For the action-oriented amongst us, I present the Lady Engineer®’s Framework to Addressing Overwhelming Feelings and To-Do Items. Come with me for to-the-point, step-by-step instructions.
I feel so overwhelmed I canceled my semi-annual teeth cleaning because the small, normal amount of anxiety that always comes with visiting the dentist felt too much to handle.
There are so many things I need to juggle at once – as I write this article and list out all of the things that currently weigh me down, I pause and then, delete.
While building camaraderie over our shared stress, I do not want to unload my baggage on you. I know you have a lot going on, and you know I have a lot going on. But let’s not up-the-ante on both of our stress levels.
For the sake of being action-oriented, I present to you the Lady Engineer®’s Framework to Dealing with Overwhelm. Let’s get to it!
First, take some pressure off your current to-do list and slow down
Waking up in the morning and racing towards your desk feels like the best way to address all of the things weighing you down but I promise you this,
“Slow down to speed up. Take a step back to move forward.”
- Give yourself 20-30 minutes right now
- Grab your current to-do list but place it to the side
- Follow the rest of this guide
Second, dump all overwhelming thoughts on paper
- Grab a journal or piece of paper
- On your phone, set a timer for 10 minutes
- Pick up your pen
- Write down whatever is in your brain on the paper
You can write anything. It can be as useless as “uh, duh…” because you cannot come up with full sentences. Or you can be absolutely apocalyptic, writing “the world is falling apart and it’s all my fault.”
Third, catalog, and name your emotions and feelings other than “overwhelm”
- Use the image below or search the internet for “feelings lists” for useful prompts
- Scan the list of feelings
- Every time one resonates with you, write “I feel [INSERT FEELING] about [SITUATION]”
- Don’t hold back. You are allowed to write about everything that sucks right now.
My own examples from the other day included,
- Lonely in dealing with my home repairs,
- Irritated I have to figure out the financing of said repairs, yet
- Empowered because I know I can address the repairs
- Disturbed by recent blog postings explaining how to deal if the US experiences a coup d’etat,
- Resentful I can’t look at the internet without reading headlines that hurt my insides
Fourth, identify what is and is not out of your control
Part of addressing all of these feelings is knowing how you can turn that proverbial frown upsidedown.
- Scan your list and ask yourself, “How can I address this feeling?”
- Identify one or two things that may make you feel better or address the real problem
- Put those things on a new to-do list
In the case of my home repairs, I made a list of the things I could, needed or wanted to do:
- Hire a cleaning lady
- Ask neighbors for contractors’ phone numbers
- Get quotes
- Balance my checkbook
Fifth, prioritize your newly updated to-do list
One reason you are feeling overwhelmed is that everything might feel important to address immediately. That’s just not the case.
I have a few frameworks (link to free Google Sheets template) I use to prioritize my to-do list. My favorite framework forces me to score each item by the due date and the payoff/impact.
- For each task, write the deadline date
- For tasks due in the next day or two, give 3 points
- Any tasks that are more than 10 days away, give 1 point
- Everything in between, give 2 points
- Now, for each task, think about the payoff/impact, assigning 5 for the highest payoff, 3 for a medium payoff, and 1 for little payoff
- Sum the deadline score with the payoff score to come up with a total
- Sorting by the highest total score, the most immediate tasks for you to take care of will rise to the top
As a business owner, I often assign client activities, sales, and billing activities as a high payoff, assigning 5 points. And, as you can see here, thanking my family for their birthday presents is also just as important.
Sixth, make a ritual of addressing your overwhelm objectively and clearly daily
If this method worked for you, I encourage you to integrate it into your day. Here is my routine:
- When I’m ready to go into my office, my first task is setting a timer for 10 minutes and journaling
- If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I jump into this activity, else I meditate or read something around personal growth
- Most days, I have already placed blocks on my calendar to tackle my highest priority items from the previous day
- As I get into the rhythm of working, I cross off tasks on the printed version of my “Prioritization Worksheet”
- I also write down new ones and look for openings in my schedule where I can slot them
- In the afternoon, I update the digital version of the worksheet and print out a fresh copy.
“I know that each of us has much to do. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the tasks we face. But if we keep our priorities in order, we can accomplish all that we should. We can endure to the end regardless of temptations, problems, and challenges.”
– Joseph B. Wirthlin
If you have any questions on how to adapt this framework to your unique situation, put them in the comments and I will respond as helpfully as I can!