How an 'Overwhelm Grid' Can Help You Untangle Your Stress
February 21, 2019
Right now, and I do mean right now, I’m swimming under a big wave of stress. I’d rather be gliding through it like one of those awesome big wave surfers, but instead it’s just sort of crashing all around me.
Gotta respond to that super-urgent email! Gotta pack for my trip! Gotta finish this story! Gotta Google that thing that…wait, what was that important thing I needed to Google? Gotta gotta gotta!
It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed—I'm sure you've been there yourself, if you're not feeling it right now.
When everything is demanding all of your attention, at all times, it’s impossible to focus on any one thing. And sometimes, you might get stuck in what's called an "urgency spiral," trying to do everything at once but barely making a dent in anything at all.
Thankfully, there's a way out.
The article is all about being overwhelmed—or, in his words, feeling "buried" under a big mass of stuff to do. "When you’re overwhelmed with too many priorities, it can feel impossible to find the time you need to get everything done," Blanc writes.
Except Blanc found a way.
He uses a simple tool called an "overwhelm grid" to help him untangle his stress. While it’s not a robot that can magically run errands, respond to emails, and clean the dishes on your behalf, it can help you identify and categorize all of the tasks on your plate.
Here’s how to use it the next time you're feeling overwhelmed.
1. Write Down All Your Nagging Tasks
From errands to your work to-do list to needing to get out the door at noon to walk your sweet dog—jot down everything that’s currently on your mind. If you think you’re too overwhelmed to take the time to do this, that’s precisely why you have to.
Include the things you feel you should be doing but that you’re not actually making progress on right now. These projects can take up a lot of emotional energy, even if they’re not written down on your calendar. (Hello, short story/poem/screenplay you want to start writing!)
2. Assign Each Task a Category
Sort your tasks into the four boxes of the overwhelm grid:
Doesn’t that already provide some sense of clarity?
In doing this exercise myself, I realized that I get much more enjoyment out of tasks I feel that only I can do and put my unique spin on (songwriting, directing, etc). I also realized those things also always fall to the bottom of my list of to-dos because other people rely on me and set deadlines for items in the other categories.
3. Start Prioritizing the Boxes
The idea behind classifying these items is to understand where your energy is going and to uncover that—despite how it may sometimes feel—not all tasks are created equal.
Boxes 1 and 4, Blanc explains, are yours to own—they're the tasks that only you can do. "The items in boxes 1 and 4 are things which you must choose to take personal ownership of and prioritize into your life," he writes.
Take pride in your Box 1 tasks—the ones you enjoy and only you can do. Maybe that’s being a mentor or sibling or a parent. Or, maybe it's inspiring other people, or taking care of yourself and crushing that 5K later this month. Savor these tasks and how they play to your strengths and passions.
Your Box 4 tasks are the ones you dislike doing but only you can do. Try to find ways to make these easier on yourself. For example: If it stresses you out trying to find a time to catch up with friends and family over FaceTime, why not set a regular date and time and put it on your calendar, so you don’t have to worry over and over again about scheduling it?
Box 2 are tasks you enjoy doing but someone else could do. The goal with these: If they fit into your schedule, enjoy taking the time to do them. But if they block you from the things only you can do, maybe de-prioritize them or delegate.
Finally, Box 3 offers the most opportunity to feel less overwhelmed: These are the tasks you don't like doing, and someone else could do. Whether it's delegating a work assignment, asking for help to finish up the laundry, automating that monthly credit card bill, or even splurging on hiring someone to clean your apartment (confession: I did this last month, and it felt amazing)—try to make these unenjoyable tasks less complicated or, if you can, take them off your plate all together.
The "overwhelm grid" won't solve the mystery of your mile-long to-do list immediately, but it'll help you pause, prioritize, and learn where to start—which is the first step in feeling less stressed.
The truth is: You don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to be overwhelmed. Begin by being amazed with everything that’s actually in your control—and you actually enjoy doing—and go from there.
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