that I have three sources of income: my business, my freelance writing, and contract writing. Only now that I have actually transitioned from my day job to working for myself full time, I haven’t been able to figure out how to focus on all three at once! It’s driving me crazy, and I feel like I’m not making any progress. After reading this, I feel I can give myself permission to pick one thing for this week, and then re-evaluate for next week.

The greatest irony is that much of the method I know–I built it into my WritingStrides Block Buster, which I designed to help writers start working on their writing goals. It seems so classic and ironic that I needed help applying similar strategies to my business. Thanks again.

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Pooja April 4, 2013 at 6:41 am

Alissa,

Good on you for giving yourself the permission slip. Love your work!
Thanks for sharing that bold and uncut comment.

Love
Pooja

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Marta April 7, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Funny how being the right spot at the right time with the right information can make a difference in any given day. Your post … and your Fear.less site could not have come at a better time. Thank you for sharing.

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Pooja April 9, 2013 at 8:15 am

Thank you Marta :-)

Pooja

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