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A lot of the coaching I do is about coaxing insight: the client is stuck and doesn’t know what to do. In that case, it’s useful to identify the thinking that is limiting them. A limiting thought is like a box. When you identify the limiting thought, you point out the box. Doing The Work dismantles the box. Once the box is gone, insights about how to move forward arrive easily. The client is unstuck and moves forward with clarity.

But sometimes a client is stuck for a different reason: they know what to do but don’t know where to start or how. It is still useful to listen for limiting beliefs – doubts about their competence, fear of judgement, etc. But the main issue is overwhelm.

If that’s you, grab some paper and a pen and follow along with me as I share one of my favorite approaches to overcoming overwhelm. Cribbed from my teacher, Dr. Martha Beck, this approach doesn’t just help in the moment. It teaches you better ways to think about and organize your work in the first place.


The 3B’s: Bag It, Barter It, Better It

First make a complete list of what you need to do. Get it all onto paper so that no part is left to reverberate inside your head. Now let’s tame it.

Bag it.

Do you really have to do everything on your list? Really? Cross off anything that is neither urgent nor important to you.

If a thing you want to bag is something you promised another person, be honest with yourself: why did you say yes in the first place? This may be a lesson for you in learning to mind your own business – to say no to something you don’t want – rather than minding their business – saying yes in order to avoid the discomfort of possibly disappointing someone else (a topic I’ve been writing about lately). If it isn’t too late, you can return the task to the person with a sincere apology and an internal pledge to tell the truth quickly in the future. Or you can decide that what’s important here is being a person who is true to her word.

Barter it

Looking at what remains on your list, could someone else do something for you — friends who would enjoy doing certain tasks in exchange for you doing something for them? People you could pay to do others?

Paying someone might be the obvious solution, but don’t rush to it. Task exchange has some big plusses. It can be a wonderful way to grow a friendship. For starters, you each get to show off your pro side! Also, when you ask for someone to do something for you, you are expressing vulnerability. We tend not to like that feeling, but friends tend to feel honored when we share it with them. Such an exchange deepens intimacy, and it becomes easier for them to reach out to us in the future.

Better it

How could you make this more fun? Would music or a podcast make it better? How about an inspiring venue, a beverage and a treat to get you going, and a reward at the end? All of the above plus regular dance breaks and a friend working beside you? There are loads of easy go-to’s. Here are a few less obvious ones:

  • The premise of my question is that your to-do list can be fun. Take it a step further: you’re doing it wrong if it’s anything but fun.
  • Do the easiest thing first. Maybe what is easy is stuff that you can do quickly or that’s fun. Regardless, starting with the easy stuff gives you the gift of momentum, which gives you a running start with the harder stuff.
  • Don’t say “I have to.” Say “I choose to.” Try them both in a sentence. You’ll notice that “have to” produces a feeling of heaviness in the body and burden in the psyche. Whereas, “choose to” feels light and empowering. It makes you aware of everything you have to gain by your choice.

The 3B’s tame monstrous to-do lists, which is reason enough to use them. But more than that, they teach you how to be master of your tasks, not servant. As you practice them, you’ll become more discriminating about what you say yes to, bring a greater sense of creativity and courage to your work, and prevent overwhelm before it starts.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks, Allison. Doing the easy thing first has changed so much for me. I used to wait, trying to tackle the hard thing first part of the day (I’m a morning person). But ugh!

    I found that doing the easy thing first did just what you said, providing momentum that LAUNCHED me into the harder things with confidence.

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