Our brains aren’t equipped to handle modern life. Our cerebral brains responsible for logical thinking have only been with us for around 2 million years (within a process over 100 million years) and evolved out of ‘fight or flight’ mode relatively recently in evolutionary terms. Add to this the pace of change that technology now impacts our everyday lives and it’s no wonder we get anxious trying to keep up.
It’s important to remember that feeling overwhelmed or anxious is just that – a feeling. It’s not necessarily the reality of the situation, but only how our minds perceive what’s going on with information provided by the external world. The feelings you experience may be completely different for someone else who has managed to adopt strategies in time management. If we can get your mind operating in a more positive and future-focused frame of reference, you’ll find the feelings subsiding or changing towards the positive.
It’s also important to recognise that every negative emotion such as anxiety has a positive intention. If we can find what the positive intention is behind our feeling of anxiety, then we can put it to use to create positive actions. For example, the sense of nervousness you feel when anxious, combined with the physiological tight feeling you get in your chest, might actually be the catalyst for you finally lacing up your trainers to hit the road for that run, or putting pen to paper to submit your taxes.
What we’re trying to do with these strategies is widen the scope for what you see as a ‘problem’. Maybe this feeling of anxiety or of being overwhelmed is a fantastic opportunity to change something currently occurring in your life. It could be the catalyst for overcoming obstacles that have held you back in the past.
Feeling overwhelmed can be the result of three different mind-sets:
We perceive a lack of time in the day to work towards our goals
We aren’t correctly prioritising our actions to move more easily to what we want to achieve.
We are spending too much time being reactive rather than proactive doing things that are ‘maintenance’ rather than ‘progress’ tasks “I’m too busy”, or “I don’t have the time” are two of the most common reasons people cite as not being able to work on their goals or take action to succeed. “I’m too busy” is not an end in itself, but rather a thing we say to ourselves to place over what actually is a lack of planning and prioritising. People are easily distracted in their daily business and tend to be reactive in their activities, as opposed to proactive in their planning and structuring of their day.
Have you ever sat down and identified what the ‘time-wasters’ are in your day?
Social media and television are probably two of the main culprits. A recent study in America revealed that the average time people spend watching TV was four hours a day. That equates to 13 years of TV over an adult lifetime with an estimated cost for an average salary of around US$800,000. Can you imagine what additional productivity could be achieved if we just cut down on our TV consumption, using the time to take action to move towards our goals?
With social media available 24/7, endless emails to check, video on demand, kids activities, meal readiness and a host of other activities that are probably on your radar, it’s easy to spend time doing the wrong things that take us away from what we want in life. What else could you achieve in your day with a bit of planning to be more proactive, reducing the number of surprises and time-wasting activities? Start by identifying all those things that eat into your day and try and eliminate them or give them specified time periods within the day that you’ll deal with them and then move on.
Once we’ve eliminated our time-wasters, it’s important to get our priorities in order. When faced with a range of tasks and activities, it’s often difficult to know which to work on first. You can use Pareto’s 80/20 Rule to solve this dilemma. The rule says – 80%of your time is taken up by 20% of your tasks. In other words, many of your tasks and activities will have minimal impact, and just a few will give you the greatest return for your effort. So it is important to discover which tasks have the greatest impact and do those first.
Stephen Covey in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ talks about deciphering whether our tasks are ‘Important’ or ‘Urgent’, or a mix of both. He suggests we spend too much time on doing things that are ‘Not Important and Not Urgent’, things that are either distractions or non-replenishing, as opposed to ‘Important and Not Urgent’, where we work on our tasks before they become ‘Important and Urgent’. That way, when inevitable situations arise, we have sufficient time for them not to cause excessive drama.
Most people go blindly through their day with only a very basic idea of what they need to do. They consume their time with what’s called ‘maintenance’ tasks rather than devoting time each day to ‘progress’ tasks. A maintenance task is something you will do that when finished, will leave you in exactly the same place as when you started. Examples of this might be cleaning the house, doing some filing, servicing the car or mowing the lawn. A progress task is one in which you believe will help you reach a position which is better than the one you are in now. Examples of this might include studying for a degree, getting financial advice or enrolling in a fitness boot camp. Identify what are maintenance and progress tasks within your day and commit to giving more time to progress tasks to move you closer to your goals.
In order to discover how you use time to stop feeling overwhelmed and anxious, answer these 10 questions:
Do you clearly identify each day what your priorities are?
What stops you being organised?
Can you identify time wasters in your day?
What area do you need to spend more time on?
Which part of day is most productive and which is the least?
Who controls your time?
What or who causes the most interruptions in your day?
What patterns or habits do you observe in your day (good and bad)?
What could you do in the first hour of your day to ensure the rest of your day was smoother?
What do you do that can be delegated or shared?
Felling overwhelmed and anxious is a passing feeling and if you can recognise it as that, it will diminish it’s power over your daily life. If you can better organise your tasks and eliminate time-wasting activities, then you’ll be well on your way to being more productive and happier with the results.