20 October 2017 | Compass of Design
13 min read
Overthinking things? Here’s some help with all of the mental overwhelm.
I’m going to (probably incorrectly) guess that you don’t deal with being stressed out over all the design work you have to do, the emails coming in, the phone calls you miss, the family time you’re running late to…
You probably don’t deal with being overwhelmed at all.
I bet you don’t even deal with the mountain of tasks inside your head that you actually have a clear idea of what you have to do and what is most important.
It feels like all of the stuff that I have to keep up with is all really hard on me. Most of the time I feel overwhelmed. Maybe I’m just overthinking it, but it feels like the image below a lot of the time.
How do you deal with all of it?
We need to get better at clearing our minds when we feel overwhelmed…
When I started writing this, I’ve felt pretty stressed out and heavy headed.
As a founder of my own design agency, I have very little time to be applied to everything. I run two brands, work full time on the side, I have a family, housekeeping (that I’m falling behind on)… it can be a lot of work trying to get everything done.
I’ve been realizing that I am falling farther behind and forgetting important things. It’s overwhelming at best, and brutally crushing at its worst.
There’s a lot going up in my head, and without the right habits in place, I’m sure to turn out like the picture above.
You need to get better at clearing your head.
Best way of getting your head on straight?
You need to start writing to clear your head. Write down everything that you’ve tried to get done last week. List as much as you can remember, and hey, list some tasks that you might do on autopilot (like make coffee, go grocery shopping, email your boss back).
These are the things you’ve tried to do for the whole week.
Now put a line through everything that you have completed. Are you getting all of the things you need to done? How about the things you wanted to do but didn’t have time for?
If you got all of them done, you can now write the things that you need to get done next week down on paper.
Paper and pen is magical because it forces the things in your brain to the paper using motor skills. I find this helps most with memory when trying to recall what you have to be doing. But you can use anything you want, just get it out of your head for the moment.
Keeping a document of any sorts that contains a list of things you need to accomplish is the first step towards having all that weight lifted off your shoulders. Your next step is to start prioritizing them, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
If you want to see what things I have to do for the 3 brands (kind of a free flowing list) you can check that out here.
Yeah, even all that design learnin’ isn’t helping either.
I used to think I have to learn all of the things I don’t know yet.
The amount of knowledge out there to learn from is infinite. As much as you try, you’re not going to be able to learn all of it in a day.
You might not even learn all of it in a year.
Your goal for your design education should always be mastering the basics first. As you start to grow in your skills, you find that you need more than just the basics, you need special knowledge and need to learn other things that aren’t just design.
The thing we forget or might not know is that the fastest way to learn something is to practice. We just don’t have the time to practice everything we “learned’ at once. So what do we do?
You have to have a set of goals to filter your learning **and a bias toward action**.
Chris do goes over this with his interview and coaching session with Melinda Livsey:
Action beats intent
What you need to be doing is to have a goal in mind that you need to accomplish.
If that’s something like “get better at hand lettering” or “learn how to talk more professionally to clients” your brain is setting up filters for the material you have begun consuming.
If you’re conscious about that, you will be able to instantly recognize it when you see it, and therefore create an action step around it. Even subconsciously, your brain is going to look for what will help it get what it wants right now.
You just have to learn to take action on it.
This bias towards action is key. You want to start implementing and testing what you learn in the real world setting. If you found a technique that looks good for brush lettering, grab a tool and start practicing it.
If it’s something that’s a deeper level like understanding how to deal with imposter syndrome, take more time to reflect on it and create action steps you can use. Remember, right now you need to focus on what is going to get you closer to your goal right now, and just take in the necessary information to do something with it.
Are you letting yourself and others down?
**Who is at fault here? Are they asking too much? Are you over promising
Really, we have to stop saying yes to everything. Open yourself up to saying no once in a while.
Your time is valuable. It’s more valuable to you than the job you trade it for.
It’s more valuable than the buddy who asks you to go to the bar again this weekend. Your time is the most valuable thing you have, yet we give it away so freely. After a while, we overestimate that time we have available and get ourselves in to what’s called Expectational Debt.
We have two kinds of people who chronically finish things late.
The Procrastinator and the Optimist
Procrastinators are selfish with their time.
They think that they have the time to put playful things in front of getting work done. Procrastinators are those who think that they would “rather be doing other things” and putting an emphasis on getting to the important tasks later instead of now.
Optimists are under-evaluating their time.
This person is optimistic in the amount of things they can accomplish. They believe that they have the time to do all of their important tasks before their deadlines, or before work starts. They underestimate exactly how long a drive over 35 miles long to have coffee with their friend actually takes. It’s not with selfish intent that they are adding things to their schedule, they just want to be able to do more.
I am the optimist; someone who wanted to do more with my time. It was hard to say “no” to people when opportunities came up and people would ask for something to be done. After a long while I found myself standing before an insurmountable mountain of tasks that needed done that I agreed to do.
Again, we’re going back to our list of things that we tried to do last week.
Did you fill every available hour with something you wanted to do, had to get done, or a meeting you had to go to? Really, we need to start giving ourselves some time to breathe.
Give yourself a time buffer.
Things actually take longer than you think they do.
As you fill out your schedule this week, give yourself some time.
Try arriving 5 minutes earlier to work. Wake up earlier to give about an hour to yourself in the morning before getting ready just to relax?.
Though there’s a lot of things we could get done with those extra minutes and hours, they do us no good if we’re overwhelmed and exhausted.
It might shock you, but you actually do need to rest sometimes. Your mind is a muscle to be worked on. Just like hitting the gym, you can’t work your poor mind to death and expect it to be at peak performance all the time.
Taking breaks can really give you the clearance and clarity you need to keep improving week to week. So what are some techniques to help not feel overwhelmed here?
**For tasks, try using the **pomodoro technique.
The basics are that you want to break your time up when learning or working on something into manageable chunks of time. You want to be as focused as you can be during the working period and free to do whatever during the break.
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes)
- Work on the task until the timer rings.
- After the timer rings put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
- After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
Repeat this until you are satisfied with the work you’ve done.
Take some actual time off.
I’m jealous sometimes of the people that are regularly able to take a vacation. I don’t really have that ability until I have my business self-sustaining and not require me putting every waking effort into it.
However, all that time I’m spending on growing my business will do me no good if I burn out and lose my passion. I have to actually force myself to take breaks or my fiancé has to step in and tell me I need a break (I love that gal a lot).
This time should be protected and you need to not set tasks to do, take calls or emails, and just enjoy being you with your family for a little bit.
We really aren’t good multi-taskers
That doesn’t stop us from trying every now and then.
You have to work smarter, not harder. Working smart means taking account of the things you are currently doing and measuring their effectiveness of reaching your goals. I had to do this with the way that I’m currently spending time with things in my business.
Maybe I spend too much time trying to do two or three things at a time. I’ll work on my website, and be responding to email and twitter messages…
Really, I start to become sloppy at all three. Then there’s the topic of doing one task too many times. All of this can be fixed with delegation or automation.
Areas where I was spending all my time doing one task repeatedly (like setting up grids in Photoshop/Illustrator, creating title cards for my newsletter, new client onboarding, countless other things) were bottle-necking how effective I could be at getting more effective tasks done, (like client work, onboarding new community members, creating new products).
Eventually you can get to a point where you are able to delegate tasks to others or even hire other companies or services/software to do things that your time is better spent not doing.
This level takes a bit of hustle to get to be able to do it, but when you start to figure out what is important for you to do, you find that it takes precedence over other tasks. You can decide how far you are willing to go here.
What if I fail?
All of these thoughts and tasks need to be attended to, right?
No. At some point** you will fail **at getting everything done that you wanted to. You have to be okay with that.
Have a plan in place for when that happens:
- Have people you can go to for help If you don’t have the time, find someone you can have help you. If you couldn’t figure out how to do it, find someone who can and ask for help. It’s okay, and I give you permission to ask anyone if you need help.
- Give yourself time to re-evaluate your tasks and prioritize them If you don’t have the time to get all of the things done, spend just a little bit of time to put the things that absolutely need done first. Don’t confuse being busy with being productive.
- Get feedback on what you did
Don’t stay in a bubble. Talk to someone about the things you are trying to get done and maybe they have some insight to things that are effective or experience on if that’s helped them.
Really, when you start to feel like you are getting overwhelmed with everything going on.
- Take a moment to breathe
- Evaluate your situation
- Get other people involved
- Prioritize your activities
If you haven’t yet, try creating a mind map of everything you got going on and start there.
In order to take the weight off your shoulders, you need to see it first. So go through these any time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the insurmountable pile of things to do.
Hope that helps. (:
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