Overwhelmed? Change how you think

To-do list as long as your arm? Head about to explode? In the first part of a series of pieces on feeling overwhelmed in our lives, Oliver Burkeman gives us the lowdown on how to change the way we think


Overwhelmed? Change how you think

All too often, tips and tricks for fighting ‘overwhelm’ seem to hinder, not help. Even worse, time-use research indicates that we’re not busier than we used to be, on average. We have plenty of spare time, researchers say – so why doesn’t it feel that way? All this suggests that feeling overwhelmed is not a simple question of having too much to do, but a tricky psychological trap.

So, here is the best current thinking on finding your way out – and reclaiming some breathing space to enjoy life again.

Change how you think

Most of us think of ‘busyness’ like a jigsaw puzzle: each week, you get 500 pieces, and it’s your job to fit them all together by the end of the week. No wonder you beat yourself up when Friday comes around and the puzzle is only half-finished.

But in fact, modern busyness is like a jigsaw where the number of pieces keeps expanding; finish it, and another 500 magically appear. The game is rigged – ‘getting everything done’ is impossible.

For example, if you develop a reputation as someone who deals quickly with problems at work, you’ll find that more problems will land at your door. Change your cooking habits so you eat more vegetables, and you’ll feel social pressure to advance to the next level of healthy eating. It never ends.

But once you give up on getting it all done, you can focus on doing what matters most.

More inspiration:

Read It's time to stop the glorification of busy by Jules Mitchell on LifeLabs

Read Why you get triggered at work and how to stay calm by Obi James on LifeLabs

Photograph: iStock