“Problems are like puppies – the more you ignore them, the more needy and annoying they become” – Oscar Cotter
I sometimes suffer from overwhelm. Too many ideas, too many projects, to-do list too long, too many tabs open on my computer, too many dirty dishes. While you can run away and bury your head beneath the bedcovers, all that will still be waiting for you when you surface – a mountain of postponed overwhelm. Worse, there may have been other things added to the pile while you were hiding. Sound familiar?
Time to escape this cycle.
It’s anxiety-inducing and just gets more difficult to handle as time goes on.
Thankfully, there is a systematic approach to tackling all projects great and small. These are steps that ANYONE can take to make their lives more manageable. If you follow these steps, you can achieve anything – and you can do so with energy left to burn and an appetite for more.
If you are the type of person who procrastinates or is distracted easily, this guide is for you.
If you are feeling overworked, overwhelmed and plain stressed out, this guide is for you.
If you are curious about a foolproof method for accomplishing ANYTHING (all while staying sane), this guide is for you.
Here’s how to start undoing that frustrating knot (or giant tangle) of overwhelm that’s threatening to suffocate your free and happy life – One Step At A Time, Baby.
B R E A T H E
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – Lao Tzu
Our first step is to take a deep breath.
No, really!! Right this moment, you are breathing, probably without being consciously aware. That’s your awesome body, taking care of background stuff while you get on with things. I want you to take 7, meaningful, deep breaths, right now. You can sigh, make noise, release heavily through your mouth – whatever gives ventilation to the overwhelm. (scream into a pillow?)
Then shake it off and calm down with your breath. Allow your breath to deepen, lead you into a calmer, more zen space. In and out through your nose. It could take a few minutes, but it WILL transport you into pranayamic bliss time. If you practice pranayama on the regular, go ahead and spend a few minutes with your favourite – a full yogic breath for uplifting calm, bhastrika for firy energy, nadi shodhana for balance. Whatever you need.
Breath is the first port of call – the key is to remember to stop and breathe.
The first step in any journey is always the hardest, from there the other steps seem to flow, picking up momentum. In fact, the first step was already set into motion when you decided to do something to overcome the overwhelm and start getting productive.
Breath opens up our perspective – this first step is actually a step backwards in order to get a better view of the whole picture. It means you can now act from a good place, a strong place, an empowered place. Breath is your armour and your sword – it gives you both the stamina to achieve anything and the cool clarity to act with purpose. We expand with our breath, and as we expand, we outgrow our problems. The overwhelm seems to shrink, even just a little. We can see light at the end of the tunnel, and that makes all the difference, because now we feel able to tackle the tasks ahead.
Start every new project with a few meaningful breaths, tie your hair up in a bun and let the rest flow from there.
B I T E – S I Z E
“When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.” – Creighton Abrams
Now that we have a cool, calm and collective canvas to work on, we can start eating the elephant, as it were. It is impossible to stuff the whole pachyderm into your mouth at once – so it follows that you must break it into bitesize chunks. Wait, maybe that’s not the best analogy..
Okay, we got any knitters in the audience?
Think of your overwhelm as a ball of yarn. Every stitch takes you closer to your project being completed, and lessens the work left to be done. You may have to ask for help or advice along the way. Perhaps it will take you longer than you expected. Sometimes it gets tangled, or you make a mistake and have to backtrack, but there is a thread running from start to finish that connects everything… And when you have finally completed your project, the ball of yarn has been transformed into something beautiful that you created yourself. It all started with one stitch.
So, you need to divide and conquer.
Break down your project or to-do list into small and manageable tasks. (stitches and rows) This doesn’t necessarily mean spending hours at your planner, writing down every single little action you need to do. Sometime, it is as simple as taking a moment to evaluate the task or project at hand with a keen eye. Mentally go over the steps that need to happen, then carry them out, one by one. This will happen organically for many smaller projects; eg: it will be obvious that after folding the laundry, it needs to be stored away.
For larger projects, you may indeed need to scribble down a few steps that need to happen and in what order. I like using this brain-dump method, because it ‘clears up space’ in my head, as it were. I have it all written down to refer to, and I can focus on the task at hand, rather than trying to hold too much info in my head at once.
You can implement the Bite-Size framework anywhere in your life, from your to-do list to writing a Masters’ thesis. The effect is as much psychological as practical. In effect, you are sub-dividing your work into smaller achievable targets or projects. You no longer have to worry about completing the larger project, only the smaller task at hand. The pressure lifts and you think hey, I can do this! I AM doing this!
I love this, because every time you finish a small chunk, you get that zing of achievement and satisfaction, like a gold star from your teacher. You feel motivated to move onto the next task, to get another zing! In the space of a few short zings, your project is completed, and you feel as if you have accomplished many things, instead of one giant monster thing. Magic!
M O N O T A S K
“To do two things at once is to do neither.” – Pubilius Syrus
Complete the tasks one at a time. Focus all your energy on one task at a time. This is important. If you are running ahead in your mind to the next step, or other tasks to be completed, you will be taking away from the quality of your current task.
When you wash the dishes, focus on one at a time. When you hang out your laundry, peg up one thing at a time. When you eat your breakfast, chew one bite at a time (and try not to have your phone/laptop/other distractions near you).
Focus on what you are currently doing. Devote your entire attention to the task at hand.
If you think of everything else that you could be doing, of course you will easily become overwhelmed. It is impossible to do everything at once. It is unwise, even, to attempt several things at once.
We have been fooled into thinking that being a multi-tasker is a covetable, necessary thing in this day and age. This is a wrong way of thinking. We should be focusing on one thing at a time, and doing it well. There is so much more to be gained from doing small things with great dedication than many things in a mediocre manner. I have found that far from achieving more through multi-tasking, it simply leads to the aforementioned “overwhelm, hiding beneath the blankets, moree overwhelm” cycle.
Multi-tasking burns you out. It is a disrespecful use of your energy. It is also disrespectful of the taks you are trying to simultaneously accomplish. It leads to a false sense of ego in the multi-tasker that is tied to the sensation of being over-worked and stressed (not to mention raises everyone else’s expectations of what a person can comfortably achieve). It normalises the conditions of stress and overwork. Suddenly, it pressurises everybody to work too hard, to become stressed.
There is a pervasive belief that if you are not stressed, then you are not working hard enough.
Poppycock, I say!
This stress mentality is a serious pandemic, as I see it. It infects people in many lines of work, from stay-at-home-moms, who are expected to do everything, to high-ranking business officials, waiters and waitresses running from kitchen to table… The list goes on. You get the point. Stress is everywhere, and worse, we are now starting to see it as a necessary thing.
So, in a nutshell, multi-tasking leads to a depletion in the energy of the multi-tasker AND a depletion in the quality of the tasks themselves. Where is the benefit in that?
Here is the antidote: MONO-TASKING.
To mono-task is to complete one thing at a time. One after the other. How beautiful is that simplicity?
Your multi-tasking mind will certainly try to interfere when you begin this way of completing projects. Perhaps it will try to make you feel guilty or unproductive. It is good to allow these feelings to come up, to acknowledge them. Maybe you will learn something about yourself or your prejudices. Perhaps you have a strong feeling that mono-taskers are simply lazy, and you resist mono-tasking because you don’t want to be lazy. This is a limiting belief that will change over time as you discover a new paradigm through mono-tasking.
Far from being an easier way of doing things, mono-tasking can seem almost impossible when you begin. We are so accustomed to having distractions, to doing several things at once. It takes a lot of dedication to focus on one thing at a time. It is a type of mind-training, like meditation. As you improve your powers of concentration, you will gain even more clarity. This, too, will improve your productivity. Once you have tried out monotasking for a week, you will never look back. You will hardly know yourself!
You can achieve more with less stress. You become a completionist. Things are done from start to finish and then you can move onto something new. Plus, you get the satisfaction of crossing things off your to-do list with regularity, because each task is a small, manageable one.
Mono-tasking means working smarter, not harder.
One Step At A Time, Baby
In summation, the way to accomplish any enterprise is to break it down into these three steps:
2. Make It Bite-Size
This is the formula for a happy and productive work day. This is the magical portal to the land of getting shit done. This formula is your new secret weapon. Use it wisely and use it well.
If it works for you like I know it will, I’d be thrilled for you to share it with your friends and family.
Peace and Light,