Feeling Overwhelmed? Follow This Simple Checklist Right Now

Small steps for big results

Imagine this.

It’s been ten hours since you woke up this morning. But you can’t remember one thing you did right. You procrastinated on your to-do list, binge-watched Netflix, or perhaps stared at a blank page while thinking about something completely different.

You don’t feel like writing. You don’t feel like working on your business. And you don’t feel like working out, meditating, and the bunch of other activities that you aspire to do.

My friend, you are officially overwhelmed. You may know this feeling by different names like burnout. But whatever name you have for it, it feels terrible — momentum is gone and motivation seems like a far-fetched dream.

This is not unusual. We all have such days. No matter how ambitious you are, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have such phases, sometimes for days on end.

Even though it feels like the Gods of productivity are not with you, the solution is simple.

Here is a small checklist that you can go through whenever you feel such emotions making their way out.

The Best Beverage You Can Have

Despite the universal acceptance on the importance of hydration, people across our blue planet, at all ages, live their lives at levels of hydration significantly below what leading organizations recommend — [Stephen Tamlin](https://www.waterlogic.com/en-us/resources/human-hydration-are-we-drinking-enough/)

Even a slight drop of 1% in water levels can disrupt the functionality of several organs, cognitive ability, and mood. If the water level drops another 1%, you’re dehydrated.

Dizziness, headaches, dry skin, muscle cramps, and poor concentration are some of the immediate consequences of dehydration. Despite all this research and alarming statistics, the average American drinks only 1.8 cups a day.

In high school, we had an assembly every week. Students of all grades came to the ground, did morning prayers, or celebrated festivals and special occasions.

There was one problem though. The teachers didn’t care about the weather. And in a place like New Delhi, temperatures can go up to 40° C in summer. As a result, students started fainting in just fifteen minutes.

Why? Because they didn’t drink water beforehand and now the teachers won’t allow them to go.

While you and I may be a bit stronger than that, dehydration still has a negative effect.

So when you feel overwhelmed or distracted, drink one or two glasses of water.

Yes, it’s that simple. There’s no need to complicate personal development.

How much can you do if you’re not even hydrated?

How to apply

  • Always have a reusable bottle: Fill this bottle many times a day. It acts as a visual cue that reminds you to hydrate every now and then.

  • **Use a tracker: **I know you don’t want to do this. I certainly didn’t. But it gave me the initial push I needed to establish the habit. This is crucial because chronic dehydration makes you forget how hydration feels like. Once I was habitually drinking 5 liters of water every day, I didn’t need the tracker as a reminder.

  • **The first thing as you wake up: **Drink a glass of water, at least, as soon as you wake up.

  • **Tea/Coffee: **My favorite! It’s a good way to spice things up.

  • **Fruits: **Speaking of spicing things up, have some fruits. I’ll be honest. I don’t have as many fruits as I should. But I’m working on it. It’s a good way to make your hydration efforts less boring.

The Simplest Trick of All Time

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking — Neitschze

Studies show that over 60 percent of American adults don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity and over 25 percent of adults are not active at all.

If you’re sitting all day on your desk, you don’t need to journal to figure out why you’re overwhelmed. You need to get some fresh air.

How to apply

There’s no hard and fast rule to apply this. Just move. Preferably outside.

A 10-min walk can solve a lot of your problems.

The Right Way to Breathe

Most people breathe the wrong way. And inactivity is a big culprit.

When you sit all day, your posture deteriorates. As a result, you start breathing from your chest — expanding and contracting it with every breath.

This is wrong. You’re not nearly filling your lungs with the amount of air they can hold. To do that, you need to take advantage of your diaphragm.

That can only happen when you breathe from your belly. When you inhale and push all your guts out, the diaphragm contracts and makes space for your lungs to expand.

The diaphragm doesn’t work the way it has to when you’re hunched all day over your desk. It inhibits oxygen supply in your blood which causes its own set of problems.

How to apply

You need to retrain yourself to breathe properly. Here’s a short exercise that I did initially to fix this:

  • Lie down on your back. You can have your legs straight or bent or on a pillow, whichever is most comfortable for you.

  • Let your chest open naturally, shoulder blades in contact with the floor, and place one hand on your abdomen just below your rib cage. Place the other hand on your chest.

  • Inhale slowly. Focus on your abdomen coming up and pressing against your hand. The other hand on your chest should stay still.

  • Exhale smoothly, tightening your abdominal muscles. Imagine you’re trying to make a candle flame flicker but not go out. Feel the pressure on the hand over your abdomen decrease.

Practice this for five minutes, three times a day, and slowly increase the time. When you’re proficient at it, try to practice it at all times. You’ll naturally find your breathing habits change for the better.

Feed Yourself Enough

This one may not apply to you. But it does apply to me.

I have my first meal just before noon and eat my dinner by 7:30 every evening. Basically, I fast intermittently. I also fast every Saturday.

Once you get the hang of it, fasting turns out to be a great way to maintain your health and improve efficiency. But if done the wrong way, it has the opposite effect.

Since it’s become fancier to skip meals in the name of fasting, I have to keep a check on myself.

Another reason I know this works is I feel overwhelmed every Saturday until I break my fast. It’s normal. Fasting triggers a low-level stress response which can be counterintuitive to getting work done.

Thus, as a general rule, unless you’re in ketosis, you need to feed yourself.

When you’re not in ketosis, your body is still running on glucose which comes from food.

How to NOT apply

Don’t use this as an excuse to indulge in emotional eating. Apply this only when you’ve not eaten for quite some time.

The last thing you need is eating every hour in the name of feeling ‘overwhelmed’. At this point, it’s not overwhelming, it’ food addiction.

The 80/20 Rule on Steroids

I love willpower. I train it as much as possible. But it’s limited.

As the day goes on, I have less of it. I can get it back after an afternoon nap, but it’s still fleeting.

The goal is then to work in sync with your willpower and not against it. The reason most people are not able to work on side projects after their day job is their willpower reserve is empty.

How to apply

Ask yourself the focusing question that Gary Keller gives in his book, The One Thing:

“What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Once you have your one thing, do it first thing in the morning, when your willpower is still supportive.

On an episode of The Tim Ferris Show, Gary explained it beautifully. Instead of having long lists, you can have extraordinary results with just the one thing.

People think a serial entrepreneur like Gary is focused all day. But he isn’t. Once he’s done with his one thing for the day (usually by noon) he’s free to step into whatever ‘distraction’ he likes.

It doesn’t mean that he watches Netflix all day after that. What it means is once he’s done his one thing, he can look at the hundred small things that require his attention.

While checking easy items off your to-do list seems seductive, it won’t matter if they don’t move you towards your goals.

By finding your “One Thing”, you can avoid overwhelm completely.

For instance, the one thing for my work is writing. Once I’m done with my writing task for the day, I’m free to work on relatively unimportant tasks or head to my day job.

Final Thoughts

Finally, whenever you feel overwhelmed, distracted, tired, or bored and still have lots of s*** to do, follow this simple checklist:

  • Drink enough water

  • Move your body; get some exercise

  • Breathe correctly; expand your belly and use your diaphragm

  • Feed yourself if you feel fatigued

  • Find your ‘One Thing’ and work on it now

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Written on August 27, 2020