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Overwhelmed

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Overwhelmed

When I get overwhelmed I make bad choices. Either that or I become paralysed and do nothing. It’s kinda my kryptonite.

I can get overwhelmed from things that other people think are mild. Things like deadlines are almost always a good thing for me (even if they’re self imposed). I find taking on tasks more of a burden in this way than the  threat of the finish date / time.

Sometimes I open too many tabs in my browser, forget what I was doing, get distracted, can’t find my way back to what I was doing and this results in me feeling like I’m getting nothing done. Then I proceed to beat myself up about my lack of productivity (wasting yet more time) and the cycle repeats.

Lists are my saving grace.

I have an ongoing list of things I need to get done and every morning I make a “today list” (I call it that for several reasons, firstly because it’s fun, secondly because it focuses me on just today and thirdly… nope there’s only two reasons but I’m a comedian and I’m always trying to obey the rule of three).

Crossing things off a list helps because a lot of tasks I do aren’t physical. They might include “edit a podcast” or “plan your trains to the gig” which have no evidence that I’ve done them except maybe an email confirmation or a page on my website. As a result if someone says “what did you do today?” I can’t exactly show them the table I lovingly crafted out of wood in the same way my grandfather could.

I think it’s an interesting thing about myself and most of my friends that we enjoy saying we’re busy a lot. I avoid that word as best I can. I prefer to be able to say I am being productive. Busy is easy. I can make myself busy in a heartbeat by packing my today list with tons of silly tasks that don’t get anything done but can waste and consume time. Productive is hard. It means you’re working towards something or a goal.

For me the feeling of being overwhelmed is really just my body not being able to decide if it should “fight” or “flight”. It sort of goes into a panic mode and doesn’t really want to deal with it. I’ve come up with some novel ways of making sure this doesn’t happen as often including –

  1. Picking 3 of the tasks on the Today list I HAVE to get done that day and doing those first.So I don’t get distracted with things that aren’t as important.
  2. Knowing how to calm my mind when I feel overwhelmed through meditation, singing , dance breaks or moving rooms to reframe the situation (I find staying put when your mind is racing causes mine to blow the whole thing out of proportion and cause me to lose perspective)
  3. … Dammit. I can’t think of a third. Again. Bad comedian.

For me, being overwhelmed also used to have a negative connotation. I used to feel like if I couldn’t handle a succession of small tasks I was failing and not “adulting” as well as everyone else. Talking to friends helps with this. Realising that everyone is struggling with something and finding at least 1 other person who is struggling with a task you are really helps with perspective and not feeling like “being overwhelmed” is  abad thing.

I don’t think I’ve ever been underwhelmed. Is that even a thing? I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in the history of the world ever say “I’m underwhelmed”. I wonder what the opposite of overwhelmed is? Functioning? Coping? Not busy?

Next year my tasks of big “to do” things include –

  • Launch my 2nd book
  • Do as many comedy festivals as possible (that you can afford to do in terms of time, money and energy without spreading yourself too thin)
  • Write your 2nd show (have it finished by the end of Edinburgh so you can take it around comedy festivals in 2018).
  • Do at least 25 podcast interviews
  • Write a daily blog (almost) every single day
  • Move “up the chain” in at least 2 maybe 3 clubs to the point of getting regular paid work.
  • Learn how to write in Calligraphy.
  • Write and record a 10 minute short pilot of your sitcom idea.

In that list they look like massive tasks I can’t do. But by taking each one individually I have been able to break them down into smaller, manageable tasks which I assign a time limit to that means I have a deadline (good for me). Then I put the tasks in an order (or the order I think they need to be done in). For example –

  • Launch my 2nd book
    • Research how crowd funding platforms work. – 5 hours max.
    • Talk to literary agents / publishers about the manuscript – no time limit.
    • Make a video to launch the crowd funding campaign. – 70 mins max
    • Set up the crowd funding campaign – 2 hours max.
    • Make a spreadsheet calendar breaking down the campaign day by day. – 2 hours max.
    • Create video explanations of the 5 chapters you think can most easily be described in a 2-3 minute over view as free content to entice people to buy the book. – 1 hour per video (max)
    • Make a podcast which is basically an audio book for the first chapter (ie me reading it). – 8 hours max

You get the point. Each task can now be slotted in and around other things (like gigging, writing this blogs etc). And I don’t feel overwhelmed. Why? Because every task looks like a building block for a house rather than a complete house.

I used to look at my heroes in writing or stand up and be like “how the hell do you even get to that?!” But the more you talk to them, listen to interviews with them you see they had to take it a step at a time. And we live in a golden age where our tasks can be done easier simpler and faster than theirs because we have laptops and the internet which we all too quickly take for granted.

Not sure where I was going with this. Basically I’m happy I used the opportunity of feeling overwhelmed to find a way to handle that feeling. Because I’m going to feel it more than once in your life so I might as well find a way of coping now so that the rest of my life is easier. (Yes this is easier said than done, but the earlier you start the sooner you’ll finish).

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Simon Caine is a comedian, author, podcaster, writer and social media manager. He's the host of the Ask The Industry Podcast (iTunes link) , writer of jokes for Twitter and teller of gags on the London comedy scene. He's also the person writing this and it is taking all his willpower not to make a "Simon Says" joke.
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