The Value of a Single Step When Navigating Overwhelm

April 17, 2023

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Value of a Single Step: Why Baby Steps are Better than Giant Leaps

As a time management coach, I’ve helped a lot of people overcome overwhelm. And you know what I’ve learned? Taking ONE small step at a time is so much better than pressuring yourself to take big leaps to get there.  And in today’s episode, I’m going to talk about why, and how you can start implementing this method into your own life to beat overwhelm!

As a time management coach, I talk a lot about navigating overwhelm — but just because I talk about it doesn’t mean I never experience it for myself — it’s something I struggle with too! In fact, just a few months ago, I had fallen into total overwhelm!

I had just launched a second business with my husband, Studio Pizza Productions, I was still serving my 1:1 time management clients, leading my group coaching program, and showing up for the It’s About Time Academy

All the while I was still recording podcast episodes, YouTube videos, and working my way through the latest round of edits on my book.

Not to mention it was December — one of the busiest months of the year! A whole lot happened at once and even though I was still getting stuff done, I constantly felt like I was behind or forgetting to do something, like things were falling through the cracks. 

I’m sure you can relate. Navigating overwhelm is something we all experience, no matter what job or what season of life you find yourself in. It can happen whenever, wherever, and whatever’s causing you stress, you have a right to be feeling that way.

But I knew, back in December, that I couldn’t just throw my hands up and quit everything, nor did I want to. So I asked myself this question from the book The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It’s one of my favorites, and the question goes like this:

What’s the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary? 

Y’all, that was a GAME CHANGER. This single question helped me realize that baby steps are way better than giant leaps when you’re stuck and feeling in over your head. 

The two types of overwhelm

When you’re navigating overwhelmed, it’s usually either because of task-based overwhelm or progress-based overwhelm. 

Maybe you’re overwhelmed with your to-do list or maybe it’s overwhelm from everything that’s not being done, from the progress that’s NOT being made. 

The first type of overwhelm is something I talk a lot about on this show. Task-based overwhelm has more to do with being overwhelmed by the number of things on your to-do list. You’ve got so much to do, but you’re not sure how you’re going to get it all done.

But the second type of overwhelm — progress-based overwhelm —  is what we’re going to focus on right now. Because while it’s still very real, it needs to be looked at a little bit differently than task management. 

Progress-based overwhelm

Progress-based overwhelm is what happens when we feel pressured to make progress that “counts” or to take a giant leap, make extreme changes, or be an overnight success. 

It mainly comes down to the pressure to perform, either from you or from an outside source. Whenever you feel “behind” in your career, in life, or like you’re in last place in some nonexistent race — progress-based overwhelm is what you’re feeling. 

And this isn’t just with work or fulfilling one of those big life goals. It can apply to building habits, taking care of your health, or growing professionally…really anything!

One time I had a client who could be considered successful by any measure. She was the vice president of a successful company, volunteered in the community, and had lots of great friends. But she struggled because she felt behind compared to others in her circle. She wanted to be a homeowner and to get her master’s degree. She wanted to change careers completely. 

But good things take time, and you can’t do it all in a day. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially when you have maybe a little too much going on right now. But the truth is, you have to slow down to speed up. You DO NOT have limitless energy. 

How to beat overwhelm if you still want to make progress

So… how can you make progress on your goals without feeling overwhelmed? I think the answer would be best illustrated with some examples.

Let’s say you want to stop working weekends. You’ve been working weekends because you have so much to do after all your meetings during the week. It’s been a constant problem for you, and you’re ready to make a change. 

Rather than suddenly expecting yourself to quit working on weekends cold turkey and somehow magically begin getting everything done during the week so you can have a restful work-free weekend this week — like ASAP, let’s be real. That type of change doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a week. 

Instead, let’s think about how you can just get one step closer to your goal of totally turning off on the weekends. Maybe you change your meeting availability to only 3 days a week instead of all 5. Or maybe you block time off each morning for a solid two-hour focus session. Maybe you ask your manager or team to help you prioritize what really needs to be done.

You don’t have to do these all at once — this is a transition that can take weeks! And that’s okay! You’re more likely to stick with incremental change than a total overhaul.

Let’s try another example. You get some feedback from your doctor about your health and you have to make changes. So you leave the doctor, go spend 200 dollars at Whole Foods, and start eating salads and taking supplements every meal. You decide you’re going to start working out twice a day every day.

Break things down

Is all of that change at once sustainable? Not so much. 

For one, you don’t have time built into your schedule yet to support those changes, so you feel like you’re messing up at work and home. For two, these massive changes aren’t sustainable. Instead, what if you introduced just ONE of those things a week?

Breaking things down this way helps you feel less overwhelmed, yes, but there’s a lot less to “lose” or “mess up on” because the risk is low — meaning, there’s less pressure on YOU to get it right the first time (but even if you don’t, that’s still okay, too). 

Essentially, you’re building smaller habits and setting boundaries that help you stick to your goals. By taking 1 small step, you also leave room to be a human. Because let’s be real, things happen and I don’t want you to feel discouraged when your massive changes don’t stick on week 1! 

Plus, there are still errands to run, laundry to do, food to be eaten, or kids to be cared for in the meantime. There is a REAL LIFE that’s still happening outside of your goals. 

Pinpoint the obstacles that might pop up along the way

The biggest roadblock to feeling less overwhelmed? Expecting everything to go perfectly!

When in life has everything gone according to plan? Never! 

So, back to the example of trying not to work weekends. You might be coming up on a busy season at work, and in the past, you’ve had to work weekends to get through that busy season. I’m looking at you accountants trying to survive tax season and realtors enjoying the beautiful spring weather. 

Knowing ahead of time that you might have to work one weekend will make you feel less frustrated when it happens — because it’s something that happens outside of your control. You’ve set the expectation for yourself, so you’re less caught off guard and disappointed when you’ve got to log some hours on a Saturday. 

You may also have a team member who doesn’t respect your deep work time, so you may need to have a conversation with them about your goals and the best way to contact you when they need to collaborate. 

In the example of the person trying to improve their health, maybe they forgot they have a two-week vacation coming up and they won’t be able to stick to their strict diet or exercise regimen

The whole idea is to think about what might pop up to interfere with your progress, and address it ahead of time. 

Need help deciding which “one step” to take? 

Want my help figuring out how to take small steps toward your self-improvement, time management, and productivity goals? Want to identify roadblocks that impede your progress?

Then you’re invited to One Step Closer: How to Make Time Management Work for YOU on April 25th. Can’t make it live or reading this after April 25th, 2023? You’ll find a link to the replay down in the resources mentioned part of these shownotes!

This is a free, live workshop, that can help you find a plan for your days that works the way you do, and develop time management habits that stick — including feeling LESS pressure and overwhelm. 

I’m also sharing resources and tools that can help you with your goals and you’ll walk away with a day-to-day plan to keep you accountable! 

Register here!

In this episode, we talk about:

  • The difference between task-based and progress-based overwhelm
  • Why taking smaller steps pays off in the long run
  • How to address roadblocks before they come up

Resources mentioned:

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