Are we crazy to feel so overwhelmed?

Anyone here ever feel overwhelmed? You are in the right place.

In today’s fast paced world of business and technology – everything that was supposed to be making life easier seems to be conspiring to swallow us whole! Between smart phones, email, instant messaging, social networking, running a business, running a family, running errands – it is hard to remember sometimes about having a life!

Everyone feels overwhelmed and stressed out from time to time, and our current way of working doesn’t help. Have you ever noticed that when you are feeling stressed it is just a short hop to feeling overwhelmed, and you seem to be unable to even think? Well, science is on your side (or against you, depending on how you want to look at it). We evolved with the ability to focus on one thing, while blocking out most of everything else. Women have a higher capacity for maintaining some awareness of everything else – and we call this multitasking. I think it is more multi-awareness, but back to the point.

When you are overwhelmed – you actually lose both your ability to focus and your ability to block out all other stimuli. So – everything is happening at once, and you are aware of it. Total overload. You can’t focus on even one thing to pull yourself out – have you ever noticed that? No wonder we feel like we are running in circles as fast as we can, getting absolutely nowhere!

In this presentation, I will bring to light some of the realities of our current situation. We are going to examine the biggest impediments to our productivity. I am going to give you some statistics about it, and show you exactly why we aren’t crazy to feel so overwhelmed and stressed out.

It’s not all bad news, though. I will also be touching on some innovative solutions that will make a real, measurable difference – today! Finally, I will leave everyone with a simple process guaranteed to free up around 2 hours a day. What would you do with an additional four months of productive time each year?

So, what are the biggest impediments?

Looking for things

Do you have any idea how much time you spend each day just looking for something you need? Could be a file, a phone number, a document – doesn’t matter. Studies indicate that we spend, on average 45 minutes every day (or 9% of your workday) – which adds up to about 6 weeks. Six weeks just looking for things.

How many of you found yourself thinking you would take a vacation if you just had the time? Well – here’s six weeks.

Trying to get through your email inbox

Another time/productivity impediment is going through your email inbox. How many of you have more than 100 messages in your inbox? More than 1000? More than 5000? Does it just make you tired to even think of it? Based on a series of surveys done in Fortune 500 companies, experts have estimated that the average businessperson is spending up to 3 hours per day just trying to sort through the incoming email. This doesn’t include doing any of the work – just trying to sort through it. So, if you do the math – 3 hours a day, 50 weeks a year – (let’s tell the truth, many of you check your email even on vacation) – so 52 weeks, adds up to 19 ½ weeks every year just trying to sort through your email.

So, we are already up to about 26 weeks of the year – used up looking for things, and checking our email, and we haven’t begun to do any work yet.

Allowing interruptions

Yet another behavior that will negatively impact your capacity to be productive is allowing interruptions. Statistics indicate that on average we can be interrupted at least once every six to eight minutes, and it can take us up to 15 minutes to bring our focus back to whatever we were working on when we were interrupted (if we can even remember what it was). Let’s look at that – we get interrupted every six minutes and it takes 15 minutes to bring our focus back. But before we can bring our focus back to the task at hand, we will be interrupted again. This doesn’t work, does it? The first interruption can derail your entire day. Has this happened to you?


And one final productivity killer for many people is meetings. How many meetings have you attended where you realized that the entire thing could have been handled with one or two emails or a short conference call? Or, you were in the meeting for 1-2 hours and absolutely nothing got done? Depending on where you are in your organization, it is entirely possible that 30-90% of your time could be spent in meetings.

Another study of Fortune 500 executives revealed that many of them felt lucky if they had between 28-45 minutes of productive time each day. Time they could use to focus on their most critical areas.


Where does that put us? So far we have accounted for over 100% of your time, and we haven’t gotten any work done. And, we haven’t even spoken about those processes that seem to take far more time and effort than needed to produce the result.

Unwinnable game

As far as I can see, we are playing an unwinnable game, in an unworkable environment, and we really do not have any time left! Given those circumstances, I believe we are already amazingly productive. The tragedy, of course, is it takes us 8 hours to manage to accomplish that 45 minutes of true productivity each day.

What can we do? Solutions in part two…

Terry Monaghan

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Consultant, coach, speaker, trainer and entrepreneur, Terry Monaghan, publishes Now What – a free weekly ezine for entrepreneurs and professionals who want to double their productivity, improve their performance, and have a life! If you’re ready to jump start your performance and your results then get your free tips now at

Feeling overwhelmed? A little time triage may help

Time is part of a measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify the motions of objects. (Or, time is a concept we invented to keep everything from happening at once.)

Triage is a process of prioritizing based on the severity of condition. This rations the subject of triage efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be dealt with immediately. From the French trier, meaning to separate, sort, sift or select.

In the coming months, this column will look at various aspects of time management as it effects your everyday productivity and sense of accomplishment.

Ok, so why are we feeling so overwhelmed? Many people are complaining about it. Most people are dealing with it from time to time. And some feel like they have to run full tilt just to keep from falling behind. It all adds up to the sensation of being a hamster on a wheel – running all day long, and basically getting no where fast.

We don’t have to look very far to identify some of the contributing players. By all accounts, we spend up to an hour a day just looking for what we need, and most of us take up to three hours trying to deal with our email inbox.  That means half the day is already gone. Additionally, some studies indicate that we could easily be spending between 30 and 90 percent of our time in meetings.

This math does not work for me. We have accounted for over 100 percent of our workday, and we probably haven’t even begun to tackle our most important tasks.

Most time management books, articles and courses focus on getting more things done. Much of the emphasis is on ways to prioritize tasks to identify what is most important (and not necessarily most urgent). While some suggest delegating, my experience indicates that many entrepreneurs and solo-preneurs are missing this piece.

Getting through every single thing on your list of to-do’s doesn’t really matter much if the entire list is made up of items that ought to be delegated to someone else. You will have spent your whole day without focusing at all on what are the most important things you should pay attention to.

Instead of looking for ways to get more things done, you must begin to shift your focus to getting the right things done. This is absolutely critical for entrepreneurs and managers (and for everyone, really).

What are the right things? And how do you identify them in the face of the swirl of life and work and the never-ending flood of errands, phone calls, emails, and tasks?

That’s where time triage comes in. You can develop a quick and reliable way to review everything on your list to identify what you need to focus on and decide when you are going to give it your attention.

Make no mistake – if you don’t determine the when, the what is probably not going to happen.  Part of being overwhelmed is not carving out a specific day and time to get things done.

Let’s get to the triage. The first step is to figure out what you are going to use as a standard to determine the relative importance (the severity of the condition) of the myriad demands for your time and attention.

There are two standards I encourage my clients to use all the time. First, is this task going to move my goals forward?  Second, if the answer to the first question is yes – is doing this task the best use of my time?

You might think that if the answer to the first question is yes, then the second question must be yes, but that is not necessarily so.

For example, keeping the database of contacts up-to-date definitely forwards the goal of being in regular communication with clients, colleagues and prospects, but doing the work to keep it up-to-date is not a good use of your time at all.

Obviously, to use this method, you will need to know your goals and will need to determine just what is the best use of your time. And that is the single most powerful place to start.

So, here is an assignment for you. Take a little bit of time, and figure out what is the best use of your time. What is the unique contribution you make to the business – the one that no one else can make.

Maybe you are the face of the business, which means networking, creating contacts and building relationships is the best use of your time. Perhaps you are the creative force of the business, the idea person. In that case, having time to think and create is the best use of your time.

Many of my clients are working women, and spending high quality time with their kids is something that they identify as the one of the best uses of their time.

There is no right or wrong here – just the most effective allocation of your resources to produce the results you are committed to. And time, by far, is one of your most limited resources. You must use it wisely.

Just because something has to be done doesn’t mean you have to do it!

Terry Monaghan is CEO of Organizing For Your Life, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in productivity issues, and can be reached at

(c) 2010 – Washington Business Journal. Used by permission.