Feeling Overwhelmed Revisited

Feeling overwhelmed came up as a topic last week when I was talking to some friends. I had written about this topic earlier, but looking back at my series on 5 steps to a balanced lifestyle I felt I had missed a number of key points on how to deal effectively with the stress one faces as an entrepreneur. I think the points in that post outline several fundamental factors that need to be addressed and are a good primer for this post.

Startup teams usually bite off more than they can chew,  as a result, the reality of the enormity of what they want to achieve with a 1-3 person team often gets the best of them. I am sure a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to the emotional swings we deal with on a daily basis. They have the capability of completely neutralizing us from doing any work at all because the tasks at hand appear too big to determine where to actually start. This is when the feeling of being powerless starts to take over, and the days ahead are spent making half hearted attempts to start the project. In the end, what usually happens is deadlines come closer, customers start calling and investors start telling you to shape up. It is often then that we miraculously get a spurt of energy, and do something. The end product is hence not the result of our best capabilities. I have been through this cycle and have learned ways to drastically reduce that initial demobilizing feeling. Here are some steps I take:

Clearing your mind
Most of us, regardless of what we do, have far too much going on in our heads most of the time. All these factors add up very quickly. What I then do is, I take out an A4 sheet of blank paper. I close all communication devices, and then begin to write down everything that distracts me from focusing. Regardless of how many times a thought comes into my mind, I just write everything down. This is a sort of mind dump, where you want to get some clarity to everything that is distracting you, similar to the collection phase of GTD, for those who are familiar with it. Once I have all these thoughts down on a piece of paper in front of me, I start feeling a lot lighter.

Processing cluttered thoughts
The next thing I do is to take all the thoughts listed on this piece of paper and get them organized into one of three folders.

  • Do something about the action point right now. Something like making a phone call or sending an email.
  • Delegating it to someone else who can take responsibility for it, and setting a date when I could expect updates regarding the particular action.
  • Filing the action to my deferred to-do list, which I can reference at a a later date as it is not of vital importance right now. This requires saying “No” to a lot of tasks.

You will be surprised how good these two steps can actually make you feel. It also brings a much greater degree of focus into life and thought patterns.

Prioritization of tasks
It is important to make a list of tasks in accordance to their overall importance. The 80/20 principle is a powerful factor, unfortunately a lot of us fail to recognize it. By identifying tasks that result in greatest output for us, we enable ourselves to start acting on those items that will provide us greatest return, relative to the time and effort spent.

Setting top 3 action points
In this process, we identify action points that need to be taken to start making progress towards our primary goal or task at hand. However, these points are often still too big for us to handle on their own. What I then do is,  break them into smaller action points, I then give myself 3 action points to accomplish within the day. At the end of the day, I allocate the next 3 action points for the following day.

Rewarding oneself
When I record several days of achieving my top 3 action points, the accomplishment itself makes me feel like a million bucks. Other than that, you can set yourself rewards when you achieve set milestones . This is a really important part of the entire cycle. By rewarding yourself, and taking time out to actually enjoy yourself, gives you time to actually pull yourself out of the madness of your daily routine. This is a great time to reflect on bigger and broader issues.

I do hope this helps some readers of this blog. It has helped me tremendously in making noteworthy progress in getting things done, and breaking down initial barriers of procrastination for starting a new project, or getting a big task done.

What are some steps that you take to break the feeling of being overwhelmed? Would really like to hear your thoughts, suggestions and feedback.

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