Duck the Wave: Fighting Overwhelm

In Business of Writing on September 10, 2009 at 9:11 pm

overwhelmed-lady-deskIf you freelance write, edit, or teach, you know all about overwhelm, which I call “the wave.” If you work and write on the side, or work and parent, or any combination therein, you also know about “the wave.” The wave is a combination of panic and terror that you cannot get it all done in the limited time you have to do it in, and you will shortly be screwed because you are on deadline, need the money, must reply to your students/clients, etc.

Here are some strategies for ducking the wave rather than letting it crash into you:


1. Write it ALL Down

You’ll begin to corrall the wave once you have a good look at all that’s expected of you. I don’t know about you but I tend to try to hold my entire year’s assignments/projects in my mind AT ONCE!  Depending on how you organize you may have an assignment/project board that you look at each day (I use an eraseable white board–highly recommended). A study was recently done that proved decluttering your brain of information was good for stress levels. Sometimes I just make a list of everything that feels as though it’s crowding my brain. Then I make a second smaller list of what I know I can do TODAY. The next day I may do it again. It’s incredibly anxiety relieving.

2. Break  Down

If I have a 300+ page edit to do, I can start feeling pretty overwhelmed. So I divide that project by the working hours in the time frame allotted before it’s due. That way when I get up to work that day I don’t have a 300-page behemoth to tackle, I have 25-50 pages. Much more manageable.

3. Use email, social networking, reading of People Magazine online (guilty) as REWARDS for finishing your work.

Other than basic checking of email pertinent to work, save email and other online surfing for after you finish a project. If you’re like me and you have 3-4+ things to check off your list each day, then give yourself a brief reward after each project. Finished article? Find out if Brad and Angie are calling it quits. Edited 25 pages? Pop in for a quick tweet session, and so on. That way you both feel rewarded AND get work done.

4. Step Away From the Desk.

That’s right. Remember to get up, to stretch your legs, drink some water, refresh that cup of coffee and eat breakfast and lunch.  Sometimes the sheer act of moving away from all that’s rushing at you is enough to make you feel calm(er).

5. Tune Out

Timothy Leary may have suggested tuning in, but I’m here to tell you to tune out. If you’re teaching, or interviewing someone for an article or anything in person–TUNE OUT the other projects begging for your attention. Focus all your attention on the ONE thing at hand. This study proved that multi-tasking is a myth; you actually get less done. And people sense when you’re scattered. If you made a list, then breathe easy–you won’t forget what’s next. Actually, this goes for any project you’re working on. Do ONE THING AT A TIME. You’ll get far more done than trying to jiggle back and forth between several projects.


6. Breathe.

I’m a big fan of meditation, but not everyone can spend 15-30 minutes meditating in their work day. So try this little short-circuit trick: Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths when you’re drowning or feel as though you might. It is amazing!

  1. Great post, Jordan. I’m finally starting to learn some of this–#4 is still the hardest for me. I have to remind myself that just sitting there isn’t necessarily getting more done. A break is a necessary rest, PLUS increases productivity. 🙂

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