Do you have a goal that you’ve started working towards, but you’re just so overwhelmed with the information overload that you don’t know where to start, how to start or where to go next?
Perhaps it’s a fitness goal and you find tons of workout videos, so you don’t know which one to follow and whether to work on the upper or lower body first. Or, maybe you should get into clean eating first before you start working out?
Perhaps you are starting a new business and you want to get your logo up, your social media running, your website crafted, your packaging sorted, your products tested along with millions of other things you need to handle in your life.
No matter what life stage we’re in, many of us become overwhelmed easily when we start something new. There are 3 key steps I use to make sure I don’t fall into the overwhelm zone, start stressing out and inevitably fall off the bandwagon.
Step 1: Prepare to question everything you thought you knew about goal setting!
Identify your ultimate goal and be very clear about it. If you set a time constraint, ask yourself if the deadline is reasonable or necessary.
For example, “I want to lose 10kg in a month.” This isn’t realistic and isn’t healthy.
“I want to be able to do a pull up by the end of the year.” Is this your ultimate goal? Is your real goal to be stronger, more toned and healthier in the long run? Or is it to beat someone you are competing against? And why do you want to win?
If your goal is a long-term goal, then setting smaller intermediate goals to start with is a good idea but a deadline might not be necessary.
While we think that a deadline gives us the push to act, it’s sometimes a double edge sword. If you overestimate your progress when you set the goal, you will feel like you failed and become discouraged. Once we are discouraged, it’s very easy to give up. Ask yourself why you want to reach a specific goal? Are you going to be happy when you reach that goal eventually, no matter how long it takes? A stroke patient would want to walk again, and surely she’ll be happier if she can walk tomorrow, but she will still be very happy if it takes her 10 years and because it’s better than never being able to walk again.
Step 2: Identify what you must do consistently that is also sustainable to reach that goal and start with a small task that you can stick to.
Very low calories diets and 10 hours of exercises a week just aren’t sustainable. But you can restrict the number of times you eat junk food per week and do 10 minutes of aerobic exercises every day to get you started. When it becomes a habit and you’re not struggling to stick to it, you can increase the level of actions, such as adding resistance training and start increasing your veggie intake. This way you, will not be overwhelmed with too many new tasks right at the start. Get comfortable with small changes, then continue to change your lifestyle slowly that will help you reach the goal you want.
There is no point taking on the extra tasks when you haven’t adapted to the new lifestyle, because you will feel overwhelmed, and overloaded. If the tasks you chose at the start didn’t work for you, swap them for something else. I’m not a cardio person, so instead of doing aerobic exercises, I do resistance training to get myself started. Find something you can stick with before you increase your action level.
When you don’t set a deadline as mentioned above, this step becomes super important, so stay consistent and remind yourself of your goal when you feel like ‘resting’ for the day, especially when you have already ‘rested’ for the last couple of days.
Once you have the minimal activities running, you can move onto step 3.
Step 3: Create a prioritized to-do list. A to-do list without priority setting doesn’t help you become more efficient
Years ago, I read the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. One chapter I really like talks about prioritizing task in four quadrants. To illustrate that, I’ve drawn a diagram below:
In the top left corner, we have the urgent but unimportant tasks, and in the top right we have urgent and important. Bottom left is unimportant and not urgent, bottom right is important but not urgent. Urgent tasks are those with deadlines, and important tasks are those that provide values to and positively impact your fitness/the area your goal is in. Your priority is to do the urgent and important tasks first, then move onto the important but not urgent ones. (E.g., Having a nutritional breakfast that is low-GI is urgent and important when you wake up, and doing a 20-minute workout 4 times the same week is important but not urgent.) Many people mistaken urgency as importance. So, they end up doing all the unimportant things that have little impact on their lives and business and rushing through the important ones when they become urgent. An example of an urgent but unimportant task would be watching your favourite show on TV as it airs when you could record it or catch the replay online, instead of doing your regular workout session. The idea is to clear everything in the urgent and important quadrant first, then move onto the important but not urgent quadrants. Most of the things in the important but not urgent quadrants should be tasks that you need to work on consistently, and if you had followed step two, it becomes very easy to complete these tasks. Eventually, you will have fewer and fewer urgent and important tasks, then you would feel less anxious and overwhelmed with the tasks on your to-do list.
To sum up, when you start a new goal, identify your ultimate goal and why you want to achieve it. Then, find a small task that you can start with easily stick to and stay consistent with. Once you have some routine going, add on the different tasks you need to do and prioritize them by urgency and importance using the four-quadrant method.