November 2

Freedom From Overwhelm

The following is a synopsis of the Open House Discussion hosted on September 2nd, 2022 with guest productivity expert Andrej Klokner and iLumn8 founder Anne Peterson. These discussions are part of a series that will culminate at the upcoming Imagining in Action Summit.

Freedom From Overwhelm

Many of our Open House Discussions have been focused on what it takes to make our BOLD visions a reality. But what do we do when those BIG ideas feel like one more thing on a to-do list in a life that already feels overwhelming? In our conversation with Guest Facilitator Andrej, we explored overwhelm, and learned tools and approaches to time management that can inspire and motivate us to change our relationship with that to-do list.

One thing that gets in the way of us even imagining what COULD BE, is feeling overwhelmed. Quite often, as soon as we consider any new possibilities, the very next thought can be that stressful and almost panicked response - I don’t have time for that! It can also include doubts about our ability to achieve what is needed. That feeling of overwhelm can shut us down from even thinking about our vision, as we already know all those other things we have to do. Learning tools to effectively deal with the feeling of overwhelm can allow us to keep our imagination wide open and actually have our BIG ideas be realized, even with busy lives.

Pressure to get it all done - all the things we need to do, the things that we should do, that we could do, and that we want to do - if only we had the time - is the basis of feeling overwhelmed. This includes personal and professional projects, aspirational goals, and our larger visions. These endeavors can change depending on what stage of life we are in - we may have young children, care for elderly relatives, have work responsibilities or health challenges.

In addition, our minds can be racing and distracted with everyday life, making it hard for us to see past all that and even consider the wider future. Most of the time, we don’t even know or acknowledge the full extent of what’s causing us to feel overwhelmed as we focus on putting out daily fires. We hope we will get it all done without understanding how huge the mountain of to-dos is. In the meantime, we work on increasing our productivity. Or… we opt to engage in various coping mechanisms that range from productivity tools to procrastination.

This racing mind is often at the heart of feeling overwhelmed. Andrej taught us some strategies for getting these thoughts out of our minds and into a format where we can prioritize and deal with our to-do list and find some mental freedom and even joy along the way.

Roadmap to releasing overwhelm.

1. Write it down.

Write down everything you have to get done - even the obvious stuff. All of the stuff that’s on your mind. Include all of the thoughts, should's, and ‘want to’s’. One way to do this is to set a timer for 5 minutes to make the initial list, but note that it may take a few days to complete as new things come to the surface. You may need to do this a few times over the course of a week.Some relief may come from simply writing it down and releasing the pressure of carrying these things around in your mind. Sometimes there can be a resistance to letting things go, but getting them out of our head and onto paper is the first step.

2. Sort into three categories

Now that you have written it down, the next step is to sort into categories, that you can do by highlighting them, or placing them into separate columns. The first category consists of what you are actually DOING. These are things you are doing out of habit, or that you have scheduled in your calendar, or have concrete plans to do.

And this can bring up the first revelation - you may realize how much you are already doing! You may not even be acknowledging the things you ALREADY DO, since we can have the tendency to only write down stuff on a list that we haven’t yet done. By doing this, our brain can trick us into thinking we can get it all done, by ignoring all of the things that we are actually doing.

By leaving out what we are already doing, we leave out a part of our life. Some time ago I asked on social media why things always take longer than we expect, and a friend replied because we don’t take life into consideration. And this can be true personally and professionally. This is why Step 1 was REALLY… write down EVERYTHING you are doing.

Acknowledging what you ARE DOING can show you that you are accomplishing a lot and this feeds you ENERGY! You might be only thinking about what you aren’t doing without acknowledging what you are actually doing. Once you start this, you may realize that you need to go back and add things to the original bigger list, as you begin to acknowledge what you are ALREADY doing.

Next, work on the second category - things you are NOT DOING, but are committed to doing and will actually do in the foreseeable future - in the next month or two. Put a star next to the ones you can schedule or put in your calendar, or ones that have a deadline during that time.

The third category is - things I am NEVER GOING TO DO. Another way of thinking about this category can be your dreams or aspirations. Having these things on your mind can cause the experience of being overwhelmed as you think of all you want to do, but you can’t see scheduling it in the foreseeable future.

Think of this as your bucket list: writing them down is important to your peace of mind … why? Because our dreams and aspirations motivate us and inspire us, knowing they are in existence where you can go pick them up anytime contributes to your peace of mind!Now that you have these three categories, what is the next step?

3. Tell Yourself the Truth

Tell yourself the truth about your first two categories. This can give you clarity around how you are spending your time NOW. Are you busy but unproductive? For instance - is there anything in either of these categories that you realize you don’t need to be doing? Can you outsource it or leave it out altogether? Does it need to be done as often as you are currently doing it? Sometimes looking at how you actually spend your time can help you to think differently about it. Anything from the second category that is not currently in your schedule, put it in there. If it doesn’t fit, maybe it belongs in category 3.

Next, consider the things in the third category. What can you do with the things on that list? Can you accept that you are never going to do some of them? I recently moved to another country and I remember considering a tall pile of books that I hadn’t read, trying to decide whether to take them with me. Some of them I had for a few years, and I kept beating myself up over the fact that I hadn’t read them yet. Some of them I had started but never got more than a few pages in. Accepting that I was never going to read them was difficult. I struggled with the idea that I wasn’t the sort of person I thought I was - the sort of person who read, understood and finished serious books.

There may be things on your “never” list like that. Releasing them might bring a level of grief, as you accept that you may never do them. This may be grief about an identity you thought you had or hoped to have one day. It may be grief around a path not chosen, a life not lived. But releasing them can also bring you freedom. Freedom to find joy in who you are currently and the life you are living now.

This process can also help you hone in on your priorities. Putting something on the “never” list might make you realize how important it is to you and encourage you to make the time, schedule it, and make it happen. It can also help you realize that you don’t want to make time for it now, and you can tuck it safely away on a list to come back to later, when the time is right. (I tend to do this with many of the book ideas I have, and I recently came back around to one of them!) Or, you may realize that it is a remnant or aspiration that you no longer want to do at all, as it doesn’t even fit with who you have become. Alternatively, you could consider ways to incorporate it into what you are currently doing.

You might also realize that there are things in life you are choosing to do and appreciate them more. Putting everything in existence in this way, releases us from those feelings of being overwhelmed. We are left with more joy, peace, and energy to do the things that we have put in our calendar. Our mind is FREE to dream more, to imagine more, and to find new ways to make those BOLD visions a reality.

Our guest expert, Andrej Klokner, is a productivity and time management coach. He supports individuals and teams to rise above productivity and time-management limits to produce results, AND have a sense of freedom, joy, and increased quality of life along the way.
Synopsis written by iLumn8 contributing author Safiya Robinson, in-house copy editor Susan Bouet and founder Anne Peterson.