When you have a mile-long to-do list and have no idea where to start, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Especially when you have a lot of work to do but can’t seem to get yourself in gear.
You might half-heartedly pick one thing to work on, only to find yourself procrastinating a few minutes later. Or perhaps you struggle with wave after wave of self-doubt, unsure of what to focus on.
No matter how overwhelm rears its ugly head, it’s miserable.
Fortunately, mindfulness-based techniques offer relief from overwhelm, empowering you to stress less and get to work.
Notice and Accept
There’s no denying it. Feeling overwhelmed sucks.
So when you notice that you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, don’t ignore what you’re feeling.
Rather than wasting energy on trying to convince yourself that everything is fine and that you can just push through it, start by noticing the overwhelm and accepting it.
You might even say to yourself, “Ok, I’m feeling overwhelmed right now.”
If you’re like me, this might cause a cascade of emotions: guilt, worry, frustration, and a thousand others. Notice these as well. Letting them be is crucial for moving forward in a healthy way.
Take Mindful Action
With awareness of how you’re feeling, you can skillfully get back to work.
To help, I created a 1-page printable document – a “Mindful Productivity Cheat Sheet” featuring mindfulness-based productivity techniques for overcoming overwhelm. Grab your copy below.
1. Create space by removing unnecessary tasks
Use this technique when you feel like you have WAY too much stuff on your plate.
Look at your to-do list for today. Read through each item on the list. Then, take a look at your calendar to review any meetings you have scheduled.
Once you’ve done this, pause for a moment and take a deep breath. Feel a full, slow inhale through your nose. Then a slow, full exhale.
When you’re ready, go back through your to-do list and ask yourself: “Which of these items can I remove?”
Here’s the fun part: find at least one thing you can take off your to-do list for today.
It takes courage, but by removing just one or two things from your schedule you’ll discover that you have the power to create the time you need for the work that you need to do.
In the process, you might even find a few things that you never really needed to do in the first place.
2. Work at a more relaxed pace
Use this technique when you feel frazzled, exhausted, and like you just need a break.
It’s a cliché, but sometimes it really is better to be the tortoise than to be the hare.
If you’re used to working as fast as possible, manically running through your day, slowing down for a portion of your day might just help you accomplish more.
By decreasing your intensity level, you’ll be able to do more careful and meticulous work. That means fewer edits, spending less time re-doing tasks, and wasting less time on tasks that you never needed to do in the first place.
Some of my clients prefer taking the morning at a slower pace while others prefer letting the afternoon be a bit easier, so feel free to choose whichever works best for you.
It is far better to work at a steady, relaxed pace and get a few things done than to work at a break-neck pace and run on fumes all day, every day.
For your next work day, choose which half of the day you’d like to take a little slower: before lunch or after lunch.
Then, during your intentionally slow period of work, select only one thing to focus on. Work at a slower, more deliberate pace than you’re used to. Let there be space. Take breaks to stand and walk around. Allow yourself to breathe.
When you finish the one thing you’re focused on, pick a new thing to focus on (but only one at a time).
3. Reconnect with *why* you do what you do
Use this technique when you feel like the work you do is pointless or when you’re starting to feel burnt-out.
Grab a sheet of paper (or open up a fresh text document) and write your professional title at the top of the page.
Then, give yourself 3 minutes to answer this question: “In my professional life, how do I help others?” Consider: what challenges do you help others with? How do you make their lives better (even in the smallest way)? Write down as many things as you can think of in 3 minutes.
When that 3 minutes is up, give yourself another 3 minutes to answer these questions: “What about my work is important to me? What do I enjoy about what I do? What impact do I hope to have in my community?”
After only 6 minutes, you’ll have created a fantastic resource that you can use to reignite your motivation whenever it starts to wane. Keep this list nearby and return to it any time you need a boost.
4. Set Your Intention
Use this technique when you can’t seem to stay focused on your work.
Have you ever started a task only to find yourself wondering — just 5 minutes later, while scrolling through Facebook — “Wait, what was I working on?”
We’ve all been there. But if this happens more often than you’d like, try setting a clear intention for the work you’re going to do each time you sit down to work.
When you arrive at your desk, pause for a moment. Feel your hips resting in the chair and your body settling.
Then, decide what to focus on. Once you know what you want to work on, set your intention:
“I am here to work on [insert activity here]. I intend to stay focused on this task until [when you plan to stop, move on to another project, or finish work].”
Setting your intention not only helps you do focused work, but it also helps prevent giving up half-way through (ugh, that’s the worst, right?).
5. Dive in and keep re-focusing your attention
Use this technique when you have the energy to work, but you keep getting distracted.
In mindfulness meditation, the practice is to consistently bring your attention back to a single focus: the breath.
Throughout a period of meditation, you might find your mind wandering dozens of times. But the practice is not to avoid thinking. Instead, the practice is to consistently notice and return your focus to the sensation of your breathing.
This serves as excellent training for the brain, empowering you to consistently return your attention to any activity or task.
So, throughout the day:
- Notice when your mind wanders from the task at hand
- Gently guide your attention back to what you’re working on
- Repeat, without judgement
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes just getting to work is the best thing. So jump right in and when you inevitably find yourself distracted, keep bring your attention back to the work you’ve set out to complete.
Remember to Return
None of this is easy.
But it is absolutely possible for you to experience overwhelm and then move past it and do excellent work.
To help you remember these techniques, I created a 1-page download that you can print – a “Cheat Sheet” of these mindfulness-based productivity techniques for overcoming overwhelm. Grab your copy below.