Many of us experience overwhelm in our lives. The good news is that it can be overcome. One of the ways in which we can do this is to become aware of how we focus our attention.
Many of us use a to-do list. The master list of everything we have committed ourselves to accomplishing. Dr Pedram Shojai, former Taoist monk and doctor of Chinese medicine, talks about us having numerous windows open on the desktop of our lives.
However, how we interact with the to-do list (those open windows) can go some way to determining the extent to which we feel overwhelmed.
Looking at the whole list can do one of two things:
A) It can freak us out because we are thinking we have no idea how we're going to complete all the items on the list, or
B) We see each item on the list in its own right, we know why it's on the list, we've established that it's our task and no-one else's (it can't be delegated) and we have some notion that we can deal with it successfully
Overwhelm can come about when we are in state A, and as a result we're becoming stressed out about the length of the list.
Overwhelm can be eased by:
Prioritising the list, starting from the top and dealing, with full focus, with one task at a time. This, by default, means that you are putting down (actively de-prioritising) all the other tasks on your list until you've completed the one at hand. This may sound simple, but it is profound. The reason? All we have is now, this present moment, and the more focused we are the more effectively we work.
We become anxious and overwhelmed when we are engaged in one task but thinking about all the others we have yet to complete. This dissipates our focus and dilutes our effectiveness. As a result, tasks take longer to complete because we are not 100% engaged.
We also tend to switch between tasks. This may feel like a better use of our time but our focus becomes compromised. When we're interrupted we find it difficult to get back on track if we're focused on two or more tasks, and in the end the tasks simply take us longer to complete.
So when you're faced with an overwhelming to-do list, take the time to prioritise it, start from the top, work your way down and ensure you focus on one task at a time.