In this day and age, with all of the competing demands that life throws at us, it can be super easy to become overwhelmed.
Whether it is a messy room (or rooms) in your house, a project at work that you have been putting off, or even a combination of things from home and work, it seems like we are constantly feeling buried in a hole that we can’t get out of.
The feeling of being overwhelmed is one of the worst types of anxiety that someone can experience. It can occupy our thoughts, time, and energy. I often find that when my clients come to me overwhelmed, they feel trapped. They are so confused about what needs to happen or how to get relief they don’t know where to start.
Asking for help is also difficult. Many times, clients have procrastinated to the point where they feel like they can’t ask for help because they will be judged.
The feeling of being overwhelmed then leads to self-judgement, sadness, and depression. It never ceases to amaze me how abusive and terrible people are to themselves.
Common Roadblocks To Getting Things Done
I use the term “catastrophic thinking” with clients because I think that is the only word that describes how damaging self-doubt and self-degradation can be.
It is hard to get anything done whenever you are busy judging yourself for how much you suck at everything.
This type of thinking is often one of the first road blocks to success. People sometimes have this type of thinking before they start something. When this happens, they are doomed from the start.
Not Picking Wisely
Another area people tend to struggle is that they pick the most difficult or time consuming tasks complete first because they believe getting the harder issues out of the way is what you are supposed to do.
While this tactic may work for some, when people who engage in catastrophic thinking try these areas and fail, it reinforces the damaging views and projects stop. Stopping happens because there is the view of, “what’s the point? I can’t do it.”
Stringent Expectations for Timelines
The other mistake that people make is that they adhere to some pretty stringent timelines whenever they don’t have to. When things aren’t completed according to the “timeline” it again reinforces the catastrophic view of themselves.
Getting Things Done
Below are some tips that I give clients. It may not work for everyone, but I have found it to be successful in my own life as well as in the lives of my clients.
1. Chop It Up and Start Small
Whenever there is a large project, chop it up into small pieces. I sometimes give clients a worksheet to write down how it can divide them. If you would like a copy of the worksheet, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If it is a change that you want to make in your life like working out, do it in one small increment to start. Even if it is as little as five minutes of power walking down the street. You have started.
Research shows just the act of starting a task significantly improves your chances of completing a project.
By chopping and starting small, you suddenly have concrete, achievable tasks.
2. Recognize when you have completed something.
I don’t care how small it is. If you have picked up one area of the room or have completed one section of the term paper, you have accomplished something.
A common response I get is, “Yeah, but it wasn’t that much.” This is that catastrophic view coming out again.
My response is to ask clients, “Are you further along than you were yesterday?” The answer is almost always yes.
It is surprising how much praising yourself can help. Whenever you complete a task, you have evidence to support the praise. This starts a momentum toward progress and it is reinforcing.
There are numerous times where clients will tell me that they started off with something, and after completing they felt invigorated and wanted more. The brisk 5 minute walked turned into 15 minutes, or 4 sections of the project were completed.
Evidence of progress is powerful.
3. Timelines Are as Flexible as Possible
This concept depends on the nature of the timeline. Typically, timelines are either stringent or flexible.
Sometimes, timelines are pretty tight. The students I work with deal with this a lot for projects and assignments.
In this case, I have them divide it up as small as they can and set a time of day to complete. I also have them give an estimate on time to complete that part. So, for example, if they believe something will take two hours, I have them set a plan in their calendar for 2.5 hours.
This again gives evidence of progress. Sometimes, students find themselves even having an extra boost because they finish before the allotted time expired.
It is important to always try to over-estimate on each task. That way, if you aren’t able to get something done one day, you can work on it during the extra time in the next day.
Unless they absolutely have to adhere to a stringent timeline (as in the example above). I tell clients that they need to be as flexible as possible with themselves (within reason). The only requirement that I give is that they need to make progress each day and they can’t let the progress that they made needs to remain.
In the messy room example, if they are only able to clean up a few things, that is fine, but those few things can’t be brought back out. If you’re a busy Dad, tell the kids that they can’t play with those toys until the room is clean (adds a little bit of extra motivation.)
I also tell clients to look at the areas that they have completed instead of focusing on the areas they still have to do.
I had one client that was coming out of a pretty significant depressive episode and her home was messy. She was able to get one of the bedrooms cleaned in her home. It happened to be the area where she was the least, and she was able to get that room done within a day. I worked out a plan with her that whenever she became anxious and overwhelmed about her home, she would go in that bedroom and read a book. She enjoyed the room mindfully and it helped to bring her out of the anxious state.
4. Use Visual Aids Cautiously
Calendars and checklists are great. However, it is important that these areas be “chopped” as well. Having a To-Do list with a lot of things that haven’t been crossed off can be detrimental. I suggest to clients that they split their to-do list into sections that are independent. Post it notes are great for this.
5. At the Soonest Point Possible, Ask for Help
As I stated before, clients have difficulty asking for help because they are ashamed. At some point, they may have achieved something to where it isn’t as shameful to ask for help to get the goal(s) completed.
Asking for help can provide the much needed support and accountability that people need. Obviously, if those that are available to help are negative, there is some extra preparation that is needed. However, it is generally good to have others help.
6. Get Professional Help When Needed
If you are consistently struggling with getting things completed and it is interfering with your daily life, you probably need some professional help. The techniques that I mentioned above are just a snippet of what can be done in therapy.
People that consistently have difficulty in getting things done likely sometimes have more deeper challenges that will continue to interfere.
One common mistake I see clients make is the length of time it took them to seek professional help. They allow themselves to suffer for so long and it isn’t necessary.
If you are in Florida, Georgia, or Texas, I will be happy to speak with you about problems with task completion. If you aren’t in these states, contact me anyway. I have resources where I can maybe help to find you professional help in your state or country.
It may seem simple, but people tend to have a hard time with this concept. We have such high expectations for ourselves and when we don’t achieve those expectations. We judge, and judge, and judge some more.
Whenever this happens, we then start digging the hole. Digging the hole is much easier than getting out of it .