Monday, June 11, 2012

A practical plan for when you feel overwhelmed

Sheena Iyengar, a management professor at Columbia University Business School, researches and speaks on the dilemma of choice. In one of her studies, she offered a group of people samples of six different jams available for purchase while she offered another group 24 different jams, including the six jams offered to the first group.

With all that choice you'd think the group offered the 24 jams would be more likely to purchase one. But it's the opposite. Those in the six-jam group were ten times more likely to actually purchase a jar of jam.

The more numerous our options, the more difficult it becomes to choose a single one, and so we end up choosing none at all. That's what happens when we have too many things to do and think about. We become overwhelmed and don't do anything. Sheena says this is ‘suffocation by meaningless minutiae’.

So how can individuals move from being overwhelmed to becoming productive? Partly it’s to do with moving forward and doing something/anything ….getting on with it. And there are a few examples of this work ethic.
  • Trollope used to get up every morning very early - at 5:30 - and write for 3 hours before going to work at the Post Office.
  • Richard Strauss used to be shown to his study by his wife with the admonition. "Richard, go and compose."
  • Sheridan had not written the last act of "The Rivals" on the Friday before it was due to open. They locked him in a room with paper, ink and bottles of port until he did so.
Here’s an action plan that may help you get on with it.

First, take a few minutes writing down everything you have to do on a piece of paper. Resist the urge to use technology for this task. Writing on paper — and then crossing things out — creates momentum.

Next, identify a block of time in your diary which is not broken up with meetings or telephone calls. Aim for an afternoon or morning session.

In 15 minutes — no more — get as many of the easiest, fastest tasks as you can. Make your quick phone calls. Send your short emails. Don't worry about whether these are the most important tasks on your list.The objective is to cross off as many items as possible in the shortest time and launching yourself into action. Use a timer to keep you focused.

When 15 minutes are up, turn off your phone, close down all the windows on your computer, and choose the most daunting thing on your list, the one that is the highest priority or is most stressful.

Then work on it and only it — without hesitation or distraction — for 35 minutes.

After 35 minutes, take a break for 10 minutes and then start the hour-long process over again, beginning with the 15 minutes of quick actions.

Working within a specific and limited time frame is important because the race against time maintains focus. Using a short time frame actually increases the pressure but it keeps our effort specific and particular to a single task. That increases a good, motivating tension while reducing negative, disconcerting pressure. So the fog of overwhelm dissipates and forward movement progresses.

Whilst we still have the endless decisions and dilemma of choice to contend with by actioning items we are creating focus and feel more positive that we are moving in the right direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment