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Overwhelmed? 5 Ways to Focus Your Life

Regain a Feeling of Control

Feeling overwhelmed is directly related to a sense of control. As soon as you feel you are losing control over your time, relationships and life, your responsibilities feel like burdens piling up on your shoulders. You then feel anxious you can’t do everything or feel resentful about the expectations people have for you.

In order to regain your sense of control you have to review the choices that led to the overwhelm. Make a list of everything you feel you are responsible for. Include your work projects, your to-do list at home, and the outcomes you are expected to create in your professional, family and social lives. Once you create this list, complete the following three steps to regain your sense of control.

1) Be clear on why you are doing what you do. The greatest organizing factor of your life is to be able to answer the question, "For what purpose am I doing this?" Did you say “yes” to a task because you didn’t want to disappoint someone or you were afraid to say no? These tasks will drain your energy. Instead, look at tasks that energize and ones where the results make you smile. These tasks add up to your personal “why.” You will probably find that your enjoyable tasks are generally focused on 1) making something happen for the greater good, 2) assisting others to realize potential or make a difference, or 3) changing what is not working now. Your most motivating “why” can change over time. Determine what most fuels your motivation now. Then before you take on a new responsibility, ask yourself if the task or outcome adds to your personal “why.” Don’t just look at what you want to say “no” to. Be clear about why you say “yes” as well.

2) Put limits on your trade-offs. There will be chores you have to do even though they don’t inspire you. Will these actions help you do something more inspiring in the long run? If not, you have better things to do. Try making decisions about what you will and will not do before you have a conversation with your boss, friends or partner. Good negotiators prepare before their meetings. They know what they are willing to give up and what their bottom line is where the negotiations stop. They also know how to explain the reasons for the bottom line. Then stick with your plan no matter how emotional the plea to distract you.

3) Trust other people to do the work. Are there any items on your to-do lists that are keeping you from doing more important tasks? Can someone else do these things or at least help you? Even if no one will do the job as well as you, there could be someone who can learn to do these tasks satisfactorily. What will it take for you to trust others enough to do your less important tasks so you are freed you up for more significant work? If you show people you believe in their capabilities, they might surprise you. Help them develop their own mastery and then let them make their own decisions. Coach and mentor them instead of criticizing them. Be patient. Breathe through your irritation. Other people learn from mistakes just as you did.

Now, do the following two activities regularly.

4) Outline priorities. Schedule a five minute “priority-setting” session for yourself every day, even non-workdays. Force yourself to do this before you check your email. Look at your appointments for the day and list out the things you want to complete. Then make a priority list. As your busy day progresses, stop and determine if you are sticking to your priorities. Notice when you get distracted and try to set the time you will return to your priorities. If you don’t do this, you risk feeling as if you haven’t done anything useful with your day.

5) Pace yourself with useful distractions and friends. Do you need to account for every minute of your time or are there “non-productive” moments that are priceless? Creativity demands you have periods of time where you don’t think about work or problems. The more complex a situation, the more you overload your brain. When you occasionally distract yourself with something mindless or a physical activity, you give your unconscious a chance to sort through possible solutions. When you return to your work, you might discover a new solution. Also, call a friend at least every other day. In 2002, a landmark study was completed at the University of California Los Angeles that found that one of the best ways for a woman to combat stress is to call a friend. When female friends connect, oxytocin is released which counters stress. In other words, when you connect with a friend, you free up creative resources in your brain. And possibly, your friend will give you good ideas to consider as well. Put break times and connecting with friends on your priority list.

For more tips, read Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction

More from Marcia Reynolds Psy.D.
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