How Do You Stay Productive When Overwhelmed?

How Do You Stay Productive When Overwhelmed?
Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash

Overwhelmed: Our lives can be chaotic and overwhelming, and we can feel like we’re struggling to stay afloat. We feel behind, stressed, distracted, undisciplined, unworthy.

And in the middle of all of this, we want to do our meaningful work.

We want to create an impact.

How can we find focus and create some kind of meaningful impact in the face of this chaos and overwhelm?

I’m not here to claim it’s easy. I face it every day. But what I am here to say is that it’s possible. In fact, not only is it possible, it’s amazing — it feels even more meaningful because of the difficulty of doing it in chaos and uncertainty.

I manage to do it almost every day (some days I take a rest!) — and more than that, there are people in my programs that inspire me with what they’re able to accomplish in lives that can feel like they’re falling apart.

Let’s talk about how that might look, and some key principles.

Finding Focus in Chaos

I start my day feeling stressed, because it always feels like I’m already behind — I have a thousand things to do, and none of them were getting done when I was asleep!

I’ve come to accept this feeling, and even to recognize it as a sign that I’ve put myself intentionally into something meaningful and uncertain. This feeling means I’m not staying safe.

I try to start with meditation. Sometimes I have an additional practice or two. I feel the chaos and need to take care of all my tasks and emails pulling at me when I meditate. That’s perfect: I sit with the feeling of uncertainty and overwhelm as I meditate, and use it in my meditation.

Then I start working. I notice myself wanting to clear out emails and messages before I start on the meaningful task I’ve chosen for myself (usually chosen the night before). Often I’ll give in to that urge, and clear out a bunch of emails and messages. That’s OK — sometimes the uncertainty overtakes us. I call it “clearing the deck,” and it can feel restorative to clear things out.

Then I set myself to do the meaningful task. It can feel difficult, because I still feel chaotic. Why should I focus on this one thing when there are thousands of others calling for my attention?

Because I care about making an impact. I remind myself of why this is important. I get clear in my heart, and strengthen my intention in my mind.

Then I clear everything out, and create a space for focus.

Then I get started.

Creating an Impact

When there are thousands of things to do, how can we make an impact? Any one of those things can feel meaningless, because they’ll barely move the needle. Sometimes the feeling is that we’re just spinning our wheels, or treading water, and not making any progress. And at the same time, so many things are coming at you.

Look, I get that. Things can feel like a struggle, feel chaotic, feel scattered. I feel that way too.

Written by Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta is a simplicity blogger & author. He created Zen Habits, a Top 25 blog with a million readers. He’s also a best-selling author, a husband, father of six children, and a vegan. In 2010 moved from Guam to California, where he leads a simple life.
He’s also a Zen student, and is on a mission to help the world open through uncertainty training.
Buy his books here

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