8 Tips to Be Productive When you’re Overwhelmed
Is your head swimming with so much information that you find it hard to make every day decisions?
Do you find yourself with so many tasks that your to-do list is always full?
Are you so tired by the end of the day that you collapse in a crumpled heap of exhaustion?
Welcome to the Information Age.
You might think that having the Internet at our fingertips is a form of empowerment, but it comes at a price. We now have such an enormous amount of information to process on a daily basis that it’s causing us to burn out.
Take shadow work. Work that used to be done for us, now has to be done by us. We now book our own holiday itineraries, our own plane tickets, we even scan and bag our own shopping in the supermarket! These tasks all require energy and brain-power that see us depleting our natural reserves faster.
Too much tech
The diffusion of technology is only adding to the overwhelm. 20 years ago there was no need to learn how to use a new mobile phone, yet it’s now commonplace to learn new phone software on an annual basis. Technology is demanding more from us and where we once were able to focus on one task at a time, we’re now finding ourselves regularly multi-tasking. We now watch TV while surfing the net and having a conversation at the same time.
The problem is that multi-tasking is an illusion. The brain is not actually capable of doing more than one thing at once, so when we feel like we’re multi-tasking what’s actually happening is, we’re quickly switching form one task to another. This constant switching uses more brain-power, tiring us out faster and resulting in dips in productivity.
Too many decisions
Add to all of this, the illusion of choice. We have access to so much information that we’re forced to make more decisions. The problem is that decisions don’t’ come for free. We can only make a certain number of decisions each day, based on the amount of glucose that is required to feed the decision making process. Interestingly, the brain doesn’t differentiate between insignificant decisions and important life-changing decisions. Super productive people know this, which is why Steve Jobs was well known for wearing the same black turtle neck jumper every day in a row, and why Barrack Obama sticks to only blue or black suits. It simply frees them up from having to make more unnecessary, unimportant decisions so that they can use their glucose supplies to feed the decisions that matter.
You would think that seeing as we have so much more stimulation, information and choices to deal with, we would counteract this by taking more breaks? Unfortunately, no. There still seems to be a stigma associated with the notion of taking a break; this must mean we are lazy! The reality is that breaks are required to make us more productive. We need them! Just take a look at high demand jobs like Air Traffic Control or interpreting for the United Nations. If you work in either of these areas, you will be forced to take mandatory breaks every two hours. And when I say ‘break’, I mean break. That means no checking Facebook or emails, or text messages. It means no stimulation – something that we are becoming less and less accustomed to!
So what can we do to combat this overwhelm & exhaustion?
The research has shown that daydreaming, short naps and meditation are some of the best ways to rest the brain and increase productivity levels. Daydreaming is such a natural state that it re-fuels the brain and therefore energy levels. A 15 minute nap in the day time is the equivalent to an hour and a half of sleep at night.
Externalize to reduce overwhelm
Another simple way to reduce that to-do list and take some of the stress away from the brain is by ‘externalizing’. This simply means removing those pesky ‘to do’ items from your head and putting them down on paper or even better, using a piece of technology to get them done. The use of an online calendar is a great way to do this; be sure to book all meetings and reminders in your computer so you don’t have to think about them. Another favorite (used by my hubby all of the time), is to use the alarms on your phone to remind you of what needs to be done and when. This relieves the brain from having too much to remember and frees up space to devote to the important things.
Type less, talk more
If you spend a lot of time typing, then try using a voice to text application. This means instead of you doing the typing, you can simply speak your ideas into a device and it will be typed up for you! Google Docs on your computer and Voice memo’s on your i-phone are great tools for this.
‘Not to do’ list
Something else that I love to do is have a ‘Not to do’ list. Or I’ll simply look at my to do list and cross a bunch of things off! Often we can load up our plates with too many tasks that aren’t really necessary. So consider what can you cross of your list and do at a later time? How are you making your life unnecessarily hard? Simply make it easier! Cross some things off! It’s YOUR to do list after-all – you decide what gets done and what’s not really that important.
Another important one is to get some help. Don’t try and do everything yourself. If you’re in the process of finding a new career then maybe hire a cleaner this week so you can focus on that. And if you don’t have the budget to outsource, look to your network and barter! What skills can you offer to someone else for help with something you need? Or even negotiate with your partner. Let them know that this is a really busy month for you and can they help you out and you’ll make it up to them next month. Also look to find technology tools to help you deal with menial things.
Tap into your productivity rhythms
One more tip that I use ALL THE TIME is to only work when you’re naturally productive. Instead of forcing yourself to come with ideas when you’re exhausted, look for your personal productivity patterns. When do you naturally have energy? Use that to your advantage. I find people tend to be either morning people or night-time people, so figure out which one you are and work it. If you’re a morning bunny, then get up an hour earlier and see how much you get done. If you’re a night owl, then don’t drag yourself out of bed, instead sleep in for an hour and work that little bit later.
At the end of the day, it’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter 🙂
Simple Life Strategy: 8 Tips to be Productive When You’re Overwhelmed
- Take regular breaks. Stop working non-stop. It’s not productive. Schedule in regular breaks. And that means no tech! Take a short nap, meditate or daydream.
- Stop multi-tasking. It doesn’t work. Instead do one thing at a time in a focussed manner.
- Refrain from wasting too much time on menial decisions. This will steal all of the glucose you need for the important stuff. Get into the habit of making small decisions quickly.
- Get out of your head. The minute you remember you have a task to do, get it straight out of your head and either on your ‘to do’ list, or into your online diary. The sooner it’s out of your brain, the sooner you’ll stop thinking about it and waste valuable resources!
- Type less, talk more. Try using Apple’s voice memos on the iphone (convert voice memos into an email) or use the Google Docs voice to text capability. This means you use less energy
- Lighten your load. Instantly reduce overwhelm by having a ‘not to do list’ or simply cross off some things from your list! No one will die if you don’t get everything done today!
- Get help. Stop trying to do everything on your own! Call on your network. Ask for help. Outsource. People want to help you, you just need to ASK.
- Tap into your productivity rhythms. If you’re a night owl, don’t drag yourself up at the crack of dawn! Notice when you’re naturally most productive and schedule those times to work on your most important work.
Now you go get em! No excuses!
Right I’m off to take my own advice, and take a break!
PS: Know someone who gets overwhelmed every now and then? Share this article with them! It might help 🙂
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