We have all experienced a time in our lives when we felt that there were so many things requiring our focus, when there was so much on our plates, that we were unsure how (or even if) we were ever going to be able to get through it. For many of us these moments of overwhelm tend to arise relatively infrequently. For others, it almost feels like a constant state.
Regardless of the frequency with which we have to face this feeling though, we know how paralyzing and crippling the feeling of overwhelm can be. Enough so that we may find ourselves shutting down, refusing and unable to move forward. With so many priorities and so many things screaming for our attention we can quickly become so overwhelmed that we are unable to determine what actions to take next.
Think of all the mental noise that our constant thoughts of items on our to-do lists and things we need to remember create. If we envision all of those thoughts that enter our brains flowing like water into a glass we see how quickly our glass (and brains) become full and overflowing. We become overwhelmed when we feel that we can no longer contain and hold onto all of those thoughts, we become fearful of forgetting, of overlooking a priority, of falling short.
One of the easiest ways to manage this feeling is to create a Dumping Ground List. Get out a pad of paper and begin dumping all of the thoughts that are in your head onto the paper. Think of this as one massive list of all of your thoughts, your priorities, your to-dos, your 'cannot forgets'. As you purge those thoughts from your mind, capturing them on paper, begin noticing how much lighter you feel. The stress of potentially forgetting something floating in your head lessens as a concrete journal of all those 'somethings' takes shape.
Don't qualify any of your thoughts thinking it's not important enough or that you won't forget it. Anything that you are trying to remember in your head needs to be recorded on the list. Don't take up unnecessary brain-space. Clear the clutter in your head by committing it to the Dumping Ground.
Once your list is complete take highlighters in 3 different colours. Designate one colour for your 'Immediate' priorities. These are the items on your list that must be completed within the next two days. Using a second colour highlight those items that need to be completed within the next 5-7 and a third colour for those that must be completed within 7-14 days.
You likely have items on the list that have not been highlighted. These are either items you have been carrying around that you feel you 'should' take care of, but that really aren't that important or urgent, in which case let 'em go, and those that may be important but whose time frame is long enough that you need not worry about them today. These items you can revisit in 3-5 days and build into your action list.
Actively focus and work on the few items you have highlighted that need completion within the next 2 days. Don't worry about the rest - you'll get to them. Just know that they are recorded there for you to reference when you have the available brain space to focus on them.
If you are someone that suffers from a sense of overwhelm often, you may find that maintaining this running Dumping Ground List becomes your best tool. Cross off items as you complete them and continue adding to it as more things arise. Maintaining the list means you always have a concrete record of items to refer to, freeing up your brain space and power to focus and hone in on those priorities that are important 'now'.
Dedicate a small lined book to your Dumping Ground and develop the habit of taking it into meetings with you, adding to it as items get assigned or you are extending promises. Using the book to extend and direct your brain's focus may be one of the best productivity and success tools you activate. Certainly it's a great way for you to eliminate the feeling of being overwhelmed by everything on your plate and get down to the business of managing them instead.