I remember one day as a child rushing into the surf, delighted and excited. Suddenly I stopped dead at the sight of a wave bearing down on me. It was about chest high and it bowled me over, spinning me around and around. I stopped tumbling and stood up, blinking saltwater out of my eyes, in time to see the next one bearing down on me. Down I went again. Swallowing water, sand in my pants and my eyes on fire as I got bowled over by one wave after another. Work can feel like this sometimes.

The good news is that, unlike the waves that almost drowned me, the overwhelm you feel at work is an illusion caused by rushing from one fire to the next and not doing a very good job of fighting any of them. No crisis is insurmountable. Most of them are happening inside our heads and best dealt with if we put some distance between us, clear space for clear thinking and take things one step at a time.

Here are three ways you can take back control of your life:

  1. Clear your desk

Dr John H. Stokes – professor, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, described the problem as, “The sense of must or obligation: the unending stretch of things ahead that simply have to be done”.

A cluttered desk, said Dale Carnegie, is a constant reminder of ‘a million things to do and no time to do them’.

To defeat your desk, use this simple formula:

  • Do it (if it will take you two minutes or less).
  • Delegate it.
  • Delete it.
  • Defer it.
  1. Prioritise

“Those two priceless abilities: first, the ability to think. Second, the ability to do things in the order of their importance,” Henry L. Doherty.

Get up at least half an hour earlier in the morning, take some time to think and plan your day in the order of their importance. Or as Stephen Covey put it, put first things first.

  1. Don’t put off decisions

“When you face a problem, solve it then and there if you have the facts necessary to make a decision. Don’t keep putting off decisions.” — Dale Carnegie.

One problem at a time. One decision at a time.

Don’t take the time to have a think about it. Usually that’s just you putting off making a decision that’s hard to do and you want to put some space between you and having to verbalise the decision, as if everything will just magically resolve itself and making the decision — or making it known — tomorrow will somehow be easier. It will likely be harder.

Unresolved problems are one of the biggest causes of feeling overwhelmed. Procrastination is very likely the root of all your stress.

“Procrastination is categorised as a self-limiting paradox because, when you make the choice to procrastinate, you’re actively limiting yourself, instead of achieving more for yourself.” — Erica Gordon, author.

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