When overwhelm affects your innovation and what to do about it

Louise Ladbrooke
Leadership Expert | innovate2succeed
12th December 2017

This week I learned that when I’m in the middle of overwhelm, the last thing I want to be told by anyone is that I am indeed in the middle of overwhelm. No matter how well intentioned they are, it can only add to it.

It’s been a demanding six months but I’ve been doing what we all do in times of stress; I’ve kept going. Grief, a house move, a new town, a new office, a broken nose - we all know that we’ve got to keep calm and carry on no matter what gets thrown at us. 

The amount of effort I was putting in had to mean that I was making progress but my productivity was low. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt creative or innovative, and my business was suffering. 

So there I was in the gym on Monday morning, making excuses to my new trainer as to why I hadn’t been doing my homework and he kindly suggested that I was overwhelmed. 

Don’t imagine for one moment that I heard the kindness, but the criticism stung. I became defensive and did that thing that I always do, I got angry at the suggestion that I wasn’t coping. I hadn’t realised just how stressed I was.

I didn’t want to hear that I was in overwhelm and failing at life when I was working so hard to cope. 

What I did hear was a crack in my defences and some part of me realised that it was time to stop, take a moment and take stock as to what was exactly going on inside my head. Thank goodness that we’ve all got that whisper of reason against whatever else is raging in our heads, if only we chose to listen to it more often.

I find that the experience of overwhelm is a bit like living in a teenager’s messy bedroom, everything piled everywhere, no sense, no reason - just stuff piled high. Everywhere you look there’s stuff. Moving one piece is futile and just throws up a Jenga scenario.

So, what can you do when everything becomes too overwhelming?

Take a moment

Do what you need to switch off - listen to music, go for a walk or a swim. If that’s not a possibility focus on your breathing…in…out…in…out. 

You also need to listen for that whisper of reason and become aware of how you’re feeling. You’re overwhelmed - acknowledge and accept it. 

Ask for help

No one said that you have to do this on your own, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find someone who can ask you questions so that you can understand what’s happening. This can help you see the problem differently and get to the root of the issue. 

Where you are overwhelmed and caught up in the situation you may be unable to see the obvious. Breaking it down into questions can help uncover the little things. 

Disconnect and focus on the problem

Choose a time and place to yourself, switch off your phone and focus. Get thoughts out your head in whatever way suits you - writing, typing or recording.

Getting it all down on paper will again let you look for the little things. Without everything rattling about in your head, you can start to lay everything out and create a way out. 

Make a plan

When you can see everything that needs to be done, start to create your plan. Keep it simple but make sure it’s your plan - it’s difficult to be motivated by someone else’s.

With your own plan it allows you to take ownership and responsibility. It’s yours, own it. 

Commit and prioritise 

Out of everything you have to do, organise what needs to be done and what’s urgent. By trying to do everything at once, important bits could slip by and the urgent things will go unanswered. 

You can also reward yourself with some easy wins, like getting through some quick emails or signing off some documents. It all clears the way, but be aware of any distractions and focus only on the plan.

Suddenly the chaos of the teenager’s bedroom has been sorted into piles. There’s still a whole load of stuff but there’s clarity and order, you can see what needs to be done.

Before you set off with the purpose to get through your list, take a moment to congratulate yourself. You’ve pressed the reset button on your life, balance is restored and you can once again welcome the innovative you.

For more on leadership and soft skills:

How to improve your leadership skills

Time management for sole trader

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