We all lead incredibly busy lives. Almost every one you speak to complains that they are short of time and have too much to do. For many of us the way in which we deal with our “To Do” list can add to our sense of overwhelm leading to high levels of stress and a diminished sense of self worth.

How often do you get a feeling that there is simply too much to do?

How often does that feeling take up energy and stop you concentrating or keep you awake?

What makes the difference between being busy and feeling a great sense of satisfaction and being busy but feeling it is all too much?

A client came a few days ago feeling completely overwhelmed by her life. Her job felt as if it had taken over her life. As a result she had done nothing in the house for weeks, the laundry had taken on a life of its own, the fridge was empty, she and the children were living on junk food. She felt drained, unhappy and desperate for things to be different.

Another client phoned he had failed to meet some important deadlines at work because he was swamped with projects. He was concerned that his standing with his boss and the rest of the team would be jeopardized because of what he saw as “my failure”

Although both clients were facing different problems the solutions are similar.

In order to solve the problem it is important to understand that in-completions leech our energy and sense of self worth. The net result is that we spend time and energy in servicing the problem rather than dealing with it.

Let me give you an example. If the job seems too big to handle we will often find any number of distractions to avoid dealing with the problem. If fact we often spend more time avoiding doing the job than the job itself would take. For those of you with teenage children you will acknowledge that they are masters of this technique!

Human beings thrive on completion. If we feel we cannot complete the whole thing the tendency is to leave. If I asked you to eat a whole cow in one sitting you would refuse on the grounds that it was impossible. Yet over time if the meat was used in meal sized amounts it would not only be possible to eat a whole cow but there many of you who would enjoy planning different ways to cook it, love cooking and eating the various dishes.

How we present any job or project to ourselves and others will have a marked impact on whether we manage to do it easily or with great difficulty.

Imagine your house. Every room is in a mess. There is a sink full of washing up. You get home from work – you are tired from the day. You look around and just can’t face dealing with it. You order a take away rather than tackle the mountain in the sink. You are too tired to do more than collapse on the settee to watch TV. The washing up is put on the draining board before bed. In the morning you have breakfast, there would be time to deal with the breakfast things but there is not enough time to do anything with your sink full. You add the crockery to the pile on the draining board. You leave for work knowing that all that awaits you after a hard day at work is the mess you have left at home.

At work there is a non stop barrage of requests, interruptions and expectations of you by others. Huge amounts of energy are tied up with worrying about what isn’t being achieved rather than focusing on achieving what needs to be done.

So what are the solutions?

By understanding that completions give us a sense of achievement and well being we can create a works or ‘To Do’ list which breaks everything down into manageable “mouthfuls”. Structuring each task in this way gives us a sense of impetuous to go on to the next thing. As each stage is completed take the opportunity to acknowledge that you have achieved success.

Prioritizing what we do is really helpful. Think about the last few days. How much time have you spent on things which could have been left or delegated?

Think about the difference between IMPORTANT and URGENT. 
Many things create a false sense of urgency, the immediacy of emails for example.

Playing with your children may be important but lack a sense of urgency in the light of the rest of your list. How many parents regret the lack of a sense of urgency when they realize the time has passed and the childhood days have passed?

Prioritize your works list using Franklin Coveys system.

A = Must get done
B = Should get done
C= Could get done

Create your list using the code above.

Most people tend to do the Cs first as they tend to be the easy ones. Try to be disciplined about doing the A’s first. Anything outstanding at the end of the day goes onto the next list. Remember to reconsider the coding as things which are in the "should" or "could" categories can become “must” if left.

Give Yourself A Break

Many of the things on our list add pressure with out adding value. If you have things like “Sort out and read pile of magazines and periodicals” and you have had this on the list for a while consider how liberating it might be to simply put the whole pile in the recycle bin. Ask yourself the question “Will anything dreadful happen if I don’t do…..?”

Schedule Ahead

We often have jobs to do which are vitally important – paying the bills for example, yet the need to do it is not immediate. Creating a reminder in your day planner can work really well as long as you train yourself to check the planner on a daily basis. For those of you who love technology it is possible to set up visual and auditory prompts.

Take Control

Central to the solution is creating a sense of control. It is entirely your choice whether you do or not. Both my clients felt that the first act of creating a list of things to do helped them feel better.

Just having a list will change nothing. It is the taking action which will ultimately change the quality of your life. Breaking that list into small manageable chunks and taking action to complete the first one offered the clients a sense of completion, that in turn energized them so that they went on to the next task and the next.

By our next session they were both in a significantly different place. They were still busy but both felt their lives were manageable. The sense of overwhelm was replaced with a sense of being in charge of their own lives.

Plan to do something different in the next month.

Organizations - Recognizing and Dealing With Overload

Stress is the most common single reason for staff absenteeism. It costs millions every year in lost man hours and production. Every Manager has a responsibility to ensure the well being of their team. All too often managers are themselves between a rock and a hard place and as a result pass the pressure down the line to their staff. The result may be a win in the short term as everyone rushes around to meet deadlines but in the longer tem it leads to burn out and disaffection.

There is much you can do within your organization to avoid overwhelm. The principles which work for the individual also work at organizational level. Break down tasks into small milestones which once achieved will offer a sense of completion and satisfaction to those involved. Celebrate success, including the small achievements. I’m not suggesting a happy clappy “isn’t everything wonderful, aren’t we clever” approach. Much more that there is a moment to take breath and recognise a job well done.

Overwhelm is prevalent where communication is poor and subordinates feel that they do not know what is happening. It is made worse if decisions are reversed on a frequent basis. Consider your decision making process and the way you communicate it to staff. Do you involve your staff in the decision making process? If so how? How effective is the communication in your organization? How do you know? How often do you ask your staff what they think might be improved and how? Involving your staff in an audit and makeover of your communication and decision making process has a number of benefits. These include a better system which suits the needs of your company and a workforce who feel valued, involved and informed. There is the potential to save expensive time and avoid mistakes as expertise and knowledge is shared.

Overwhelm is created when staff are either being asked to undertake duties without adequate training and support. Throwing people in the deep end works for a few but the majority of people become anxious and feel deskilled. Overwhelm is also common if people are given work to do which they find boring and completely lacking in challenge. The thought of each hour passing in total tedium creates depression and a complete lack of motivation. The boring jobs do need to be done but it is possible to create flexibility in the way they are tackled, or intersperse the job with other activities. Ensuring that those who need variety and challenge are matched with the right roles is also important.

Creating effective strategies to make the best use of time as individuals and as a department or whole organization makes economic sense. Does your organization manage technology, paper, meetings and communication effectively? Do you have protocols in place to minimise waste? If not consider how much time is being wasted?

With modern technology comes a growing blurring of the boundaries between work and personal time. What is your policy on staff being contacted outside working hours? If your staff find that emails, phone calls etc are constantly interrupting personal and family time it will have a corrosive effect on their ability to relax, rejuvenate themselves and this will ultimately contribute to stress levels. What is your policy for contacting outside working hours? Do you have a policy? Do you train your staff to manage their workload to minimise the need to interrupt down time?

My experience of working with clients and organizations has shown that overwhelm is worse where people feel they have no control, no one cares or listens and they feel of no value. Managers have a vital role to play here. Giving people a voice and listening to it has huge potential to give everyone a sense of their contribution. Sharing ideas, seeing everyone within the organization as a valued part of the team and acknowledging their contribution makes a fundamental difference to the way people feel and therefore their performance and health.

Creating the culture and working environment which supports healthy working practices is vital if you are to have a motivated, energized and healthy work force. It is well worth the thought and effort a makes economic sense too.

Recommended Reading

Tired Of Being Tired: Rescue Repair Rejuvenate
by Jesse Lynn Hanley and Nacy De Ville

We all have patterns of behaviour which govern the way we experience life. This book offers an interesting perspective on why we continue to behave in a way which ultimately damages our sense of well being and offers practical strategies to change those behaviours.

It is particularly useful for those of you who would like to tackle your weight.


Ask And It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires 
by Ester and Jerry Hicks

Much is spoken about the laws of attraction. This book explores the principle and shares how you can explore the abundance the Universe has to offer.

It is written in a style which may not suit everyone but offers the reader the chance to consider how you are living your life. "You only hear what you are ready to hear" is one of the truisms offered in the book.

If you are curious about challenging the way you live your life and want to get to know yourself better it is well worth the read.


"How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively (And Pave The Way To Your Next Promotion)" by Gina Gardiner

Offers lots of practical strategies for managers to help get the very best of their staff as individuals and as a team.

Everything in the book has been tried and tested in a variety of organizations; it is a distillation of over 30 years experience of developing leadership at every level.

The book does not attempt to teach grandmothers or grandfathers to suck eggs, but offers tried and tested principles, strategies and ideas which have been proven to work.

Time, energy and money are all very precious resources and all three seem to be in short supply for most busy managers.

How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively (And Pave The Way To Your Next Promotion) Can help! Dip into it if you are facing specific issues or use the comprehensive approach to underpin ongoing and sustained individual and team development.

It has relevance for experienced managers who want to share good practice and for aspiring leaders who want to develop and deepen their leadership skills.

The book covers a wide range of issues including:

  • Developing strategic vision

  • Creating your dream team

  • Creating a ‘Can Do’ culture

  • Effective delegation

  • Holding people to account

  • Developing a solutions approach

  • The power of anticipation

  • Giving positive feedback

  • Having those “hard conversations”

  • Managing stress for you and your team

  • Creating a good work life balance


How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively (And Pave The Way To Your Next Promotion) will stand alone but you will find it useful to use it in conjunction with the companion book Kick Start Your Career.


"Kick Start Your Career" by Gina Gardiner

This book is designed for new initiates into the business world and graduates who are ambitious and want to create a successful career for themselves. It is a no nonsense, jargon free manual, full of practical ideas and strategies to support the development of leadership from day one.

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