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The Weekly Surgery

Five top tips to prevent overwhelm

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


It’s 9:33am. I currently have eight tabs, five documents, three email accounts, two browsers, two clouds and one diary open. I'm feeling paralyzed by information overwhelm and anxiety.

Stacks of notepads, papers and random stuff that seem to breed and grow overnight surround me. 

Amongst the stuff, I’m staring at my screen doing absolutely nothing. A strange paralysis has gripped me. 

Elizabeth Hill-ScottThe light from the screen is making everything blurry. 

I’m compulsively looking at the clock on my phone. 

I have no idea why I’ve done this ten times. 

I guess I feel like the time is ticking away until nursery pick-up and I’m doing naff all.

Experience tells me that in a few hours time I will be beating myself up for not accomplishing much in the precious time I had today to work. 

I’m getting flashbacks to being sat in my University library politics section doing exactly the same thing. 

I'm surrounded by books, notepads and photocopied journal articles looking at the clock (there was no phone, because I’m that old people)

I know the theory: 

  • Write your list of priorities the night before (tick)
  • Start with the hardest thing first (tick)
  • Have a working environment with limited distractions (tick)

So why am I being so unproductive? Fear? Possibly, I’ve started some new creative projects. Tired? Yes, but I have a toddler so hey I’m always tired. Procrastination? Definitely. Maybe? 

So, in response, I’ve opened a word document (oh yes, another one) and started to write this blog. Why? Because my story of being overwhelmed may be familiar particularly if you’re juggling multiple subjects, up to your neck in flashcards or trying to digest arguments, remember facts and memorise quotes all at the same time. 

Below are the five things I’m working on every day, take a look as with practice they may be your solutions too… 

My Five Top Tips For Preventing Overwhelm and Anxiety


ONE. Just Start Small

You are one person and you do not have limitless brain capacity. So, just do that really small thing to push things along. When I say small, I mean tiny. Send an email, open a new folder titled ‘The UK Constitution’, sketch down some sub-headings or order a pack of flashcards. These small steps will propel you to feel like you’ve started. This is especially important if you find something hard (hands up for political theory - anyone? OK, it can’t be just me.)

For weeks I was afraid to do my first post on Instagram. It was new, I was in the images, I didn’t understand the rules, would Britpolitics (and me) look like amateurs if I used the wrong hashtags? 

Then I thought ‘**** it, just post something.’ I did one post the best I could. I’m not saying I went viral, but I did it. The relief from my procrastination was fantastic.

TWO. Just Prepare

What does the first 100 seconds of what you need to do look like? Packing a bag and sticking it at the bottom of your bed? Leaving a book open on the right page? Booking marking a website? Getting a desk ready with a cup and teabag in it? 

This mini-prep will help to prepare your mindset. You won’t wake up with a blank canvas. What you will have is a visual reminder of what you need to do.

THREE: Just Step Away from the To-Do List

But saying that, don’t be ruled by a to-do-list. It helps but also stifles creativity. 

When the list tells me I have to do something I just don’t want to do it. 

Of course, you can have a massive list, which allows you to pick and choose but I’m trying to occasionally put down the list and do what I want to do. Where will your creativity take you? 

Don’t want to research about the power of the executive today then do a mind map about whether the United Nations is toothless or not? For this to work you need time on your side. A pressing deadline takes away choice. But, where creativity is felt – the to-do list can wait. 

I challenge you to put the list down and just do what you want to for a few days. See what happens?

FOUR. Use the ‘Just in Time’ Principle

I don’t know where this originated but credit to you because it has been a real game-changer for me. 

Developing Britpolitics is 90% self-taught but I was getting way too far ahead of myself. 

I was listening to podcast after podcast, watching YouTube video after YouTube video, SkillShare class after SkillShare class. I was doing it because there are so many great learning tools out there and it excites me, but it’s the wrong thing to do. 

The just in time principle makes you ask yourself what do I need to know right now? And then you just focus on that. So powerful, right. 

So, I needed to know all about Instagram and Pinterest, all about blogs and about email marketing. I kept my focus there and saw massive results on progress and my sanity levels. So, ask yourself what do you need to know right now and what can wait?

FIVE. Just Switch Off Those Notifications

I spend 5% of my time actually phoning anyone on my phone. 

The other 95% is Text, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Podcasts, YouTube, GoogleDrive,  Google Calendar, Notes, Internet, News Feeds, Twitter, Pinterest, MailChimp, GoodReads, DropBox, MS Word, Photos.

The whole theory of ‘leave your phone in a drawer and look at it once a day’ is unthinkable. My phone is my work; how I organize myself, connect with people and in part my entertainment. But what I have done is:

Turn off notifications, no pings, no alerts and no sliding messages. It’s a distraction and a major cause of overwhelm. I also went crazy retro. I got a watch and used it for telling the time. Looking at my phone for the time was too tempting.

Also, someone once told me ‘email is sent at their convenience to be opened at yours.’ I try to not let emails and messages control my actions, my time and me. It’s great to hear from people but by not replying instantly I take back control and lessen the distraction on things that need to be done. I also give a more considered and thoughtful reply.

So there are my five tips. Hey, I don’t do this all the time. It’s a challenge but I’m working on it. I hope it can help you too.

I’d love to hear your top tips for managing feelings of overwhelm. Leave a comment below or drop me an email.

Catch-up soon


P.S My free guide to being A Successful Writer gives you more on how procrastination and overwhelm shouldn't hold you back from creating and publishing your own ideas. Check it out.

The Successful Writer Download


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