40. Overwhelmed? Externalize.

Good morning and welcome to your fortieth meditation. How do you deal with the feeling of overwhelm? With the feeling that there are just too many things to do and not enough time to do them? Do you just jump right in and start doing what needs to get done? Or do you do anything but those things in a semi-conscious effort to avoid having to do them? Maybe sometimes you feel totally paralyzed and can’t do anything at all. And then the guilt builds, which, in turn, increases the overwhelm, and, before you know it, the very things that you love to do most in life can become your greatest sources of stress. So let’s discuss how we might escape this counterproductive feedback loop, and try to think of some ways to avoid, or at least manage the feeling of overwhelm. 

For starters, try externalizing all of your responsibilities. In other words, make lists of everything you need to do. What this does is separates the responsibilities from you. It gives you space to breathe. You no longer feel like you’re a jumble of unfulfilled responsibilities, rather you are you, an agent who can look upon all the things you need to do, and assess the importance and urgency of each one, and organize and order them as such. On the other hand, when you’re carrying all those not-yet done deeds around inside you it can be difficult to distinguish how urgent or important each one is. And without the benefit of a list organized by priority, everything you have to do can seem equally pressing and crucial. As though without the critical distance and order that a written-down list provides, the importance and urgency of the top priority item bleeds into all the other items resulting in an oversized, stress-inducing mass of importance and urgency. Most of us can’t handle that, and so we tend to shut down in response to it.
So make your list. Order it in terms of urgency and importance. Allot the earliest available time to do the urgent stuff and the most available time to do the important stuff. This approach, although somewhat counter-intuitive as it involves one extra step, is so much more efficient than the just-jump-in-and-start-working-on-something approach. With all of your unfulfilled tasks organized you can work with the calm reassurance that you are working on what needs to get done at that particular moment. This allows you to focus better on the task at hand, avoiding task-bleed, meaning that you will do higher quality and more efficient work. It will also likely help you sleep better, and enjoy your time away from work more, freeing up mental space so that you can be more present in that long-awaited conversation with your friend, so that you can relish the taste of the food you eat, or so you can derive pleasure listening to the songs of the birds you pass on a walk. With the freed up mental bandwidth to enjoy things, life, well… becomes more enjoyable, and thus a new and positive feedback loop is born. 

So take the time. Make the list and sort it. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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