It’s easy to get overwhelmed while working an FBI investigation because they are solved by gathering lots of evidence and collecting reams of information. As an agent, I spent hours, days, months, and even years generating enough knowledge about an individual to decide whether evidence pointed to their innocence or guilt.
Knowledge is power, but modern technology has made information so accessible that most of us experience a surfeit of it. When that happens, our minds become overwhelmed as more and more information demands our attention.
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At the dawn of the computer age, people were predicting that less paper and more technology would free us to work less and pay more attention to the most important things in our lives. Both of those predictions have been wrong; we are not only getting paid the same but we’re expected to spend a great deal more time keeping up with technology that changes all the time.
When is technology producing information that is valuable, and when is it information to be ignored? At what point are we overwhelmed with the emails, video clips, news stories, and social media coming at us? What can we do?
Here are 5 effective things to do to stop feeling overwhelmed.
1. USE MENTAL STRENGTH TO FOCUS ON THE IMPORTANT STUFF
Successful leaders keep from feeling overwhelmed when they focus their attention on information that truly matters to them.
“Busy” and “not busy” are not defined by how many activities are on your plate. The reality is that there is no such thing as multitasking, even though we can address several needs at a time. Research has shown that while we’re capable of engaging in several activities at once, and still be operationally functional, our brain can give only one of those activities its complete attention.
Busy-ness is truly a state of mind, not a fact.
TIP: This means you must use mental strength to focus only on those activities that are important and not let your attention get diverted by less important things—in other words, prioritize your priorities. Begin each day with prioritizing your day’s most important activities so that you don’t end your day feeling overwhelmed by what you did not accomplish.
2. TACKLE THE HARD STUFF FIRST
If you keep from being overwhelmed, do not leave the hardest and most difficult tasks for the end of the day.
Your brain is like every other part of your body: it takes a lot of energy to run it. A typical person’s brain uses approximately 10.8 calories every hour.
Your brain takes power to run and this power drains as you use it. This explains why it’s easy to get distracted when you’re tired or hungry. If you have a difficult task in front of you, start on it while your brain is fresh and energized.
TIP: To keep from feeling overwhelmed means resisting deep instinctive tendencies to avoid what is unpleasant or produces fear within us. If the project before you seems overwhelming, break it down into smaller tasks. Smaller bites will provide you confidence and a sense of forward momentum as you chip away at the larger project. Give yourself one goal each day that will move you toward conquering it. At the end of the week, evaluate how much progress you’ve made. Then congratulate yourself.
3. GROW A PAIR AND LEARN TO SAY NO
Only robots always say “yes.” We all try to be positive and value the possibilities before us, but at some point it become ridiculous. Every single day we’re faced with temptations and inducements to keep doing more. It is so easy to get sucked into a lie about how much better our life will be if we only keep struggling to move upward—and onward.
Both life and business are getting dumped into little projects that are short-term and recyclable. We’ve become like our favorite airline and overbooked because we certainly don’t want to miss out on any margin of profit that can be squeezed from our already miserly little lives.
Take control! Here are 3 reasons you may not be able to say no:
- Most people and women, in particular, hate letting others down and tend to take on more than they can handle. But whom are we trying to impress—others or ourselves? Often, we’re hooked on feeling needed by others so we say yes when someone comes to us for something. This is what we secretly want, so we end up feeling overwhelmed with everything that we’ve committed ourself to.
- When faced with an unpleasant or difficult task, we welcome distractions. We’re actually relieved to be able to turn our attention somewhere else. As a result, we do not accomplish what we need to do in order to finish our tasks.
- If we are not in control of our life, we may be so disorganized that we’re unaware of our other commitments. We end up taking on additional tasks at the expense of completing our own critical tasks.
TIP: If any of these bad habits describe you, nip them in bud and just say NO!
4. STOP BLAMING STRESS FOR EVERYTHING BAD IN YOUR LIFE
Busy people keep from feeling overwhelmed by remembering short-term stress triggers the production of immune cells that boost the body’s defenses. As a result, their brain and body get a boost.
Too little stress and you’re bored and unmotivated; too much and you become difficult to live with and risk your health.
Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges people to see stress as a positive. In a recent TED talk she said that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. When you choose to look at stress as helpful, you are creating the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others while under stress, you can create resilience.
In her book, The Stress-Proof Brain, Dr. Melanie Greenberg talks about ways we boost our confidence levels and how we can cope with stress in constructive ways. She suggests to ask yourself these questions:
- What helped me survive other difficult circumstances in my life?
- Have I faced this sort of situation before?
- What skills or personal qualities do I possess that might help me manage my stress?
- What external resources or support can I rely on to help me deal with the stressor?
5. MAKE MEETINGS COUNT
A recent study indicates that most CEOs spend about one third of their time in meetings. It’s a lot of time and it can either be valuable time or wasted time; it’s up to you.
A financial advisor once told me that he never attended meetings that 1) did not have an agenda, and 2) a timeframe for the agenda. It’s a good rule to live by. If you are the one running the meeting, keep this in mind:
- Identify the topic.
- Remind people why they’re discussing it.
- Decide who will take ownership for the topic.
- Put a limit on how long to be spent on the topic. If time runs over, create a sub-committee to report back to the larger group.
If you can clarify these things, everyone’s time will be well spent.