Chances are, like me, the first thing you do each day is to check your emails. In addition to the usual work traffic, you’ll have content from a host of businesses and people you’ve chosen to follow, plus a bucket of non-work social media. That’s a lot of information before breakfast!
The pattern continues through the day. In addition to more emails, texts and social media, we pick up unwanted surveys and ‘how-did-you-enjoy-your-experience?’ at the coffee shop, post office or gym. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by this data deluge. So what to do?
We still only have one brain
For all the tech advances, with geo-locators and cookies that follow our every virtual and physical move, we still only have one brain. Everything has multiplied – except our own ability to process. Everyone wants a piece of our time, our wallet and our attention. No wonder stress levels are exploding.
Overwhelm is hurting us badly
There are two ways to think of overwhelm.
On one hand it’s a productivity issue. Getting shit done is hard when we’re trying to juggle too much information and are constantly distracted.
Equally, overwhelm affects how we feel. The sense of falling behind and being unable to cope is very real and can be massively debilitating. Feeling like this, in turn, feeds back into low productivity. It’s hard to breeze through our day ticking off task after task when we don’t feel good about ourself.
Learning to cope and, ideally, thrive in this age of over-information then becomes critical to our success AND happiness.
Getting started on putting Overwhelm in its box
Managing overwhelm starts with awareness. We need to admit to ourself that we have a problem. That we can’t do it all, be across everything or make everyone happy.
Once we’ve admitted that we can get stuck into some solutions.
Overwhelm is not an exclusively digital thing, but it’s probably where most of us are struggling the most. So time to spring clean that in-box. For work emails, make sure you are using smart folders or ‘search’ to keep the important stuff in place whilst hiding the rest. I also use Evernote to keep things for future use. Again, use search and Tags to make sure you can quickly find what you are looking for.
Get clear on what you need
The next phase is more strategic. Get clear on what you want. It’s hard to filter for relevance if we don’t know where we’re trying to get to. Imagine packing for a holiday when you don’t know the destination. Winter or summer? Ballroom or beach? It’s impossible – you’d have to take everything (and some do!).
To reduce overwhelm we need to travel light. So work out your plan for the year. Focus on the information, people, relationships, and communities that will help you achieve that. Don’t have a plan? Start there!
Cancel your credit card
Get rid of everything else. That means you unfollow or unsubscribe from stuff that no longer helps or you don’t need right now. I recently had a credit card stolen and had to replace it. I received a lot of ‘update payment detail’ emails. It was amazing how many subscriptions I’d forgotten I had. Thank you to whoever stole my card – you ended up saving me a lot of money AND time!
Taking on too many projects or social responsibilities is a familiar trap. We often do this out of a sense of duty to others or to create personal affirmation if we are a bit lost. Once we have our plan, getting clear on what we should say yes or no to becomes much easier.
Share your feelings
The best non-technical responses to overwhelm is to talk to others about how you feel.
I know through my mentoring work that overwhelm afflicts most of us. It is multi-faceted – amplified by the isolation and crisis of confidence that many feel in our digital age. Sharing is a great way to begin break the crippling hold that overwhelm can take.
What do you think?
Here are just a few ideas about how to pop the overwhelm balloon. I’d love to hear from you.
How does overwhelm affect you?
What are the strategies you find that help?