A Way Out of Overwhelm
Choose one thing. Only one important thing. Do that over and over. That's your way out of overwhelm.
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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Today's episode is specifically intended for a group of people who are listening right now. The group of people who are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you're not feeling overwhelmed right now, but when you do, I want you to bookmark this episode and come back to it. If you know someone who is feeling this right now, you can either send them this episode or just share the exercise with them as well. If you care about productivity, if you listen to this podcast or other podcasts, they talk about decision science or talk about optimizing the way you think about your work and your life, you can feel overwhelmed even by me, even by what we say on the show. You can feel overwhelmed by the books that you've read about how to make better decisions, how to prioritize, how to become better in everything you're doing, just 1% every day. Everyone says, and you can't seem to get past 0%. And in fact, some days because you don't feel like you're growing, you feel like you're receding. You're not only are you not making it to that 1%, but you're actually going to negative 1%. And that compounds and it feels like the weight is unbearable. I want you to perform one simple exercise today. First, take out some kind of paper or a notebook or even on your phone, you can do it this way. If you're a verbal person, you can do it as a voice memo. However you choose to get thoughts recorded, take that method. And once you just spend, give yourself 2 to 3 minutes, if you need longer, that's fine. And get everything out of your head in its freest form. These notes, this voice memo, it's not going to anyone. It's not intended for you to review in the future. This is just a way of expressing, getting some kind of thoughts out of your head. And as you're doing this, as they come flowing freely and it will become easier as you do this exercise again in the future, but as those thoughts flow freely, you should also be able to observe them. So you're kind of doing 2 things at once, although it's not really multitasking. You're allowing thoughts to come and go. You're recording kind of the output of those thoughts, what is the expression that you would give to those thoughts. And then you're watching them. And you're looking for key kind of critical things. You might feel a moment of spiking in your emotions, or you might resolve on one topic. Maybe you're revolving around that topic and talking about it more often than anything else. Whatever it is, this should give you some kind of soft insight into why you're feeling the way you're feeling. And it might be, you know, maybe the theme is that there's so many things. So it's not just one topic, and you don't need to artificially look for something that is central to that feeling. It may be that you have many things going on. This is a very common cause of anxiety. And really most of the time when you feel overwhelmed, it often can be kind of traced back to anxiety or stress. And my goal here is not to teach you how to handle anxiety and stress. Certainly not how to handle all of that weight of all of those problems. The truth is, there's nothing I can say in a five minute podcast that's going to teach you how to handle stress forever and the rest of your life. But what we can do is we can take one step. And that is the goal of this exercise. Take one step. When you think about whatever you've written down, whatever you've recorded on your voice, memo, maybe you need to go back and review it to do this. Or do you not to review it too much? But look for those high points. Try to remember, what is it that really got to the core of your feeling of overwhelmed? When you find whatever that thing is, I want you to choose something that you can control. It's a very simple concept. It might be difficult in practice. Something that you can control. And I want you to make that your only goal for the day. Yes, you may have other things that need to get done and you can have a to do list or whatever it is that you do to manage your work. I'm not necessarily saying do this one thing and then go back to bed. That's not what I'm kind of proposing here. But what I am saying is, if you're going to measure your success for the day, if you're going to measure whether or not you succeeded today, it is by this one thing. What did you do this one thing? And really, the point of this is to peel back the layers that we talk about on these shows so often that you hear in books that you hear from your manager. All of the different strategies and ways of approaching work. All of the ways to make better decisions, all of the refactoring methods that you need to apply to your code, all the great test cases that you could write for that one feature. We're going to peel all of that back because the truth is, nobody, nobody is applying all of that all at once. If they're trying to do that, they're going to fail. Hear this very clearly. Nobody is applying all of that wisdom or insight. Nobody is applying all of those strategies in a practical way all of the time. Instead, I want you to choose this one thing that you can control. Maybe the one thing is that you want to express a particular value that you hold. Choose one value that you hold. Don't try to express all of your values today. Maybe that one thing is you want to complete that one particular task or you want to clean up that one specific closet in your house. Choose that one thing, whatever it is, and make it your only goal, your only criteria for personal success today. If you fail in other areas, that's okay. Because what you're learning to do here is balance and make progress in an area that you can control. Focusing on what you can control rather than on all of the different variables that are out of your control or trying to focus on influence, this is going to give you that sense of agency. And this is absolutely critical. You need to maintain a sense of agency in order to overcome this feeling of overwhelm. Now, note that this doesn't invalidate the other things that we talk about. For example, gaining influence in your career, that's still important. But when you're feeling this kind of feeling of underwater, trying to do everything all at once simply isn't going to work. What you'll likely find is that when you focus on doing one important thing per day, that is that 1% better every day. That is the growth that you're looking for. Eventually, you'll build habits that allow you to check multiple boxes per day. But it's not because you're actively thinking about everything all the time. That would be overwhelming for anyone, even the highest performing people. If you do nothing else but that one thing, you're successful. Now, you're also training yourself to prioritize as a habit. If you can effectively prioritize one important thing every day of your life, that's 365 actually important things that you do per year. Now, important is up to you. We're not talking about choosing something that your boss thinks is important, although that may be an overlap. We're talking about things that are important to you, which is why I say 365 days, rather than however many days you're working per year for your main job. Choosing to do important things with your time is something that extends into the weekend. An important thing for you doesn't necessarily have to mean, expending a ton of effort. An important thing might be resting and resting hard. Or possibly catching up with an old friend, maybe trying a new restaurant. These things can be just as important as whatever work item we have that's overwhelming us. Once you can choose one thing per day that's important, you build the skill that's necessary to prioritize everything that you have to do every day. If you build the skill of prioritization, you have a wonderful toolbox to wield against the feeling of being overwhelmed. Thank you for listening to today's episode. If you enjoyed this episode, I encourage you, number one, book market. I don't often ask you to do that, but book market because if you're feeling overwhelmed, you can come back to this and it'll be a good reminder of how to get out of that feeling. Secondly, if you enjoyed this discussion and you want more, like it, do two things. One, subscribe and whatever podcasting app you're currently using. Number two, come and join our Discord community. We talk about these kinds of things on a regular basis there. You can ask any question. We have a room that's specifically dedicated to allowing any kind of question at all. There's no stupid questions in that Discord. It's totally free, completely open to you as a listener of the show, head over to developertea.com slash Discord. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.