Learning how to defeat overwhelm from Stever Robbins

Learning how to defeat overwhelm from Stever Robbins

Seems like everyone is running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off.  There are so many demands on our time, and when we work for ourselves, all the more it seems we’re driven mad juggling multiple projects.

And at the height of our mania, it’s funny to hear people assert that they thrive off the anxiety, the stress, getting nearly caught with their pants down at the 11th hour but miraculously pulling it off at the very last minute.

This is an addiction.

Like any addiction, it masquerades as supporting you in your time of need but in reality it is not sustainable.  It’s destroying you, your relationships, and your effectiveness at work and at home.

You know what happens to an electrical circuit overloaded, don’t you?  A circuit breaker immediately interrupts the flow of electricity to prevent damage from occurring.

This happens to you, too.

Just over 5 1/2  years ago,  Stever Robbins wrote an article, Defeating Overwhelm, that appears in the 2005 issue of the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge for Business Leaders online research magazine, where he says that when we experience overwhelm, “At best, we flounder.  At worst, we shut down entirely.”

I wrote about Stever’s article in a different setting some time ago, but found myself revisiting it and realizing that for me and my clients (and I dare say, for you) finding and practicing solutions and preventative strategies for Overwhelm are as needed today (or more so) as when Stever wrote his article in 2005.

Sometimes it appears a bit tongue in cheek when Stever suggests that you become “emergency driven,” putting not-as-important things off until they become an emergency and HAVE to get done.

Or, when he tells you to get organized but not to tell anybody:

“Scatter books around your office and season the scene with old folders with papers spilling out of them. Then empty your real inbox (hidden in the corner behind the potted palm) daily, and enjoy an organized life.”

There’s also when he offers that you only do “just enough” so that you can downshift your life and create more freedom for yourself.

Is this Stever guy for real?

But, considering that Stever himself accomplishes more in a year than most of us can possibly do in a lifetime, it’s worth taking seriously what he says about defeating overwhelm.

Asks Stever, “Do you want to be highly productive, or do you want to have a life?  You can’t do both.”

Stever’s own life (I assume, since I don’t actually live with him!) belies the claim.  I dare say, if you put into practice Stever’s suggestions, you will be MORE productive that you are currently, not less — especially when you eliminate multitasking and learn to say No more frequently.

My hope is that you read Stever’s article a few times over (I come back to it regularly) and begin to implement the strategies one at a time, preferably before overwhelm sets in in the first place.

Here’s what to do, in bullet form:

Change your mindset:

  • Adopt “labor savings” only if you’re sure they won’t result in long-term overwork.
  • Don’t multitask important tasks.
  • Never multitask people.
  • Delegate.
  • Become emergency driven.
  • Settle.
  • Schedule vacations.
  • Say NO.

Which of these “anti-overwhelm” strategies are you going to implement today?

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Image by Ernst Vikne, under the Attribution-Share Alike Creative Commons license

2 Responses to “Learning how to defeat overwhelm from Stever Robbins”

  1. Great tips Tshombe. I confess, I love the adrenaline rush of a tight deadline that kicks my brain (and butt) into gear! Great tips, and the “settle” tip is probably the hardest.

  2. tshombe says:

    Hi @Ragan,

    Thanks so much for the comment. Yes, I also admit that I’ve had my ‘brain and butt’ kicked into gear on several occasions when I was up against the wall. It seems that younger people still in school are more able to do that on a regular basis.

    In terms of preventing overwhelm and the possibility of that adrenaline NOT kicking in when you need it most, I think implementing some of Stever’s suggestions are the key to sanity in the long run.

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