Last week, we dug into the first three steps of my self-leadership technique focused on how to deal with overwhelm and avoid burnout. This week, I’m going to share four steps focused how to prevent overwhelm. But first, a quick recap…
In Step #1, I gave you a seven-point checklist to identify if you’re taking good care of yourself… or, if you’re sabotaging your ability to focus and be productive.
Then in Step #2, I walked you through three things you can do to change your mindset, so you’re able to uncover your productivity sinkholes and begin to get back on track with your most important tasks.
And, in Step #3, I shared a six-part strategy you can use to address and cope with the overwhelm.
Once you’ve successfully come through that feeling of overwhelm, you’ll want to avoid falling back into it.
So, this week, I’m going to share four more steps you can take to stay on top of your work and enjoy a good work-life balance without feeling overwhelmed in the first place.
The first thing I suggest is…
Step #4: Decide What You Want
The single most important secret to avoiding overwhelm so you can accomplish your goals is to have a well-defined “why.”
One of the most important aspects of achieving the success you want is to get deeply connected with your motivations. I recently heard a statement – I’m not sure who said it – that sums this up perfectly: “People lose their way when they lose their why.”
When deciding what you want, I’d suggest keeping Ted Capshaw’s teaching in mind. Ted says, “Your mindset is more important than what systems or techniques you adopt to achieve goals.” But remember, “Most important – think about and really connect with why you are aspiring for whatever goal you’ve set for yourself.”
I couldn’t agree more!
To make sure you don’t lose your way, write down your goals and your “why” (purpose, passion) for each one.
Why is this step important? When you write down your goals and the driving purpose behind each one, it will help you keep your goals and your “why” at the forefront of your mind. This lets you measure opportunities against what you really want, and it will keep you from drifting off course.
Deciding what you want and putting it to paper is an invaluable step for at least four reasons:
It will force you to actually clarify what you want. I talked about this, in a little different context, in my previous post about deadlines. Imagine setting out on a trip without a particular destination in mind. If you don’t have a known destination, you won’t know what to pack or what route to take… and, most importantly, you won’t know when you’ve arrived.
The same principle applies to achieving success and hitting milestones in your life. If you write down what you want – your “why” and the goals that will serve that purpose – it will force you to select something specific and decide you want it.
It motivates you to take action toward achieving what you want. Just articulating what you want isn’t enough. You have to take action. Over the years, I’ve learned that, if I have my “why” and my goals written down and I review them regularly, it prompts me to take the next important step to achieve the goal – it forces me to avoid drift. (See Step #5 below.)
Having written goals helps filter out other opportunities. New exciting opportunities can quickly become distractions that will knock you off course. The only proven way I’ve found to combat this is to maintain a written “why” and a list of goals to help me fulfill that purpose. I use this plan and list to evaluate any new opportunities.
Written goals help you overcome resistance. This applies to both external and internal resistance. Every goal or dream will encounter resistance. If you focus on the resistance, it will only gain strength and eventually derail your intention. The best way to overcome resistance – both outside and from within – is to focus on the goal!
Once you know what you want – your passion, goals… your “why” – you need to have a map to your destination. That’s the next step in this strategy…
Step #5: Break Them Down
All goals – whether a habit goal or an achievement goal – are destinations. Once you have a destination, you need a plan to achieve that goal.
Just having the goal to lose 25 pounds by Christmas – although a definitive, well-defined goal – isn’t enough. You need to break it down into several milestones that will be easier to track and maintain.
When you create a series of manageable steps to take, it becomes easier to do the next thing and then the next.
Having milestones also helps you see – and celebrate – your progress. When you make progress, it becomes easier to push through resistance. Which, in turn, makes it easier to make more progress. You put yourself in a positive feedback loop.
Once you have a path charted to achieve your goals, you need strategies to help you maintain your focus…
Step #6: Design Your Ideal Week with Time Blocking
We all get the same 168 hours per week. It’s how you choose to use your time that determines whether or not you’ll build the life you want.
- Do you always feel like you’re multitasking – drifting from task to task without ever actually finishing anything?
- Do you struggle to fit everything you need to get done into your day?
- Are you always worried something is falling through the cracks – and you’re not even sure what?
- Have you ever missed a deadline or appointment?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, a time-block schedule might be the answer. It’s time to take control of your day, be more productive, and get more done.
Time blocking is the practice of planning out your day in advance and dedicating specific time “blocks” for certain tasks and responsibilities. It’s one of the most powerful productivity and focus tools I’ve ever used.
The simple reason why time blocking works is that it’s designed for focus. Otherwise, it’s easy to fall into the Parkinson’s Law trap: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
By scheduling your day into blocks of time dedicated to specific tasks, you guard against distraction and you increase your focus by minimizing transitions.
A time-block schedule is a way to stack your day into laser-focused, easily manageable blocks of time. You might assign tasks like these: meeting with clients, working on projects, marketing, networking, handling email, or doing research.
A key aspect of a time-blocked work week is building sequences of tasks into efficient patterns to maximize productivity and focus.
This final step to succeed without overwhelm is a way to truly fine-tune your focus…
Step #7: Support Efficiency with Rituals
Have you ever had a day start out like this?
You wake up late, you aren’t even ready for the day, when you realize you forgot to do something that was expected yesterday, so you immediately attend to that. From there, it’s non-stop interruptions all day long. Suddenly, it’s 5:00 p.m., and you’re left wondering where the day went.
Trust me, I’ve been there. But, I learned a simple trick a few years ago, when I had my solo law practice, that helps me start every day off right and maintain laser focus all day long.
A set of four daily rituals – or routines – that starts you off right every morning and every evening… and sets you up for success the next day.
Don’t panic! When I say “rituals,” what I really mean is daily routines.
Most professional athletes, artists, and high achievers in every field use rituals to get themselves into the right mindset. As a freelance copywriter, you can benefit from rituals, too. I recommend four key daily rituals: a morning ritual, a workday startup ritual, a workday shutdown ritual, and an evening ritual.
As examples, my current morning ritual includes the following things:
- When I first wake up, I drink a big glass of water;
- Then I make my morning cup of coffee;
- I meditate while enjoying the sunrise;
- I journal and fill out my daily page in my planner;
- I review and attend to my personal email inbox;
- I do my morning exercise while listening to podcasts or audiobooks; and
- I eat breakfast, before getting ready and leaving for work.
That’s my morning routine. It sets me up with a positive mental attitude, so I feel spiritually, intellectually, and physically prepared to attack my day.
I also have a workday startup ritual that takes about 30 minutes and sets me up for a focused productive day:
- The first thing I do is empty my email inbox. On average, clearing my office email inbox takes about 5-10 minutes.
- Then I take a short deviation from my full-time job and spend 10-15 minutes reviewing Facebook and LinkedIn for my freelance writing.
- Next, I review my “Daily Big 3” tasks. Even though I’ve usually set these up during my morning routine, I get refocused on the three things I absolutely, positively have to get done during my workday.
You can implement similar rituals for your workday shutdown and evening activities. These types of rituals will help you prepare for the next day and also make the transition from work into your personal time. You get the idea.
Having rituals like these puts repetitive, positive behaviors on autopilot. Just identify the activities you want to do and the sequence you want to do them in. And, over time, review and fine-tune your rituals to maximize their effectiveness.
It’s never too late to take control of your schedule and put an end to the overwhelm. And, if you’re diligent, you can keep overwhelm from ever becoming a factor in the first place.
When that happens, you’ll gain a greater sense of balance and control in your work and in your personal life.