I don’t know about you but, for me, November is always the busiest month of the year. There’s so much to do before the end of the year and it feels like time is accelerating!
It’s very easy to let overwhelm take over. Too easy to let all the healthy habits established over the year to simply be thrown to the wind. After all, when you’re stressed out, you need cake and hours spent mindlessly scrolling, right?
Over the years, I’ve experimented with several strategies to resist this destructive, overwhelm-induced spiral and I’d like to share the ones that are working best for me right now.
Get out a pen and paper and test them out by answering these …
5 questions to help you deal with overwhelm during busy seasons
1. What are my most important goals right now?
Narrow this down to no more than 3 and, the fewer the better.
Think about the next 3 months. What, if achieved, will have the biggest positive impact in your life?
Critical thinking can be harder during busy times. Urgent things feel more pressing and, when you’re tired and overwhelmed, easy tasks are more tempting to do than the ones that may require deeper work.
Resist being carried away by the urgency of other people. Centre yourself in what is most important for you to move forward and prioritise your tasks accordingly.
2. What’s the first next step?
Too often we come up with these big tasks that are just impossible to get done. Why? Because they’re too vague or too daunting – both ingredients for paralysing overwhelm.
‘Update website’ is not a task – it’s a project! It’s no wonder it never happens because, it’s too easy to avoid! If you broke it down into single-sitting tasks – e.g. spend 1 hour reviewing current site and noting down all the things I want to change; ask my networking group for copywriter recommendations; brief virtual assistant to research portrait photographers and get 3 quotes for my new headshots.
See the difference? When you break things down, it’s easier to assess what task you can do first, to get the ball actually rolling.
Getting Things Done by David Allen is a great resource for more on projects vs tasks and the power of first-next-step thinking.
So, for each of the goals articulated in question one, ask yourself: what is the first next step?
3. What’s most important for me to achieve today?
What one to three things are most crucial for me to accomplish today, as I work towards the goals identified in question one?
Unfortunately or fortunately, most of us don’t have the luxury of spending 100% of our time working on our goals. There are other things we have to attend to on a daily basis and so, setting our priorities is often a juggling act between putting out fires and tending to other unexpected issues and opportunities. And expected ones too like kids and spouses!
It’s very easy to let these unplanned tasks detract us from the path towards our goals so, we need to be conscious to balance what we get done.
Ask yourself: what are the three most crucial things to get done today?
In selecting those three, consider:
- Your most important goal(s)
- Urgent tasks that have to be done by you (i.e. that you absolutely cannot delegate or outsource)
- Urgent tasks that have to be done by you, today (i.e. that absolutely cannot be deferred until later)
4. What will I do just-for-me today?
If today was your last day on earth, what would it contain for you to feel content and fulfilled?
It’s been game-changing for me to ask myself this question in the context of a typical day in my life. Not some extraordinary day where I have no obligations, no responsibilities and no constraints. No: a very ordinary day in my current life.
This mindset gets you to think of the small pleasures that bring you joy. Drinking your morning tea outside in your backyard; reading a chapter of a book, cosy on the sofa, when everybody else in your household is still asleep; starting and stopping work early so you can meet and catch up with a friend; getting up early to do some gardening before work; going for a run with a neighbour at dawn. These activities are all real-life examples from our team – little things that make us feel alive and make ordinary days rich!
You can begin by writing a list of all the things – big and small – that make your heart sing.
In making time for these simple pleasures, there is renewal to be found amidst the overwhelm. It’s easy to tell yourself you don’t have time for these things and indeed, the consequence of not doing them is something you probably won’t feel for even years and decades to come. You can convince yourself that getting one more task done will magically lift the overwhelm (it never does).
The truth is: making a little time for what you love is way more nourishing and stress-relieving. It will give you the rejuvenation needed to effectively get through the next burst of productivity.
Remember this popular question: when you look back at your life, years into your old age, what will be important? That you dealt with the urgent tasks or that you lived a full, rich life?
5. Have I created space for rest and everything that is important to me?
This one is perhaps not a daily task although I definitely review my answers almost every day. Towards the beginning of a new month, I tear out a new page from my Lulu Kitololo Studio monthly planner and get to carving out time!
I’ll let you in on the details of my November planning, to give you an idea of an approach that may work for you too.
Annual goals recap
Our planner includes sections for doing a recap on annual goals so I start there. I shifted to working on goals in 3-month spurts as opposed to holding singular goals for the entire year. Mine this quarter are:
- Product development for my collection of stationery, home decor and gifts.
- Preparing for the launch of my new learning programme for creative businesses – working title, SHINE. Sign up here for updates.
- Reviewing and updating the Standard Operating Procedures for my business, and creating a better system for housing them (enter my beloved new tool, Notion!)
Next, I fill in the space for how I will nurture my creativity this month. This and the following 3 points tie in nicely with question five above.
I’m doing really well with my goal to do yoga every damn day which, I set back in August. This mission was inspired by birthday reflections on the habits that have the most positive impact on all aspects of my life. This November, I’m kicking things up a notch by ensuring that at least 3 of those sessions each week are high intensity ones. Yes, yoga can be an intense physical workout!
Mine is to connect with at least one friend weekly. By connect I mean, devote a substantial chunk of time – whether virtually (most of my closest friends live thousands of miles away from me) or in real life.
I’ve chosen to complete this section with process rather than outcome goals. For November, this includes:
- Time spent working through a course I’m working through – Amy Porterfield’s Digital Course Academy – four times per week
- At least three co-working sessions per week, with my mastermind group
The majority of our monthly planner’s real estate is devoted to a high-level calendar. I use mine to note a few specific things:
- Days I’m working from our shop/studio
- Events where I’m graphic recording or where we have a stall selling our products
- Time blocks I’ve carved out for myself, which I can then assign to self-care, connection and life admin
There’s something about looking at this completed sheet of paper that makes me feel I’m on top of things, I’m taking care of myself and that overwhelm has no chance of moving in!
Over to you!
What helps you stay healthy in the midst of overwhelming times?
Please share in the comments below.
[The top image is from one of our best customers and afellow organisation nerd – South African poet, performer and spoken word educator, Toni Giselle Stuart. Check out this post from her Instagram to see what she had to say about our different planning tools.]