Overwhelm isn’t created by what you think it is.

It’s not because of having too much on your plate.

It’s not because you have a burgeoning to-do list that keeps growing.

And it’s not because you’re trying to balance kids, family, laundry, writing, clients and more.

Those are all the manifestations of overwhelm — but not the root cause. And as long as you focus on the to-do list or the laundry pile, you’re going to stay stuck in the overwhelm indefinitely.

The root cause is because you’re not choosey enough.

Everyday we make choices about where we decide to allocate our time and effort. Sometimes we make these choices deliberately, and even with enthusiasm. But more often than not, we make these choices by default (meaning, the choice gets made for us because we don’t actually make it ourselves), in support of someone else’s agenda or begrudgingly because we think we ‘have’ to.

It’s time to be choosey. Really damn choosey.

Last week I held a live, sold-out workshop for 14 women who were ready to plan the next six months of their business. We strategized, calendarized, and created solid action plans. It was truly awesome. AND…many still were wrestling with the fear that by committing to a more focused, clear plan, they were setting themselves up for overwhelm. “I’m scared to commit to this and put it down on paper. If I add this in too, I’ll have no time left.”

But that belief is what’s inherently the problem. By keeping things open and loose, we have no parameters from which to decide what comes into our world, and what stays out, and so anything and everything comes in…and that’s what creates the overwhelm, resentment and burnout. And then the idea of adding in one more thing (even if it’s something we really care about), feels nothing short of daunting.

If you’re, as one participant said, “trying to keep 87 ducks in a row”, then adding an 88th is going to max you out. So instead, you keep putting off what’s most important because your time has been eaten by 87 ducks that don’t really matter.

Ultimately, this comes down to making some hard choices about what matters most and where you’re willing to put your precious time and energy. And it means learning to say no to things that you’d normally say yes to in the past.

If you buy into the notion that doing what matters to you is just going to add more work to your plate, then you’ve got to change your thinking around it. Instead, start first from the lens of creating space for what matters, and pushing out the stuff that no longer does. We don’t make meaningful progress on what matters by hoping to fit it into the margins of our lives (because for most of us, that margin is pretty slim).

It’s easy to say yes. It feels good in the moment, it often pleases others and it makes us feel like we’re not missing out on opportunities. But then a few days later the reality of that yes sinks in and we’re faced with the truth that we’ve just contributed to our overwhelm.

It’s time to be choosey. Really damn choosey.

What needs to go in service of what matters? What can you put on the back-burner for the next 90 days to make room for that thing that keeps getting delayed?

  • Is it time to ditch the volunteer gig that you’ve been doing because you’ve been on it for five years and believe they can’t live without you? News flash – they can.
  • Is it time to ask your kids or partner to cook two nights a week so that you can keep writing?
  • Is it time to scale back the work that’s been your bread and butter (yet no longer really inspires) so you can make time for a new revenue stream that lights you up?
  • Is it time to say no to most social invites for a window of time?
  • Is the networking event that creates an extra two hours of drive and prep time worth the return it’s bringing you?
  • Is it time to stop chasing the latest and greatest ideas so you can get some critical, yet less inspiring work done to set you to really take advantage of those opportunities?
  • Is it time to grab your calendar and make non-negotiable time blocks to move a project, idea, passion forward — one that’s been in your heart, yet hasn’t moved an inch?

This can be a challenging notion, especially if you thrive in the place of possibility and potential (like me). You want to leave room for the new and shiny. You don’t want to close down doors. And you really, really don’t want to piss anyone off.

But how will you feel if another year goes by and your heart work (the work that matters most) is still taking up the same “one day, someday” space in your consciousness? For me, I’m no longer ok with that possibility and so I’ve already been practicing saying no more often (I’ll write about this very soon).

In his amazing book, Essentialism, author Greg McKeown, reminds us that life is a series of tradeoffs. When I first read that, my inner optimist resisted his notion. Yet, the truth is, he’s right. We cannot possibly do all, be all and have all – all at the same time.

So please be choosey. Really damn choosey about where you put your time, attention and focus. Your time is your most valuable asset and one that’s non-renewable.

And when you claim what’s important and make that your priority, you start to open up more time for it and start to find the no’s easier to say if they don’t support that priority. With that level of commitment also comes less overwhelm, more focus, less tension and a happier and healthier you.

So share with me on Twitter: Where can you be more choosey with your time, in service of what matters most?

*For all you language sticklers, I looked it up and both ‘choosey’ and ‘choosy’ are correct. I opted for the former. 

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