Do you feel like you’re drowning in paperwork, deadlines, and to-do lists, with no sense of progress in sight? Whether it’s at work, school, or home, when the workload starts to pile up and you’re feeling really stretched, staying productive and optimistic can be quite the challenge.
It can feel much like drinking from a fire hydrant- overwhelming and messy. In situations like these, a number of defense mechanisms kick in, to help give you some momentary relief.
Procrastination, rationalization, and rumination are a number of common responses to tasks or problems that feel unwieldy. When we put things off, justify a distraction, or dwell on the darkness of the doo doo we’re in, we manage to buy ourselves a little time and tell ourselves that we’re doing a whole lot. But in fact, these coping strategies can allow us to be paralyzed by our inaction.
So how can you start to get a leg up when it feels like you’ve got 20 pots boiling over at the same time? Here are some survival tactics to help you regroup and get back in the game.
1) Get real– Be honest about your current state of affairs and try to accept both its messyness and its possibilities. In other words, you can’t make any headway with your problem or project if you keep avoiding it or don’t know what has been done or needs to be done. If you find yourself being swept up in the fog of busyness and anxiety, take some time to get organized and make a strategic and realistic plan for your comeback.
2) Less is more– Keep your to-do list short with just the top priorities for the day. This way, you can feel a sense of satisfaction from completing the things that absolutely need to get done and then be motivated to do any “extra.” When you overshoot and then don’t get everything done, it just leads to guilt and self-loathing- neither of those will help you get out of your rut.
3) Respect your bio-psycho-social-ness– Though it feels like you need to work every single minute/hour of the day in order to finish the task(s) at hand (especially if you have a deadline), the truth is that denying yourself sleep and breathing space is counterproductive.
If you commit to at least 7 hours of sleep and 1/2-1 hour of uninterrupted time to do whatever you want/enjoy on a daily basis, your work will actually get done better and more quickly. (And if you ask a friend to keep you accountable, your chances of success are exponentially higher!)
4) Put the problem in its place– Remember who you are and what you’re working towards ultimately. When we get embroiled in our mess(es,) we can be very susceptible to irrational fears and fantasies about failure, our personal flaws, and potential for the worst possible outcome. It can be very freeing to acknowledge the relative significance of the problem/task at hand, within the context of your whole career/life span.
5) Keep it movin‘- In order to start chipping away at your mountain of work, you’ll need to create some momentum and keep it going, no matter what. Take note of mistakes made and do your best to adjust accordingly, but don’t get bogged down by the past and imperfections. Let go. And keep going.
Now these survival tips require some leaps of faith, for sure. But at this point, what do you really have to lose, right?