Is it overwhelm or overload?
What's the difference, you ask?
Overwhelm is a state of being; an emotional reaction to a perception. Overload is just a fact - how much there is to do divided by the amount of time there is to do it.
A lot of people believe overload causes overwhelm however that's not true. We have all had experiences where we've had a plethora of tasks to complete in a short time and we've done it with ease. Then, there are other times when we have only one task on our to-do list and that one task looks overwhelming and stops us in our tracks.
Our thinking is actually what causes overwhelm, or said more accurately, mistaking our thinking for reality is what causes overwhelm. When we believe our thinking to be the truth every little thought that passes through our awareness seems like it needs attention.
The state of being overwhelmed impedes performance significantly. A simple remedy for being overwhelmed is to slow down and get crystal clear about the facts - what is actually happening in reality distinct from your thoughts, opinions, judgments, and assessments, (i.e., story) about what's happening. Once you've separated the facts from the story, notice what if any thoughts are relevant. Chances are, all your thoughts, opinions, etc. are past-based or future-focused rather than on taking action in the present moment.
When you begin focusing intently on the task at hand, doing what you know to do in this moment, the overwhelm and related emotions will fade into the background becoming a non-issue. This will leave you powerfully in action, getting things done instead of thinking about all there is to do.
If you are overloaded, i.e., too much to do in the amount of time there is to do it, there is also a simple solution. As with overwhelm, slowing down is the first step. Then, get clear on the “must do’s” from the “should do’s” on your list of things to accomplish. Let go of the notion that you should be able to get it all done. That is a myth.
Again, looking at the objective facts without adding your story will help you here. There are some number of tasks and some amount of time to complete those tasks. That’s just true. Prioritize the “must do’s” and schedule a time to complete as many of them as feasible. Delegate whatever you can and get in communication about the tasks you will not complete by the time you promised. Without all the story, there is just stuff to do.
If you want to avoid being overloaded in the future, stop making promises you can't keep or said another way be judicious with your yeses and see “No” as a complete sentence meaning you don’t have to justify it. People pleasing leads to overload and is a barrier to truly serving your clients. Successful people know this and say no with confidence and conviction.
In the fast-paced, grind culture we live in, there is a constant message to do more. It's easy to get swept up in the frenzy. Being overwhelmed is not a badge of honor. Rather, it's a path towards burnout and destruction.
Slowing down, getting clear and taking action will enable you to perform at your best and perhaps even enjoy the ride.