Christine Carter of the U of Berkley CA describes “the overwhelm,” the feeling that we don’t have enough time to get everything done in life and identifies three modern habits that make us a little bit more vulnerable, feeling exhausted, and overwhelmed and gives us some easy solutions that should reduce how exhausting life today can be.
The first mental habit that contributes to feelings of overwhelm is the simple expectation that we can and should be able to stay focused and productive all day, every day. Really the part of our brain that is responsible for our attention, our willpower, our problem solving, our ability to make decisions, it’s like a muscle, in that it fatigues and becomes less and less active throughout the day which can make us start to feel unproductive, inefficient, and eventually overwhelmed by the end of the day. In reality, more time spent working, more time spending focused doesn’t necessarily equal greater productivity. So one way we can feel a lot less exhausted and sometimes less overwhelmed is to honor our natural biology. So we can work and focus for 45 minutes or an hour and then honor the dip in energy naturally comes by taking a real break. This can help us be more productive during the day and feel less overwhelmed at the end of it. Another way to reduce those feelings of overwhelm is to by pre-making decisions one time. I don’t want to use up my decision making muscle for things that aren’t really very important, like what kind of apple to buy at the grocery store, I know there’s only one type of apple that I’m going to buy – kind of on auto pilot. These types decisions that you can make one time and you can stick to it.
The next mental habit that contributes to overwhelm is the perception that multitasking is an efficient way to work. Actually our brains don’t really multitask. They switch rapidly back and forth between tasks so we tend to assume that brains are like our smart phones that we can run multiple apps at a time and work on multiple problems at the same time, but the way our brain actually works is that it works on one problem and then it switches and works on the other problem and it can switch back and forth. These really quick shifts in our attention from one task to another. So when we stop to answer an e-mail or take a phone call in the middle of trying to work on a project, for example, it can increase the amount of of time and energy to finish a task. Research shows that this type of switching or multitasking does in fact exhaust more energy and time than single tasking does. The solution to this is simply to stop multitasking. Although multitasking can work when we’re using different parts of our brain, such as reading while walking on a treadmill.
The third mental habit that contributes to our feelings of overwhelm is our habit of constantly checking our phones for messages and updates and our computers and constantly checking for information from the outside world. We do this because there’s something extremely gratifying about constantly checking our messages or social media. All these constant demands and pings on our attention can be really depleting of our energy and can contribute to our feelings of overwhelm by all this stimulus. Rest, play, downtime these are things that are so necessary for our health and happiness as well as our ability to develop creative solutions to a problem, to fulfill our potential at work, or as a parent and to be as productive as many of us need to be given the many demands on our time. One solution to this is to create technology-free zones in your home. So this creates downtime for us just by limiting the technology that comes into those spaces. The other thing that research shows can work really well is to establish predictable time off from work and devices. The key is to just to make it predictable for yourself so you get that time off. The last thing is to look at and respond to all this incoming information really strategically. Hopefully, some of those strategies help reduce feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion and contribute to our increased happiness.
Either you run the day, or the day runs you. –Jim Rohn
humor: have you heard the giraffe joke? never mind it is way over your head!