Why You Are Still Overwhelmed

This happens: you look at your calendar and see, once again, that your entire week is entirely blocked out, and you’re going to be completely overwhelmed.  Again.

We all know how to manage time, right? Prioritize the tasks that are urgent and important, delegate, use a todo list.  Simple!   So why do we spend year after year not getting it right?

How we live our days is how we live our lives (misquoting Anne Dillard).  And how we live our lives is driven by unconscious patterns of behavior that we developed very, very early, and which feel “right” – even if they cause us stress and difficulty.   We gravitate to living in our patterns, however uncomfortable and stressed they make us feel.  Tinkering with a todo list doesn’t move us out of our default behavior – it’s like trying to put out a fire with a water pistol – it’s the wrong tool.

The tool you do need here is self-awareness (a fundamental building block of Emotional Intelligence).  Once you start to become aware of your patterns, you become less of a slave to them.  You can start to consciously change your approach to time.

Some common default patterns:

– “everything is important”.  So for you, the standard time management techniques of dividing things into important/urgent, important/non-urgent etc don’t make sense.  Some questions for you: really, what is urgent?  what does “urgent” really mean?  what is it, for you, that loves the sense of crisis? what would happen if you let that go, decided that this week, you were not going to live in a state of emergency?

– you’re not delegating.  OK, there are times when you’re scaling a team and you genuinely don’t have enough people.   But that’s not a steady state.  Are you fully trusting your reports?  Are you helping them, really, to do everything within their abilities? What’s in it for you to hold on to tasks yourself and not give them up?

– you are “comfortable with discomfort”.  It’s possible that for whatever reason, being overwhelmed is a default state for you – a state that is comfortable in its discomfort.

Our default states are not always comfortable – we often gravitate unconsciously to states of discomfort. It’s possible that for whatever reason, being overwhelmed is a default state for you: you don’t exactly like being overwhelmed, but being in the opposite state, being in control, feels unnatural.  Consider what being overwhelmed does for you?  make you feel important?  excited?  successful?

Think about a week where you came in to work, got everything done, and then left at Friday at 4pm happy that all is under control.  Feel weird?  OK – you have some work to do…

A quick summary: our styles of managing our time and attention define a great deal of our working lives, and are often driven by powerful unconscious patterns.  Sure – choose a good to-do list app, and start prioritizing – but look deeper – that’s where you are going to find the time you need….


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