Since you’re reading this article, chances are that 1.) you’ve got a lot going on right now and 2.) you're not alone.
Whether you’re a business owner, freelancer, student, creative, professional, employee, or stay-at-home parent, no one can escape the reality we’re faced with on a day-to-day basis:
- An avalanche of choices,
- A mountain of opportunities,
- Countless distractions,
- Endless to-do lists, and
- Never-ending problems.
Although we have unlimited tasks and responsibilities, we need to somehow make sense of all of these using limited resources such as time, energy, attention, and money.
Now for many of us, this is one of the main reasons why we feel overwhelmed. We try to do too many things and fit every single thing in our schedules. We refuse to say "no," we have a need to "have it all," and we have a fear of missing out (FOMO).
Even if we know we shouldn't say "yes" to everything and take on too many responsibilities, here are still some common questions racing through our minds:
- How do I know which task I should focus on at any given moment?
- How do I choose with confidence when I don't want to miss out on something great?
- How do I decide how to best allocate my limited resources?
It’s no wonder, therefore, that people today are said to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety, greater than any of the past generations.
In fact, did you know that the word priority was previously singular in meaning? It was only a few decades ago that people started using the term priorities (plural), which defeats its original purpose.
When it comes to overcoming overwhelm, however, here is an important thing to remember:
The goal is not having zero tasks and nothing going on in your life. It's about being able to identify what's truly important, focus on it 100%, and eliminate the rest.
While overwhelm can come in many forms, this article is only focused on dealing with the kind resulting from having too many tasks.
Here are 3 (simple but powerful) steps to overcome overwhelm in 2018 and beyond:
Step 1: Identify your goals, roles, and responsibilities.
Since overwhelm is one of the effects of always having more tasks to do than there is enough time to do it all, a good starting point is to take a step back and identify your goals, roles, and responsibilities.
You might have short term and long term personal goals, relationship goals, or career goals. You might want to consider your roles as a CEO, freelancer, business owner, parent, or professional. You might even think of your responsibilities towards your employees, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, colleagues, superiors, etc.
Since you can't possibly fit everything in, this first step is critical to help you differentiate what should go in and what should not go in.
Think of it as a litmus test — if an activity is in line with your goals, roles, and responsibilities, then at the very least, you know that you're overwhelmed by tasks that are important and are worth your time, energy, attention, and money.
For people who skip this step, they might find themselves overwhelmed by anything and everything without realizing that they don't need to even bother with them in the first place.
Most significantly, this first step will help you better focus on impact, results, and contribution with respect to those important aspects of your life.
+ Related: How to Set Goals and Master Them
Step 2: Eliminate anything that isn't in line with #1.
Now that you've identified areas in your life that are important, it's much easier to eliminate anything that is not important.
As you set out to plan for 2018, it's a good idea to evaluate different aspects of your life and the systems and processes that are under each of them.
Measure them up against your goals, roles, and responsibilities and meticulously justify continuing them in the coming year. If they don't live up to your standards, it's best to just eliminate them.
Depending on your occupation or situation, this might include time-wasters, distractions, less-than-ideal processes, underperforming products or service packages, and anything that is not in line with what you identified in Step 1.
*Take note that this might even include people who don't deserve your limited time, energy, and attention. Think of those who only add to your stress and overwhelm such as an unsupportive "friend," toxic boyfriend, or tyrannical boss.
Step 3: Prioritize the remaining activities that are in line with #1.
Now that you've eliminated everything that is not important, you should be left with everything that is important.
These are the tasks that are, in essence, worth your time and effort and you could justify them as necessary components that lead you towards your goals and the fulfillment of your roles and responsibilities.
The only problem is that there may still be a lot of important tasks left over even after eliminating everything that isn't essential.
This is quite understandable because everyone values more than one aspect of their life — career, relationships, health, hobbies, personal development, etc. — so it's only natural to want to reach level 10 in each of them.
Fortunately, this is where prioritization comes in.
Prioritization is the act of arranging thoughts and activities in order of relative importance.
Even if you have a million items on your to-do list, prioritization will help you identify the 1st important one, the 2nd important one, the 3rd important one, and so on.
Developing your ability to prioritize gives you the confidence to allocate your limited time, energy, attention, and money towards activities that yield the most value, impact, and benefits for you.
- More clarity regarding the most important activities that lead you towards your goals
- Less confusion over what you should do first, next, or last
- More control over what to focus on and act on at any given moment
- Less wasted effort on unimportant and non-urgent activities
- More productivity by getting better results even if you're doing less
Since our tasks and responsibilities will only increase in the months to come, we need to reframe the way we view our time, energy, attention, and money. These are limited resources; therefore, we should be more mindful and purposeful as to the activities we choose to focus on and act on. By identifying our goals, roles and responsibilities, eliminating what is unimportant, and prioritizing the rest, we'll have a better chance to overcome overwhelm in 2018 and beyond.