I use a to-do list – it works for me. In fact, it gives me a tiny burst of good feeling every time I can tick something off. It took me a long time to find a way to make it work as well as it does. Everyone who successfully uses a to-do list needs to go through a period of testing and trial before finding the way that works for them.

By far the biggest challenge for me was to find a way to successfully handle tasks that felt overwhelming. That sense of overwhelm was a showstopper: when I was overcome with that feeling, I would do anything to avoid addressing the item and getting it off my list. Sometimes a task like this would sit undone for a very long time, and sometimes that would mean missed opportunities for me. It definitely meant feeling defeated in that one area.

This is how I gained the upper hand:

  • Notice it. The first thing is to recognize that feeling as it’s developing. There is always a physical feeling that comes with being overwhelmed. It’s very individual. For me, I would feel my throat tightening, and a kind of heaviness around my solar plexus. It never works if I ignore the feeling; I need to feel and acknowledge it before I can do anything else.
  • See if there’s a connection to past events. That feeling almost always relates to something that was really difficult from past experiences. So, the next thing I do is see what aspect of the task brings on that sense of overwhelm, and what it reminds me of. For instance, maybe I need to host a large event, and in the past I may have botched it. That would definitely bring it on for me! Once I see the connection, I almost immediately begin to feel lighter, and that helps me dive into the issue with some hope of finding my way through. Not all overwhelm is connected to some past event, but it often is.
  • Isolate it. With any remotely complex task, there are sub-tasks. It helps me to look at each one to see which part of the overall task is actually causing a problem for me. For hosting, it might be understanding the needs and desires of the people who come to the event. Since I’m an introvert, this is always a challenge for me.
  • Deal with it effectively. Once I nail the issue, then I can decide how to handle it. This part is fairly straight-forward, because there are only 3 ways to deal with anything:
  1. Does it really need to be done? Take a good look at the task to see if it actually needs doing. It might be that you can let yourself off the hook and simply remove it from your list.
  2. Can someone else do it, or a part of it? It may not be your area of expertise, and what you really need is help doing some part of the task. This might require breaking it down into smaller components until you know what you can do and what might be better done by someone else. Cut it down into small (or even tiny) turtle steps. Taking turtle steps means that a small part is being done day by day, eventually adding up to full accomplishment.
  3. For what’s left, what would make it worthwhile for you to do? For anything to be worthwhile it must either bring pleasure or mastery. Can you follow up with a reward? Or learn something worth learning for future tasks?

Don’t get me wrong. My personal solution may seem simple, but it took literally years for me to succeed in. As anyone knows who has experienced that feeling of overwhelm, you may know the steps, understand them to a fault, and still find yourself unable to move through it. There are a lot of emotional issues wrapped up in this feeling, a lot of past issues that increase the ‘size’ of it, and these issues take time to go through and deal with.

To this day, I can get overwhelmed with something. But because of my working through it, it doesn’t last long – I confidently know how to navigate through overwhelm.

This could be why you’re depressed or anxious

Quote of the Week

Every kid needs one place they can escape to when life gets to be too much.”

― Lisa Fipps, Starfish


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