I was talking to a client today and they were telling me about everything they had to do. They told me that it wasn't a lot of big jobs and that it was just a bunch of little jobs. They also told me that there was so many little jobs and they had put it off so long that now they felt overwhelmed every time they thought about doing something about it. Well it turns out that after talking to this client, that well... they were all over the place. It seems like they couldn't focus on anything unless it absolutely had to get done. Does this sound familiar to you?
But wait... there's more...
Digging deeper, it turns out that this client has a main business that they needed to grow... and if that wasn't enough, they were also involved in two more businesses. So now they have 3 businesses they were growing at once along with a mountain of small "jobs" that had to get done. No wonder they were feeling overwhelmed!
In fact, I felt overwhelmed just listening to them! Whew!
So what now? What do they do and how do they regain control of their business?
I think most people would think the answer would be for them to get organized first. The challenge with them getting organized first is that they are so disorganized that it would take them forever to get organized. In addition, it's so overwhelming that they'll never get started organizing to get organized. They're somewhat in a state of analysis paralysis! What do I do first?!? What's next? There's this and that and this and that and ahhhhh!!!!!!!
Here's the thing... when people feel overwhelmed, then the natural thing for them to do is avoidance. It's natural to avoid the thing that's making them feel overwhelmed and put it off as long as possible. So getting organized will actually just be another step in the avoidance process where they'll work on getting organized and never get anything done. I know that sounds somewhat counter-intuitive and I've seen it over and over again. People feel unorganized and cluttered, so they spend hours upon hours and days upon days getting organized... and if they're lucky enough to actually get organized, they'll soon realize that they didn't get anything done and they still have the weight of getting everything done on their shoulders. So then they look for something else to do other than organization instead of actually just tackling what they just organized. Or they'll take a break... because they spent so much time and energy organizing... and still nothing will get done.
It's a vicious cycle.
So what's a person to do instead?
The answer is FOCUS. Focus on getting stuff done. Chip away at the mountain of "stuff" that needs to get done and stay focused on getting things done. If you've got so much to do that you're overwhelmed, then just focus on doing what you already know that needs to be done first. Get that mountain of "stuff" down to a hill... and then organize.
Here's the thing, most people probably already know what needs to be done without first having to organize everything and prioritize it. So work on what you know needs to get done one by one. Here's the thing, by getting one thing done, it removes the pressure of that one thing and makes you feel "lighter". Do another thing you know needs to get done and you feel even lighter and more refreshed. If you can mentally choose something that takes less time than something else, then yes, tackle that first because you're goal or focus at this point is to get things done and off your plate as fast as possible. Once you have completed several tasks, you'll be surprised at how you feel... somewhat renewed, relieved, energized... even if you know you have a lot more to do.
Let me give you an example... a 1000 piece puzzle.
When you first dump out the pieces of a 1000 piece puzzle, it seems overwhelming. How are you going to put together an entire 1000 piece puzzle? It's going to take you forever! Now, if you took the time to organize all 1000 pieces into separate piles based upon color, size, shape, or whatever it is you decide, that might take you hours or more (maybe even days) depending upon how you organize them... and you still haven't gotten anything done. Now if you had to get stuff done, this may help you down the road only it didn't help you get anything done in the short term and you've still got 1000 pieces to put together!
Now what if you did what many people do with puzzles first... focus on getting the frame completed by finding all the edge pieces and putting them together first. Find the four corner pieces and then start finding the straight edges and putting them together. After a bit, you'll have parts of the frame put together and you'll feel a sense of accomplishment. Stay focused and after a bit more, you connect two sides and you give a little whoop of excitement. Then you connect pieces of all 4 sides together and you're feeling the excitement. Then you finish the frame and ahhhh... a nice feeling of success!!! Never mind that you've still got about 700 - 800 pieces to go... you've got the frame together! Wahoo! Progress!
Now that you have the frame done and you're riding an energy high, start organizing all the pieces of one color together... or of one part of the puzzle picture. For example, if your puzzle is a picture of the ocean with a lighthouse on one side and a ship on the other, then look for all the pieces that have the lighthouse on them. Don't organize the whole puzzle yet - there is still too much... focus instead on just getting the lighthouse completed. Little by little, you'll start putting the pieces together and before you know it... shazaam!! The lighthouse is completed! Relief... energy... excitement... onto the next thing you know needs to be completed... the boat.
Stay focused and soon enough the boat is complete! Now you look and half the pieces are completed! Now the remaining pieces are manageable and you can organize them however you please. You've got energy from completing three or four pieces of the puzzle and now you feel like you can conquer the rest!
This is the power of focus. Don't get me wrong, organization is a powerful process as well and it still needs to be done. And sometimes organization itself is a stall tactic... and can still overwhelm you. FOCUS is power though. When you focus on getting things done... one step at a time... the results are amazing.
In fact, my client told me that the other day they had tons and tons of messages to respond to and it was all overwhelming. They had considered organizing all the messages into different subjects and then prioritizing them by importance and they just couldn't do it. It was just too much. Then they said that instead of focusing on responding to all the messages and organizing them into different piles and priorities, they just focused on responding to the messages that they had that day and didn't worry about anything else. And when they got through that, they felt a sense of relief. Then they started focusing and tackling the messages from the prior days... one day at a time. Soon enough, they had caught up on all their messages. It was amazing!
Again, this is the power of focus. And if this helps anyone out there, remember that FOCUS stands for Follow One Course Until Successful. If you're overwhelmed by the mountain of tasks you have to complete, focus on the things you know you need to do and just do them one at a time. You'll start to feel empowered as you complete your tasks and the mountain won't seem insurmountable. Once you feel the conqueror spirit, then organize and prioritize the rest and then once again, focus on completion. Remember, how do you eat a cow? One hamburger at a time!