Dealing with overwhelm - light at the end of the tunnel

Keeping afloat with overwhelm

Are you getting to that time of year that you can’t believe it is summer already? You may still not believe it if you live in London, but the calendar does not lie. We are getting to the time of the year where everything starts slowing down and not a lot happens for a good part of the 2 months of the summer. The part where you realize you may not have even started on some of the things you planned to do in Q1. Or the part where you feel like everything seems to happen at the same time as everyone tries to close for the summer. Welcome to summer overwhelm.

The Feeling

I thought it may not hit me this year. I really hoped that all this goal setting, being intentional, writing more, all the good stuff, would keep me away from any of this. Keeping up with my authenticity paradigm I have to say it even looks ludicrous that I would have even thought that. Maybe I got it later than usual, truth be said. It usually hits me in May, and I am only 6 days away from almost having made it. But it does not make it that much better. I guess overwhelm is part of helping me reset and refocus every few months.

I stare at the computer, I know all the things I need to do and I just feel exhausted. For the first time in 50 weeks with no interruption I consider that maybe I should only write every 2 weeks. I know that thought would hold easily today but not for more than a week and so it would just have been a fail not to write this week. I know I am not thinking straight after 9 hours in the same room for a management offsite. And I know after this week (and some moaning), I will start ramping up for the rest of the year again. Right now, I am just overwhelmed.

Strategy in a Tactical Environment

This has been a tough year at work. Despite nothing going bluntly wrong, the feeling is downbeat because last year was so awesome. Ironic right? As I try and navigate through the weeds and find the story above the details, I struggled to get traction. Tactics serve people well in most crisis situations. Except there is no crisis, at least not right now.

I was pleased to end the semester on a strategic note, as we got together in a management offsite to discuss what it all means. Conclusions would not be appropriate here (as I love my job a bit as much as I love my writing) but I do take the conclusion that a day working ON the business is not a day wasted.

You sometimes may come out of days like this wondering if you learnt something, if you advanced something, if you really got anything out of it. Admittedly, a few people may not. The first taste after we closed is even possibly bitter-sweet. But a glass of champagne later I can tell that I have great questions that will lead to great opportunities. And that is what is cool about strategy. The permission to think of the day to day and really challenge what you do, even if just for one day out of the year or the quarter.

Run-up to exhaustion

As fun as it may be to spend a day strategizing with very smart people, the run-up to it is rarely smooth. I kept it the most simple ever this time, but no matter what preparation is still required. When not preparing data, I am preparing discussions or topics or approaches. Because I know most people do not easily warm up to truly strategic discussions, I spend a lot of time framing it and assessing best course of action to ensure we know what we want out of it and how we can get there.

Preparing management days/ offsites/ CEO days, whatever you want to call it is a key part of having a productive day. I have done the same when preparing for my charity’s annual team lunch/ offsite, where I always try and make sure we stop and really dig into some topics or discussions that we never afford any time to during the usual course of business.

As we got to the end of the week and I even cut my Friday in half, the adrenaline rush wore off and I ended up assaulted by one of the worst migraines of the year. Slowdown sign? Yes, I have taken two 9+ hour sleep nights this weekend and lots of downtime with the family. 

Keeping it ALL together

I am a believer (or dreamer) that women can have it all – but not at all times. You tend to make compromises over the space of a quarter and get your balance in that way. Some weeks you press more at work, some weeks you press more on family, some weeks (in my case) more on charity others more on recovery. My internal dashboard is getting more attuned to this need and actually my journal is probably the next tool to help me plan over weeks to achieve more balance, rather than just months and days as I am doing at the moment. I may make an experiment there for the summer.

However, as we all know, life is not perfectly balanced at all times. And my times of overwhelm usually come when that happens. Let’s see what my plan was for the last 2 weeks of June:

  1. Make this offsite real – ok, I guess that was achieved but I feel I have a multiple triple digit number of emails to go back to tomorrow and more things I want to do out of it than time in the remainder of the year.
  2. Close the charity accounts – post a total failure to have done it in the first quarter and without actually being able to explain why. Yet to be solved – 4 days to go.
  3. Establish a new governance at the charity – moving our structure to be more prone to challenge and open accountability. We have always been transparent in our reporting but potentially too family like in our decision making. I dropped the ball sometime last week.
  4. Prepare the autumn term (yes, you are reading correct) including booking all school clubs and activities that are due (or overdue) already. Starts tomorrow.
  5. Prepare the summer holidays, including defining where kids go, when do I fly in and out of Lisbon and when I am off or working. Oh yes, and the trip to Mozambique that I never managed to get on the schedule. I now know at least which day we take the children and which day we all come back. The remaining points are all uncertainties at this point and certainly an early H2 exercise.
  6. Read my book on Raising Girls as I desperately need to understand what may or may not be happening with Little Girl C at school and some of the negative and anxious language she is using. It all got accelerated as things got out of control at home and I directed my attention to school meetings instead of books.
  7. Taking Baby S for blood tests and get a homeopathic doctor to find a creative way to deal with so much cough and respiratory concerns. Blood tests done. Results somewhere in my email. New doctor not done.
  8. Get the project of the house kicked forward to we can really get momentum going. We had 1 call and 1 afternoon choosing floor tiles. I consider that a win.

Dealing with the overwhelm

I’d like to say I’ve got it all covered. That tonight I came home, did my writing therapy (check), a massage as planned (uncheck), a headspace meditation (uncheck) and whatever else people use to relax. I knew however how that would not make me relax.

Get it done

The truth is, in times of absolute overwhelm my only solution is to go on execution mode. In fact I am writing to keep me up with the schedule and help me unwind with the hope that I still get to do some charity accounts today. Almost like a transition to go into excel spreadsheet mode shortly.

When overwhelm is about getting things done (rather than mental), the crude reality is that it is all about getting things done. Naturally, you have to figure out from your own 8-points list what really needs to get done and what will just have to wait. Get those deadlines in the calendar and know what has consequences in being delayed (no swimming lessons at the times that I want unless I am online tomorrow at 10am) and which ones can be done next week, if that is all that you need to stay above the water.

Get help

The other trick that most women don’t do, and it took me 6 years of motherhood to embrace it more fully is to get help. What of these things do you absolutely need to do and which ones you can be moving along to your teams – work teams or personal teams. For the house project, I don’t care about which main gate or even door we have (as long as it is black). I somewhat care about the tiles. What I really care is about the kitchen. I dedicate my time allocation accordingly and prioritize to that. I care about being there for the school meetings where I am pushing the school to get their act together, I care less about spending more than 45 minutes at the summer fayre or missing the French breakfast all together. And daddy can do the breakfast to. Lean in, lean out.

Light at the end of the tunnel of overwhelm

People like to use that expression so why not recycle it yet again. I find that having an end date is always helpful, that is probably why I liked the concept of goals this year. But more importantly, the light at the end of the tunnel is for me more of a guiding light. Why you are doing what you are doing, why you make the choices you make, what drives some things being so important and others not so much. Your values will help you stay afloat, because when everything is pulling you from different directions, then you know what needs to come first, and you also know when it all needs to come at the same time.

Photo by Claudia Soraya on Unsplash

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