Getting Out of ‘Overwhelm’ When You Are in Overdrive

Martha CarlsonBy Martha Carlson

overwhelmedmanEver felt like you’re running around whacking moles and the moles are winning? Many executives are “Type A” drivers, a personality type that can lead to success when appropriately applied. However, when left unchecked or coupled with other characteristics such as hyper-responsibility or perfectionism, Type A drivers can go into overdrive, which ultimately leads to overwhelm. I encounter this issue frequently in executive coaching; I also encounter it myself (takes one to know one, I guess!).

Here’s a strategy to get out of “overwhelm”:

  1. Brain dump: Write down everything on your mental to-do list at the task level. Many times we avoid doing this for fear that the number of items on the list will lead to even MORE feelings of overwhelm; however, it is an essential step to recovery.
  2. Goal review: Look at your goals for the quarter or year; highlight the tasks that directly correspond to goal achievement.
  3. Delegate: Review the highlighted tasks and note anything that can be delegated to someone else.
  4. Prioritize: Look at the remaining highlighted tasks and prioritize them; time-sensitive things should be higher on the list.
  5. Review: Look at the non-highlighted tasks and cross off anything that isn’t important to you or someone else or time sensitive—trust me, this will be freeing. Of the remaining tasks, circle those that are important to someone else. Can you say no to doing this task? If so, cross it off the list. Can you negotiate timing of this item? Prioritize the remaining tasks on the list, ideally behind those that correspond to your goals.
  6. Communicate: Talk to the people you are delegating tasks to (see Step 3); confirm outcome, timeframe and plans for follow-up. Let others know what your priorities are (including what you are saying no to) and manage expectations; negotiate as needed.
  7. Reality check: For the perfectionists out there, when you set out to complete a task, ask yourself what is the minimum standard that must be met? Perfectionists tend to do everything at 120 percent when something less will do. A CFO I worked with years ago used the acronym GEPO—Good Enough, Press On—when facing down the need for perfection.
  8. Maintain: Perhaps the hardest step of all is to be mindful of what you allow onto your list going forward and proactively delegate or say “no.”

Let me know if it works for you!