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overwhelmThe hardest part of dealing with overwhelm is realising we’re in it and being able to get out before everything collapses into total disaster around us. Often we know we’re feeling overwhelmed – and for most of us it’s something small that is the final straw – however we’re also overwhelmed with trying to work out how to get out of it. Which adds to the overwhelmed feeling, makes us feel worse, makes it harder to try and work out how to get out of it… and we can all see the downward spiral from there.

There’s two issues involved here. Either you have way too much to do, or you don’t have enough time. Normally it’s a mixture of both. You need to work out how much time you have available, and what needs doing the most in that time frame. Then you have to decide what is to be done, delayed, delegated or dropped. The four D’s.

Here’s what you need to do the next time you feel that familiar feeling creeping up:

(don’t skip any of these steps, even if you think they’re unimportant. They’re not. Every step here has been tried and tested and this is what the majority of people have found works best)

Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths.

Go for a short walk, just five to ten minutes, to get a mental break and a little physical distance. Try to make it a brisk walk and get your blood moving and your heart beating a bit faster. (Truly, try it.)

Have a drink of water and then grab a pen and paper.

Write down everything you need to do. Forget about any order or logic, just get everything out of your head and onto paper. Name it and Tame it. Writing things down captures them and frees up space in your mind that can be used to work out how to do it all.

Is it a huge list of things that need to be done? Don’t panic. Take a few more deep breaths and go for another walk if you need to. It’s only a five to ten minute walk. Relax, if you’re still feeling overwhelmed then it’s likely you wouldn’t be using this time anyway. Take the time to calm yourself and get organised and you can use your time better.

Have a look at the list and work out what needs to be done first. “Everything” I hear you cry. Well, I have bad news for you. ‘Everything’ can’t be done at once. Not possible. Have another look. What needs to be done the most? What will have the biggest effect? What affects most people?

Take another four sheets of paper and title them respectively Do, Delay, Delegate, Drop. Then go through your list and put each item on your list on one of the sheets of paper. Resist the temptation to put everything on the Do and Delay lists. SOME THINGS ARE GOING TO HAVE TO BE DELEGATED OR DROPPED! You only have 24 hours in one day, something has to give and it’s better to be a few tasks rather than your sanity or your family.

With the delay list, put a rough time of when you expect to get to that task. And no, they can’t all be labelled ‘Tomorrow’. Be realistic. If you only have six working hours in a day then you can’t fill them with ten hours of work.

The second to last step is to begin working on your most important task on your Do list, and keep going until you have everything done. Hand over everything on your delegate list. Tear up and throw away your Drop list – you don’t need it because those tasks aren’t going to be done.

The very last step, once you’ve recovered sufficiently to have some form of balance back in your workload, is to look at WHY you became so overwhelmed. Are you taking on too much? Are you trying to do everything yourself? Is your middle name Superwoman? Was it a one-off because of outside influences? Is your business growing to the point you need to hire staff? Are your processes working or do they need to be looked at and changed? Do you need to automate some processes for your business?

Whatever the reason is, you need to work out how to prevent it happening again. Living permanently in a state of overwhelm and stress is not healthy for you, your business or your family.