My Favorite Strategies for Turning Overwhelm Into Action
Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed: by work, by life, by the groceries that need to be bought and the stack of paperwork sitting on the corner of your desk?
For me, overwhelm sneaks in slowly. First, it shows up as a general apathy about the day. It’s as if I want to do something, but I can’t think of anything I want to do. Do you ever feel this way?
I asked my son recently: “Is this what boredom feels like?” because with the number of ideas rolling around in my head constantly, I don’t know that I’ve ever been bored.
His response: “No, mom. That’s what procrastination feels like.” Then, he walked out the door to conquer the task that had been conquering him all day: hauling off the remains of a bush that had taken over our front yard.
It wasn’t until this morning that I realized he was right. Because before I could grant myself permission to just admit I was procrastinating, I had to contemplate much bigger questions like “Who am I?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” (Another very sneaky procrastination strategy, you see?)
But in the light of morning, I couldn’t deny it anymore. This is what procrastination looks like for me. Do you know what it looks like for you?
Here’s why it matters: you need to know how you get things done so that you can set up your life in the most productive way FOR YOU.
For a long time, we’ve looked at one path to productivity. It was linear and task-oriented. It required drive, commitment, and unwavering focus.
But now, with experts like Gretchen Rubin studying the way we create habits and manage expectations, the “right” way of getting things done is expanding to include an entire range of preferences that in the past would have been dismissed as poor productivity behavior.
For example, Rubin talks about sprinters and marathoners. Sprinters are those individuals who love a deadline and know that they do their best work under pressure. While they may wait until the last minute to get things done, it’s not because they are avoiding the work (aka procrastination), but because they know they’ll do their best work under constraints.
Marathoners are those who plan well and early to succeed on their projects. They break their work up into small bites and steadfastly commit to taking action consistently to meet their goals. They typically don’t need or appreciate a deadline, though they do respect them. Marathoners tend to get projects completed well before anyone asks if their work is done.
Are you a sprinter or a marathoner?
If you’re a marathoner, then I admire you and secretly wish to be more like you. And if we’ve ever been on a team together, I probably drove you crazy with my sprinting.
If you’re a sprinter, it’s time to give yourself a break. You’ve probably been ashamed of your sprinting tendencies for years, confusing them with procrastination.
Procrastination is what happens when sprinters try to be marathoners.
Procrastination is that in-between space where you won’t let yourself off the hook to have fun because there is work to do, but you know you won’t do the work yet because it’s not even close to the deadline.
So if you are a sprinter in procrastination mode, feeling overwhelmed and apathetic, filling your space and time with big questions on the meaning of life just to bide your time, here are a few of my favorite strategies to bust through the overwhelm and kick start some action:
Start a practice.
If you can establish and follow a project plan, congratulations. I’m jealous and would love to hire you! Only I have hired project managers, and it still didn’t help me shift the way I work, I only feel worse about all the things I never got done. So if project plans don’t work for you, which is likely if you are a Questioner or a Rebel, then consider starting a practice instead.
First of all, what’s the difference between a project plan and a practice? Well, a project plan is task-based and expectation driven. And I consider a practice to be values-based and lifestyle driven.
For example, in the land of project plans, I’m looking at a project plan every day to see what tasks I need to complete to get to the finish line. If you’re a Questioner or a Rebel - or your top strengths are in the Strategic Thinking domain, you might find yourself distracted by the bigger picture every time you engage with your plan. “Do I even want this XYZ project?” or “Is this still the right project?” These questions can kick you back into strategy so fast, you won’t know what hit you. And the more sneaky piece of this is that you will FEEL like you’re being productive, only to look up after 90 minutes to realize that you’ve reconsidered the entire project, recommitted to the same outcome, and completed no actual tasks to get you there. Essentially, you spent 90 minutes in your strengths (strategy) instead of getting things done (execution).
The antidote to this cumbersome pattern is to commit to a practice. Let me define what I mean by practice. In this context, I’m talking about a commitment to participate in an activity each and every day without question, contemplation, or evaluation. For example, for years, I had a practice of morning pages. Each morning, without fail, I would wake up, grab my cup of coffee, and sit down for a minimum of three written pages before doing anything else in my day.
I loved morning pages. And I miss them. But they can no longer be my practice. My monkey mind has stolen my morning pages by leveraging them as a way to solve problems, create new strategies, and hijack my other practices by contemplating them. I’ve given up morning pages for now; I’ve traded them in for exercise.
You see the purpose for my morning pages was to get out of my head and into my awareness. Thinking is in direct conflict with awareness. So I realized that my new practice must be something that occupies my mind fully so that my awareness can speak up. This is the value that drives this particular practice: awareness.
But for a practice to stick, it helps if it’s also aligned to a lifestyle.
This means that the result of the practice supports your desired life experience. For me, being active and fitting into my jeans is absolutely a desired life experience which make exercise a great option. But there are more factors to consider. A practice works best if you engage in it daily. And if it has a minimum requirement associated with it.
For example, my specific practice is this:
Go to Barre3 every day that it is logistically possible.
It’s worded in a very specific way:
The commitment is to go: not have the best workout ever, not to sweat so much it drips off my face, not to lose three pounds a week. If I show up, I have succeeded.
Also, I chose an exercise that I can perform daily without injury. And even if I’ve got a tweak here or there, I can adjust the exercises in the class.
Barre3 is literally 4 minutes from my house, and they have classes most times of the day every day. When I travel, I look for a Barre3 in the area and go if I can. If I can’t, then it wasn’t logistically possible. I haven’t failed my practice.
So how does all this translate into creating and designing a life that you love?
Here’s a set of questions for creating a practice that will move you forward towards your goals, just in case "marathoning" is not your style.
- What value do you want to live into? Creating commerce on my own terms
- What is the desired life experience that will result from living that value? A sustainable revenue stream that leverages my strengths and creates meaning in the world
- What actions do you know are required? Working the learning-based revenue roadmap.
- What daily practice will move you forward? I need learners, content, and an experience.
- How will you contain your practice? I’ll work for 25 minutes a day on the project with a weekly set of tasks that become your foundation.
When you are establishing your practice, it’s critically important to success that you contain it in a way that makes success attainable. Here are four ways to do so:
- Set a time limit so that you’ll know when to step away.
- Identify your constraints and work within them to boost creativity.
- Define success and make it as straightforward as possible.
- Find your baseline or the set of tasks you’ll complete each week no matter what.
Are you ready to see what your daily experience would look like if you let go of tasks and projects and stepped into a practice?
When you’re ready, here are three ways we can work together:
1. Join our free Facebook community for luminaries who are working toward their point of authentic earning. Inside our group, you’ll find resources, support, and live weekly training. Click here: jeanniesullivan.com/fbgroup.
2. Sign up for Lucrative Learning. This free, online training class will prepare you to create a new revenue stream by teaching others. In this one-hour class, you’ll find your perfect topic, create a technology plan for your course, and set your revenue goals. Save your spot!
3. Work with me privately. Occasionally, I take on a handful of new private coaching clients. If you’re ready to create a life and business you love, email me and tell me a little more about your goals.