Feeling Overwhelmed? What is YOUR True Limit?

feeling overwhelmed

True confession here.

Although the majority of my clients at one time or another turn to me for some time/energy management help, I’m always walking that journey alongside my clients. No matter how much I know (and practice) of optimal time management practices, I still find myself at times, well simply, overwhelmed.

Yet despite how much I know better, and mind you, advise better, sometimes I realize I’ve been trapped by too many yeses, too many good intentioned promises (or honestly too many kids!) and I can feel my stress levels rise. I notice that when I think of everything I have to do my heart starts beating rapidly, my breath is more shallow and I can feel a rising sense of panic in my thoughts as I mentally calculate what’s on my to-do list, what still needs to be added, and how many hours are left in my week.

I’m guessing you’ve been there too. . .

So it might not surprise you that as an avid leadership and self-development book reader, I often turn to my trusty kindle to find me just the right book to throw me a life preserver and help me out of my hole.

Recently I turned to “Overwhelmed” by Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory. It met my criteria, a quick read, most reviewers gave it 5 stars and the title itself called to me. It’s a short pithy read but with several truly actionable ways of thinking and tips. (If you’re considering reading it, I should mention the authors come from a very Christian perspective and quote scripture.)

So if you’re gearing up for Q2 and feeling some of the same feelings, I’ve felt – or maybe you just always want to be even better at managing your workload – here are my three favorite tips from “Overwhelmed.”

Dr. Jo’s Three Best Insights From Reading “Overwhelmed”:

1. Know how big your plate is.

This is by far my favorite analogy from this book. The authors talk about how everyone has their own plate size, which is essentially what you can handle before you become overwhelmed. Many of us have dinner plates, we can fit a lot on them, spouse, family, work, friends, house stuff/chores, and occasionally some free time activities. Right? However, if you start loading too much house stuff on it (renovations anyone?) the plate starts dropping other things off the edges. Now you might actually have a saucer – you notice you need more downtime and space than others around you. My friend Dr. Sara Gottfried claims she has an espresso cup saucer and it doesn’t take much to make her feel overflowing (keep in mind she just debuted her third NYTimes Best-Selling book so take it with a grain of salt). And you might have a serving platter. You’re able to handle so much that a regular refrain you hear is, “I don’t know how you do it!”

Whichever size you think your plate/saucer is, it’s important to note when it’s starting to feel full before things start falling off the edges. That takes self-awareness and the ability to say no as you realize it’s getting pretty crowded.Just as important, you need to recognize that not everyone around you has the same size plate you do. What I often find is that it’s easy for you to be judgmental about others who have a very different sized-plate. Perhaps you think they are taking on too much and you’re concerned for their happiness, stress level, kids. Or perhaps you are frustrated with someone at work because it feels like they can’t balance all the pieces that you can and you might feel they just aren’t working as hard.Recognizing your own plate size, and the different ones of others around you is a great step both towards self-awareness and other awareness. How can you have more compassion? For yourself – maybe your plate isn’t the size you want it to be – and for others – their reality is different than yours.And also make sure to keep checking in if there’s anything that’s taking up room on your plate that you don’t want to be there anymore.

2. Time your morning and evening routines.

This one I’ve already started putting into practice. I’m not a morning person. My kids can tell you that. My students can tell you that. And despite the 10 articles I read weekly that proclaim the key to success is getting up early, I can’t seem it make it a habit.

However, when I read this tip, I took the time to list my morning routine. Once I added times to it, I realized with a shock that my morning routine is one hour and 10 minutes (yes, that includes 2 snooze button presses and my meditation practice). So it suddenly was no surprise why I was always rushing my kids and myself out the door each morning since I set my alarm for only 50 minutes before leaving time.

It’s as if a light bulb went off for me and I realized, sadly, I needed to set my alarm 20 minutes earlier to have the mornings I wanted to have, without being overwhelmed. And I needed to start my evening routine about 20 minutes earlier than I thought. (My evening routine takes 40 minutes but I usually start it at 10:40 and wonder why I can never make it to an 11 pm bedtime.)

If you haven’t done this before and you’re someone always running late in the mornings or getting to bed too late, I challenge you to write down your routine right now with estimated times. My guess is that like me, you might have some insights that confront you with the truth versus the lies you tell yourself about how efficient you will be in the morning when you’re setting your alarm (or is that just me?).

3. Create a “Grow-Up” List and plan for it.

This strategy and idea just made me laugh. Lipp talks about how there are always the things we hate and thus avoid doing. Maybe it’s renewing our license since the DMV line is awful, maybe it’s making that doctor’s (or vet appointment) because you know the Dr. will be running late and it will take more time than you think it should. Or maybe it’s filing your work expense reports because those online forms are so annoying (and long) to fill out and then you have to locate those receipts that you put somewhere safe, but where? Whatever it is, we all have those things, personal and business that we avoid, avoid, avoid.
Instead of trying to get to the root cause of why you are avoiding it, Lipp recommends creating a “Just grow-up-and-do-it-list” and then create rewards alongside it. Make those doctor appointments, read your fun book in the waiting room. Fill out your expense report at work, treat yourself to the frozen yogurt place after work.Whatever incentives motivate you, just use them and jam through that list on a weekly basis. Or set aside a daily time to work down it for 20 minutes.I’ve set aside 9-9:20 pm each night for my “Grow up and just get it done Jo” list. Would something like that work for you too?


So there you have it. Now you don’t have to read the book to reap the insights I got from it.

Now it’s your turn. Which one of these might be helpful for you to think about in your life?

Or, tell me the best productivity hack you’ve discovered. What made it helpful for you?

Looking forward to all your insights!

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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