Overwhelm: 3 ways to get there and 4 strategies to get out

Lindarecently took on a challenging role as CEO of a dynamic community organisation operating in a complex area of high need.  There was some time since the previous CEO left, and so much to do that it was difficult to know where to start. Not surprisingly, as well as feeling excited, Linda felt overwhelmed.

I can get myself into overwhelm without taking on a new role! I am inspired by alternatives and see multiple approaches to everything. When I start something I see numerous other interesting things I could do instead of or as well. Most of the time this serves me well, and sometimes it’s like opening so many apps on my laptop that the processing speed grinds to a halt. 

Another client, Francisruns a department of a medical organisation in Thailand, with 300 staff over a dispersed geographic area. Her role includes a significant reporting workload. Francis is highly motivated by detail – even when asked for a ‘brief report’ she provides a comprehensive response. Like me with alternatives, Francis’ depth orientation can lead her into overwhelm.diagram

You probably have your own special method of getting into overwhelm! Here’s four strategies to get out:

1.   Step back and remind yourself the real purpose of this role, project or activity. Sometimes we get so caught up in other people’s  energy, the possibilities, or the detail, that we loose sight of the purpose.

2.   Get clear on what’s urgent and what’s important. Stephen Covey popularized this model in ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. We tend to respond to the ‘urgent’, and yet it is likely to be a sustained focus on the ‘important’ that makes the biggest difference in the long term.

3.   Choose three areas of focus and target all your discretionary effort to those areas. Linda found that by choosing her focus fortnightly, and keeping her team informed of her priorities, she was able to progress the most high impact activity first.

4.   ‘Act as if …’. This is a powerful coaching model. If you have high alternatives like me, ‘act as if there was one right way’ and follow that way until it is complete. If you are stuck in the detail, ‘act as if it was critical to think in big picture terms’. If you don’t know what should be the priority, ‘act as if you do know’ and get started.

Which one of these simple strategies will be most useful getting you out of overwhelm and productive again?

#not his/her real name