The other day, I was sitting at my desk and in between my computer there were stacks of books, piles of papers, two coffee cups and a water glass.
I was working on a big project, but there was no more room left on my desk to work so I had binders and folders spread out on the floor. Having all that stuff around me made me feel overwhelmed.
My brain kept getting pulled from one thing to the next. One minute I was writing curriculum for Team BOLD, a girl’s empowerment group, and the next I was sucked into checking emails. On top of that, my son needed help with remote learning so I stopped to help him. Then on my way back to my office, I stopped by the fridge for something to eat even though I wasn’t hungry.
Just the other day, I was overwhelmed with everything I needed to get done. I was being super unproductive because my whole office area was a complete disaster. I was trying to multi-task instead of focusing on one thing at a time.
My overwhelm started to make me feel stressed out. Then I was anxious because I started thinking “How am I going to get this all done?”
I was quickly spiraling downward.
At that moment I had to coach myself. I thought “What would I say to a client who came to me with the same overwhelm?”
I would tell her:
1. Take control of your thoughts
2. Create an energizing environment
3. Focus on one thing at a time
As I have mentioned, if we want to feel less stressed, we must take control of our thoughts. We often think our circumstances cause us to feel a certain way. In reality, it’s our thought about the circumstance that causes us to feel a certain way.
Circumstances are facts. They can be proven. My circumstances were: I had a curriculum that needed to be written, I had this article due and I have kids doing remote learning at home.
My initial thought was “I have so much to do! There’s no way I can get this all done! There’s not enough time in a day. I can’t get my work done and help my son with remote learning!”
It’s our thoughts that determine how we feel. They can either lift us up or drag us down. My thoughts left me feeling overwhelmed, stressed out and anxious.
My body was affected too. My heart started beating faster. I got a little shaky. My brain couldn’t think straight.
My feelings, overwhelmed and stressed, led me to my behavior.
I couldn’t decide which thing to do first, so I ended up being unproductive and ineffective.
Then just like I would tell a client, I had to begin rewiring my thoughts. I started thinking about solutions rather than problems. My new thoughts went like this:
“I have many projects that need to get done. If I prioritize my projects, it will help me to focus on one thing at a time. Which one is most important and needs my immediate attention?”
“If I take time to organize my desk, I will be better able to work on the task at hand. I know my piles are huge and stuff is everywhere but I’m going to start with this pile right here.”
“I know my son, will need help with his remote learning. I’ll check his Zoom schedule and decide the best time to work with him. I’ll also let him know that I can’t be interrupted while in my office. If he is finished working, he can read a book or go shoot hoops while he waits.”
My thoughts became more curious, more open-ended and more focused on finding a solution.
These new helpful thoughts made me feel less stressed and see there was light at the end of the tunnel. Once I could see the light, I behaved differently. My body was more relaxed. I was breathing slower. I stopped shaking. I started organizing my desk.
I started focusing on what needed to get done. I became productive. When helping my son, I was able to focus on his work rather than my mind wandering off to my “to do” list.
First and foremost, become aware of your thoughts and change the downward spiraling thoughts into thoughts that will serve you and benefit you.
Next, pay attention to your environment and the messages coming at you.
Everything around you is shaping how you feel and how you are showing up in life. Everything around you is sending you a message- good vibes or bad vibes.
The clutter around us has an effect on how we feel, which leaves us feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.
The messy desk. The piles of laundry on the couch. The dishes in the sink. The Facebook posts we look at daily. The TV shows we watch. The articles we read. The news we watch. Everything around us affects our mood.
Many times people discount how important the things around them are influencing them because it doesn’t seem that big. Don’t be fooled. This is huge!
A couple months ago, I was talking to a client on the phone. She hired me because she was stuck. She lived with her husband and teenage son, yet she felt alone and sad.
During one of our first coaching sessions, I urged her to examine her environment and identify the messages coming at her that were exhausting, unhelpful, and depleting her energy.
She reluctantly began to describe how her laundry was always piled on her couch, how the mail was always sprawled out across the kitchen table, and how her working space was cluttered with unfinished projects.
When I challenged her to clean up her space, she said, “Amy, I am too busy. I don’t have time to clean and organize my stuff.”
I could envision her eye roll on the other end of the phone.
To her being “too busy,” I responded, “You don’t have to do it all at once. Just choose one thing. Which area seems less overwhelming? Start with one area. Spend 12 minutes on it each day. Set a timer. See how cleaning it up makes you feel.”
She decided to clean off her couch, to start folding the laundry and putting it away as soon as it was done. Next time we talked, she had a completely different energy. She was excited to tell me her couch was laundry-free. And then she started crying. She explained her teenage son had always been in his room and she was feeling a disconnect with him but now that the couch was cleaned off, he was hanging out on the couch and talking with her.
Cleaning off her couch strengthened her relationship with her son and made her feel less lonely.
She saw how this one simple thing made a huge difference. She then cleared off the mail on her table and that motivated her to have sit-down family dinners.
Little by little, she cleared her workspace and started painting again – a hobby she had tossed aside because her work area was disorganized. Once she cleaned up her work space, she had the space to do a hobby she loved and brought her joy.
What messages are coming at you? What things around you are sucking your energy? What things are giving you a mood boost?
Start becoming aware of how things around you are making you feel.
Lastly, I encourage you to focus on one thing at a time. Distractions are everywhere. We have more competing for our attention today than we ever had before – especially those trying to work and help kids with remote learning.
Just like you, I have caught myself folding clothes, checking my phone, petting the cat, wiping down the counters instead of sending a really important email or working on a project.
Once I recognized I was distracted, I was able to refocus on the important task.
Focusing is a habit. You have to train your brain to come back to your priority. When we say yes to one thing we are saying no to another. When we allow ourselves to be distracted, we are giving things of low importance priority over the things that really do need our attention.
Ask yourself, “What do I need to focus on today?”
Writing down things you need to get done helps you clarify the “to do” list swirling in your head. Once you have your list, choose one thing to focus on. This one thing gets all your attention.
Distractions will come. Acknowledge them and keep coming back to the task at hand.
Take time to refresh throughout your work day. Have a plan in place when you get fidgety. Take breaks to stretch. Take time to sit and eat a snack rather than eating in front of your computer screen.
These breaks will help you recharge, refocus and be more productive in the long run.
Research proves time and time again we are less efficient when we are jumping from one thing to the next. When we multi-task, we are more likely to make mistakes and end up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Focus on doing one task at a time.
Friends, if you want to feel less stressed and overwhelmed, then you must create an environment that is organized and brings you good vibes.
Next time you’re trying to send an email to a client and find yourself loading the dishwasher while your kid is saying “Mom, Mom, Mom” and your phone is dinging with notifications, take a deep breath, focus on finding thoughts that seek solutions, create an environment that is organized and makes you happy, and focus on one task at a time.
Amy Wagenknecht is a Certified BARE Life Coach. Visit amywagenknecht.com to see how she can help you.