Today I’m going to dive into overwhelm with you.  We will explore the difference between working, overworking, and overwhelming.  Most of us think that overwhelm is the same thing as overwork.  It’s not.

Overworking and overwhelming are different.

  • It is possible to be working and not overworking.
  • It is possible to be overworking and not be overwhelming.  
  • And we are often overwhelming, and not doing any work.

When we are overwhelming, it is very easy to fall into the trap of believing that we are also overworking.  It is very helpful to know that they are different.  

What working looks like.

When you’re working, you are focused on what you’re doing.  You are driven, ready to go and getting it done. I am currently working on writing this article.  I am sitting with my computer and my word processor and I am writing and focused.  I write a sentence or two.  Delete some content.  Write some more. Then I re-read the article, and make adjustments until I am pleased with the results.  I have given myself an hour to get it done, and I’m confident I will finish in that time.

What overworking looks like.

Overworking looks a lot like working, but it is different because when you are overworking you are using up more resources that you have available to you.  You might be lifting more weight than your body can handle. You might work more hours in your day than you have available and therefore you will use up time you wanted to have available for other things such as play, family time,exercise, or sleep.  This might look like waking up very early in the morning,  working all day and staying up until 1:00 a.m. in order to get tasks done.  You are using more energy resources than your body and mind have available.  With lost sleep you will need a few days of recovery time.

What overwhelming looks like

What about overwhelming?   Overwhelm is an emotion that we feel.  I can also be something that we do (a verb).

Contrary to what you might believe, we don’t feel overwhelmed because of the amount of work that we do.  It is thinking about several things at once that causes overwhelm. 

I fell into this trap on a regular basis. Knowing this, I can cause myself to be in a state of overwhelm if I want to.  I’ll actually do it right now in writing so you can see how we can cause our selves to get into a state of overwhelm so easily.  

Lets see how I can create my own overwhelm

I am currently working on writing this blog and it’s Sunday evening. I schedule them to post on Monday mornings, so i’m finishing it at the last minute.  There is a basketball game in 45 minutes which I will be watching and will be streaming via zoom on this computer so that my parents and possibly my daughter can also watch.  (Note I just worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to write.  I also stopped writing for a few  minutes and created a zoom meeting to send to my parents and daughter because I forgot to do it earlier.. Now i’m back to writing.  It took me a minute to find my spot in the article)  I’m also thinking about all of the other things I want to be doing.  I want to exercise.  I want to plan the meals for this week.  To make sure my son has a tuxedo for his prom coming up.  I want the taxes to be done so I know what financial burden we might be facing.  I want to get the grocery shopping done; I need to clean the cat box and clean the kitchen;  I wanted to plan a garden this weekend but didn’t get to it;  I also want to keep shopping for new outdoor furniture for our deck.  I really want to carve out some time to create video lessons for my coaching clients.  I have a client session coming up and need to make sure I am prepared.  I need to make a lesson plan and gather materials.  In addition to those personal things I also have a long list of projects, commitments and desired results to achieve at my full time job.  I won’t have time during the day this week to do the other personal things I’ve listed so I’ll want to fit in the personal items tonight, tomorrow morning, or other evenings. Also, many of my current work commitments will have to be completed by end of day Tuesday, because I will be on vacation for the second half of the week and traveling.  Oh, and for my trip, I have some packing to do and I want to make sure that I have all of my clothes picked out and that everything is clean and ready to go.  I would love to have time to color my hair again before I leave, and paint my nails.  And I have a dress that I want to bring that needs a slight adjustment with the sewing machine.

Right now, as I am thinking about this list of things to do, I am feeling a sense of overwhelm.  Why?  Because I am thinking about them all at once, and my mind believes I need to get them all done right now.  They are all things I want to do and they all feel urgent.  And I have this habitual belief that “I won’t have time”,  “I’ll never get it all done on time”, and “There is too much to do”. I am doing all this thinking and worrying. But the only thing I’m actually working on is writing. And that work isn’t terribly hard

All that thinking = overwhelm. 

Why do we feel overwhelmed? 

Because we are thinking about all of the things we want or need to do and we are thinking there won’t be enough time, or we won’t be successful, and we are afraid.  

And when we are overwhelming, what do we do?

Personally, when I’m “overwhelming” I tend to get stuck and I don’t know which item to work on first.  I jump from one thing to another tying to get it all done.  OR, I feel so overwhelmed that I have to calm myself down.  I end up taking a break.  I read a book, or get a snack, or watch a tv show, or give up and go on scroll on social media.  I do things to calm myself down and reduce my uncomfortable overwhelm feeling.  And guess what?  I don’t end up working on any of the things I was thinking about.  So unfortunately the feeling of overwhelm traps me into doing things that result in nothing getting done.  And when I get nothing done it reinforces that believe that “I won’t have time” and “I’ll never get it all done” and “there is too much to do”

So you see, when I’m “overwhelming” I’m not working, and I’m not overworking.  I’m simply worrying and emotionally wearing myself out. 

So what’s the solution?

The first step is to ask yourself. Is it working, overworking, or overwhelming? If you are overwhelming, then grab a piece of paper and ask yourself “Why am I feeling overwhelmed?”

Write down all of the thoughts that come to your mind.  Often this looks like a to do list. Keep writing until you cant think of any more reasons you are feeling overwhelmed. Then pick one thing that you think is causing your overwhelm the  most.  Decide when you are going to make progress on that one. Decide how much time you’ll spend on it, and put it on your calendar.

Then look at the next item on the list that is worrying you and do the same thing. You will also want to ask yourself if it is really important to you. Do you really want to make time for it this week? If so, decide when you will get it done, and put it on your calendar.

Keep going until you have either decided when you are going to do the things or you have decided that it isnt important and you have taken it off of your list.

Usually you can do this in 30 minutes or less if you remain focused on the exercise. When it’s done you will feel SO much better because you will have a plan of action and you’ll know exactly when you will complete each of the things on your list.

I will take a little time right now to do it for my list that I made above, and then it will be time for the NCAA womens basketball game. I look forward to watching this NCAA tournament game between UCONN and South Carolina.  May be the best team win (Go UCONN!)

ellen.inspiredleader@gmail.com 
Inspired Leader LLC – Stop Overworking.  
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p.s. darn it. Well played South Carolina. Well played. I still love Uconn.