How to stop feeling overwhelmed: apply 80/20 to your life.
Easy, practical steps to stop being stressed out all the time.
Are you constantly feeling overwhelmed? Stressed out? Do you feel like your to-do list is endless and you have no idea where to start? Even worse, do you feel like your schedule is getting smaller and the amount of things to fit on it getting larger?
Of course, we’re all going to feel like that sometimes. But if feeling overwhelmed has become a way of life, then maybe it’s time for a change.
A permanent solution for feeling overwhelmed.
No, I’m not going to list a bunch of stuff like “take a walk” or “take a deep breath and focus on the infinite void for 90 seconds.” Yes, taking a walk helps. Temporarily. But that endless to-do list and feeling of being overwhelmed are both still there when you get back from that walk.
It’s time for a mindset change. We’re going to apply the concept of 80/20 to your life. We’re going to do this two ways:
• Focus on 20% of your to-do list
• Accept 80% effort
After discussing this mindset shift, I’m going to give to actual, concrete steps you can take so you stop feeling overwhelmed. Consistently apply and you’ll not only be more relaxed, but your productivity will take a boost also.
Focus on 20% of your to-do list
There is a theory that 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. It was originally “discovered” by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.
Originally applied to land ownership (Pareto discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population), it has been applied successfully to business. Forbes reports multiple business leaders applying this principal to their lives and businesses…and crediting this solution with their success.
Businesses report multiple examples of 80/20 effect:
80% of sales come from 20% of customers
80% of sales come from 20% of products
80% of a corporation’s profits derived from the efforts of 20% of its staff.
This last example is the one we’re going to apply to our lives. I want you to take a moment and think about all of the things you’ve done today. Then take a moment to look at the results. If your day was anything like mine, some of the biggest effects came from just a few of the things that you did.
For example, I’ve noticed on my website that the bulk of my traffic comes from about 20 of the posts. (Out of 423 posts, in case you were curious). I wish I had discovered this principle much earlier in my blogging career. I would have spent WAY more time designing printables and much less time researching substitutes for dairy products.
I’ve also discovered that I spend a LOT of time on Pinterest, Facebook, and checking e-mail. And that none of them were providing serious results (or income) for my website. I completely dropped marketing on Facebook all together. Cut down on Pinterest. And TRY to limit checking my e-mail.
Mark Manson (if you don’t mind tough love, you HAVE to check him out!) takes it further. He asks:
- What 20% of your possessions are giving you 80% of your joy?
- What 20% of your clothes are you wearing 80% of the time?
- What 20% of the people you know giving you 80% of your happiness.
- Etc. Etc.
Take a look at your day. If you’re reading this, you probably feel like your schedule is overflowing and that you never have a moment to yourself. You’re feeling overwhelmed.
So pull out your schedule. And identify the items that are producing results and giving you joy. And identify the tasks that are taking time and not producing joy. (For example, does that Facebook or Candy Crush break actually provide you joy?)
That’s our first mindset shift. We’re going to start mentally identifying the 20% of things in our life that is producing 80% of our consequences.
Allow 80% to be enough
When I was a teenager, I had a list of things that needed done. I had to eat under 1,000 calories (yes, I had an eating disorder) every day. I had to have straight A’s. I had to do perfect at my job. I won’t even get into the many, many other things that needed done. And not just done. They needed done perfectly.
In fact, my master OneNote organizing file to this day is labeled Perfection because I named it 10 years ago and can’t figure out how to change it!
This is a problem for a lot of people.
- If we don’t have time to eat perfectly and exercise, we don’t start.
- Or if we mess up our diet part way through the day, we toss in the towel and give up for the day. Or week.
- Our budget is a mess and our bills are overwhelming us? If we don’t have time to set up the perfect budget, track every penny, and fix our problems now, we don’t even start.
- If we can’t clean the house from top to bottom- or even a room perfectly- we don’t even start. After all, why attack the clutter on the counter if you can’t clean the floor too?
Do any of these sound familiar to you? If so, you might be focusing on perfection and forgetting that getting something done, even if not perfect, is better than getting nothing done.
This is our 2nd mindset shift. We’re going to stop striving for perfection. Accept 80%. (Or even 90%…just give up on 100%.)
Concrete Action Steps to stop feeling overwhelmed
1. Figure our your priorities
First, figure out your priorities. Seriously take a few minutes to figure out what is most important to you. Don’t worry about the to-do list or things that you think need done right now; instead focus on what you think is important in your life.
If you’re having trouble figuring out your priorities, this is completely normal. Check out my post “Finding Your Way: Guide to Focusing on the Important Things.”
If you already have your priorities in order, don’t worry about this step.
2. Brain dump your to-do list
You have your priorities and goals clear. Now to look at that endless feeling that “this needs done.”
Brain dump and write down everything you need to do. Before you can stop feeling overwhelmed, you need to stop and figure out what needs done. Take 15-30 minutes. Write down everything that comes to mind. Literally. From “most important work related task” right down to “clean the litter box.”
For me with my website, it included the following (this is just a few items on a very, very long list):
Mop the floor
Fold the laundry
Make the grocery list
Cross-stitch (I’m working on a gift for my Dad for Christmas)
3. Prioritize list
Next is to prioritize your to-do list. There are two ways to do this:
1) Simply number by importance.- I don’t recommend this method, but it is one that many people use.
2) [The method I use].
• Categorize tasks. Looking over my list, some clear categories emerged. I ended up having about 15 to-do items in my blogging category. 10 in household category. Another 5 in a general “getting organized” (such as receipts put into Quicken) category.
• Prioritize each category. In the website category, getting my e-mail newsletter out was top priority. I’m launching a product later this year and want to be in touch with my readers regularly. For household, getting dinner made was vital! For organizing, I needed to get money in. Making a dentist appointment could definitely wait until tomorrow.
While you’re doing this, focus on what will have real results. Remember, 80% of your results generally come from 20% of your effort. (One example: I’ve noticed that I get most of my traffic from Google. And I was spending very little time on SEO and a ton on social media. So I switched that around. My traffic has skyrocketed.)
4. Attack the #1 priority items
Now, today, attack your number 1 items on each of your category lists. (Or if you just numbered instead of categorizing, attack #1-3). Forget about the rest. If you have time to work on them, great. If not, let it go. This is where the 80/20 comes in- let 80% be enough. Stop worrying that you can’t get everything done.
And keep in mind it will get done. If you utilize this method everyday, you’ll be amazed how much less time you spend worrying and figuring out what to do and more time you spend getting important things done.
I, personally, use a planner. (My own planner I developed, in fact). On the weekly and daily planner, my top to-do list items are listed. Those #1 items are the most important each day. Once they’re done, I can get on to the rest of the list. And since they are in order of priority, I end up with a lot of important stuff accomplished and the stuff at the bottom- well, if I don’t get there, they weren’t actually that important anyways!
5. Delegate/outsource low priority items
If at all possible, delegate or outsource low priority items. To be honest, cleaning the house is not something I’m ever going to enjoy doing. And it used to constantly stress me out. I used to have a rotating system where I did something everyday (toilets one day, wood floors another, carpet another, etc.). And while everything got done (most of the time), I was constantly dreading the next task.
I finally just sucked it up and hired a maid to come once a moth. She spends 6 hours and does a deep-clean of everything. I spend $150 and don’t have to stress for 2 weeks. Then I spend a couple of hours doing a light cleaning. And don’t have to stress for another 2 weeks.
I even plan recipes that include bacon (which makes a mess of the stove top) for the few days before she comes so I don’t have to worry about a dirty stovetop for long!
Have you noticed something in your life that gives you back results disproportionately? Comment below letting me know what “small” actions give you “large” results!
Or let me know what helps you stop feeling overwhelmed.
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