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How to overcome that feeling of overwhelm


Have you experienced it? That feeling when you become 'stuck' and just can't move.

HourglassIt's all due to that document that needs to be written – the report, proposal, training material or yes, even that important email.

The deadline is looming.

Your mind is busy yet not productive. Procrastination sets in.

Finally, you write something. What you've produced becomes a minimum viable product. It serves its purpose but doesn't reflect your true capabilities.

What you've produced may or may not achieve the outcome you wanted.

You've run out of time now to improve upon what you've written.

But what if there were a better way?

One of the hardest things about writing is the illusion that everything will come to us when we need it to happen. The reality is somewhat different. And that's when the feeling of being overwhelmed starts to set in.

There are three things that you can do to help minimise that feeling of overwhelm.

They are:

  1. Plan your document
  2. Eliminate distractions
  3. Focus your attention and energy

Let's look at each of these in more detail.

#1. Plan your document

By planning your document, you're able to produce an outline of what you want to cover. To do this, consider who will be reading your document and the outcomes you want to achieve as a result of  your reader reading your document.

Then brainstorm the key points that you want to cover and put them together into an outline. Having a clear path to follow helps you to stay on task and ensures that your points flow from one to the other.

#2. Eliminate distractions

Distractions could include checking emails regularly or sitting at your desk with the temptation to chat to your colleague, whether in person or virtually.

Turn off the ability to know when you have received a new email – even if what you're writing is an email. Schedule the time for focusing in your calendar so that colleagues can see that you're not available.

If you can, find a different location to work on your document. If you can't move away from your desk because you have a desktop computer and not a laptop, and you find that you're easily distracted where you work, then consider using pen and paper to write a draft of your document. That novelty may help get the cerebral juices working.

#3. Focus your attention and energy

To help you focus, work in chunks of time. In other words, set yourself a length of time to work on your document and focus solely on the task for that period of time. Set a timer to help you work to the time you've decided upon to focus on your task. When the timer goes off, stop and take a break.

Start with short periods of focus time.

For example, you could start with 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break. The trick is to also set your timer for your break time. It's easy to become distracted with checking emails or finding something else to do. The break is to help you recharge and be able to focus your attention again.

Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique helps you to focus on your task in a set period of time.

This technique is known as the Pomodoro technique, named aptly after the kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato. (Pomodoro means tomato in Italian).

Increase the timespan for focusing and breaks to suit your individual preferences.

It takes time to get used to working in this way. Yet, you have probably done it in some way at some time without realising it.

I liken the process to writing essays in exam situations when at school. Remember when you had to write an essay in a short period of time during an exam?

All distractions were removed and you had to focus. You would have prepared prior to the exam and had ideas as to what you were going to cover according to the types of questions asked.

Then when you read the questions, you quickly worked out an outline and then focused on the task at hand. You allocated time for each section of your essay so that you covered everything in the time allocated.

Essay writing in school exams was stressful but following a process enabled you to produce something of value in the time allocated.

The good thing about writing in a business environment, is that you don't usually have to write so intensely all at once. You can break down the sections of your document so that for each chunk of time, you can focus on a particular section. And it doesn't necessarily have to all be done in one day.

But what if you still go blank during these sprints of writing time?

In those cases (and they do happen), check your outline and then begin writing on one part of your outline. Don't try to 'fix' what you've written. Just write. The more you write, the easier it becomes. By doing this, you're training yourself to focus for that period of time. The writing stage doesn't require you to create the perfect piece of writing. It's to get your ideas down. Refining the document happens during the review and editing stage.

The beauty of this technique is that your attention is focused and so is your energy.

There is nothing worse than forcing yourself to write when you're tired and find it difficult to focus. By working in sprints of time, you're able to recharge and give the necessary attention to your document.

When you have finished your document and you're ready to review it, then again give yourself a break. Reviewing your document after a break allows you to read it with 'fresh eyes'.

We don't live in an ideal world.

In an ideal world, you'll have time to plan your document, write each section before reviewing it and then send your completed document to your readers. The reality is, however, whether your document is a report, proposal, training material or email, you may have limited time to complete your writing to your satisfaction.

That doesn't mean that you skip any part of the process.

What you do need to do is condense the timeframe of the process.

Having a process to follow allows you to minimise the feeling of overwhelm which causes procrastination. It helps you to move away from a minimum viable product approach and instead, toward quality writing output.

Quality writing follows a process.

These three parts of the process help you to write better quality documents (and emails):

  1. Plan your document
  2. Eliminate distractions
  3. Focus your attention and energy

They also allow your true abilities to shine through in your writing.

Quality writing reflects well on you, the individual, as well as your organisation. It also minimises clarification requests and helps you to achieve your outcomes, which is the reason you're writing the document in the first place.


Here are 2 more articles to help you with techniques to improve your writing:



Maria Pantalone

Maria Pantalone works with individuals and teams to make communication their strength so that their message is heard. Her programs help her clients to excel in their role and be recognised as leaders in their field.
30 Business Communication Tips

Looking for tips to help you with your speaking, writing and interpersonal communication?

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