Overwhelm articles

Do you feel that life is out of control? Overwhelm is the feeling of anxiety around the amount of things that need to be done and about the things that are not done.


While time management is important, attention management is how you make sure your priorities stay prioritised. Moira Dunne explains how you can make your productivity soar by identifying what is stealing your attention. Most people I know in business have very good time management skills. They set out their goals, prioritise their work and make a daily task list to get things done. In days gone by that was enough. Forward planning meant that work could be scheduled into the time available. By and large, an organised person could get all their work done quite routinely. However, those time management techniques were designed for a business world where people had control over their time. Blocks of uninterrupted time were easier to find and, in general, the plan for the day could be completed as expected. It was a business world without email, mobile phones, iMessage, WhatsApp, apps and social media. Technology has completely changed our work environment. Constant communication brings a steady stream of new requests and ever-changing deadlines. So allocating time to a task doesn’t mean it gets done. As soon as we check our email in the morning, our task list is already out of date, and when everything seems urgent, it is impossible to stick to our priorities. The steady stream of requests comes with an expectation of almost instant response time. So we generally work in a reactive, responsive mode. This is great for customer service and team cooperation, but it’s not conducive tor the achievement of plans and goals. Ultimately, the focus becomes less strategic and more operational, and business growth is affected. Attention management Right now, time management techniques have never been so important, but we have to supplement these techniques with skills to manage our attention. You have to ask yourself: how good are my attention management skills? Here are some tips on how you can become more aware of your attention and how to manage it. 1. Understand your attention Do some initial work to understand where your attention is going throughout the day. To spot patterns, track who and what distracts you. Use a time log for a few days to get the data on this. Make a list of those attention stealers to remind you what to avoid. 2. Protect your attention We often feel obliged to respond to new requests, emails and interruptions. It can be hard to say no to your customers or your colleagues. But we often end up working on something that has a lower priority than the work we planned to do. Empowerment over your time can give you the confidence to make decisions about client and office engagement. Decide on a reasonable request response time and communicate that to your clients and co-workers. It’s also important to ask yourself what tasks you’re doing that are outside of your specific role and priorities. With this knowledge, it can be easier to say no to others in the office. 3. Develop the right environment If you run your own business or manage a team, take a look at how easy or difficult it is for people to focus. Is there a noise level that can be improved? Can you work together to give each person some uninterrupted time throughout the week? Encourage people to focus on one task rather than multi-tasking. If your business allows it, turn off the phones at least some of the time. Provide a quiet room as a contrast to the open-plan office. Offer your office to your team when you are not there. Allow the use of noise-blocking headphones if it doesn’t compromise your service delivery. Above all, be creative. Come up with your own solutions for attention management that will suit your business. Be proactive, take control and be productive Let’s give some time to attention management. It is one of the most important business skills in today’s workplace. Combine this with the classic time management techniques and watch your productivity soar. Moira Dunne is the Founder of beproductive.ie

Jul 28, 2019

Lots of us are good at showing compassion and kindness to other people. What many of us aren't great at is showing ourselves the same understanding. Our inner critic and negative self-talk can be hard to ignore. But dwelling on mistakes and focusing on faults makes it hard to maintain personal resilience and good mental wellbeing. We could all use a little more self-compassion. The concept of self-compassion has three important elements: Mindfulness - being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judging them or dwelling on them Common humanity - a recognition that no one is perfect and that we all make mistakes Self-kindness - caring for yourself the way you would a friend or loved one in a similar situation Why is self-compassion good for your mental wellbeing? Research shows that people who exercise higher levels of self-compassion tend to be more resilient than those who don't. They have less of a physical response to stressful situations and spend less time dwelling on them after the fact. This is partly because self-compassion involves actively recognising your strengths and achievements, which boosts self-confidence and our belief in our ability to cope with difficult situations. But self-compassion also has an impact on our biology. Stress is your body's natural response to a perceived threat, sometimes called the 'fight or flight' response. A recent study by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford has found that exercising self-compassion helps to calm the heart rate and shut down this threat response. Participants in the study demonstrated a state of relaxation and security. They also reported feeling a stronger connection with other people. If you exercise self-compassion, you're also more likely to adopt healthy self-care behaviours such as getting plenty of exercise, eating well and establishing healthy sleep patterns. Put simply, you're more likely to make choices that boost your physical health, which is crucial for your mental wellbeing.  Self-compassion also encourages personal and professional development, which in turn improves our confidence and self-esteem. That's because it allows us to consider our strengths and skill set objectively without fear of criticism and judgement. We're then able to identify areas for improvement and make a change for the better. 5 ways to show yourself more compassion At its heart, self-compassion is about self-care or looking after yourself the way you would a friend. In fact, thinking about what you might say to a loved one in a similar situation is a good starting point. What advice would you give them? Here are a few ways you can start showing yourself a little more kindness and understanding: Practice mindfulness - learn how to notice and observe your thoughts without judging them. Mindfulness encourages you to be curious and self-aware, understanding that your thoughts and assumptions are just that. They're not facts. Reward yourself - celebrate your successes and achievements. Keep a list of your personal skills and strengths to review in moments of self-doubt Take a break - time away from your day-to-day routine and a change of scenery can help you keep things in perspective Strengthen your connections - kindness is contagious! By showing love and understanding to the people who are important to you, you're more likely to show yourself the same compassion Do things you enjoy - spending time on our passions, hobbies and interests is good for the soul. Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.

Jun 10, 2019
Student Profile

EY’s Lynn Abbott discusses her FAE journey in which she overcame bereavement and academic failure to qualify as a Chartered Accountant. What has been your biggest challenge to date? I repeated my Leaving Certificate twice and took two attempts at CAP 2 but the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced is repeating my FAEs. The first time I sat them, I had a tough year both personally and professionally. In October 2011, we lost my uncle to suicide and very soon after, I spent four months in the UK for work which meant I didn’t get to spend the time I needed with my family to heal. Subconsciously, I gave up on the exams about half-way through that year and spent the summer trying to make up the impossible amount of ground I had lost. Repeating both Core and Elective in the following year took a lot of mental strength. I had to put behind me the feelings of low self-worth people have after failing at anything. I was harder on myself too as a result of my previous track record. You also have to push past the negativity of others (“If she had failed one, fine, but she’ll never get both”). Facing into that summer with the memory of what the previous study leave had felt like was terrifying. I had to get into the zone in a way I had never done before. Did you ever feel like you weren’t going to achieve your goals? You don’t fail as many times as I have and just assume your goals are still achievable. I’ve had so many hurdles to jump over the years and it’s easy to blame others when you fall down. Initially, I blamed the world for my shortcomings and got angry with those things in life I had no control over. I was embarrassed that things weren’t going to plan and didn’t want to look at what had gone wrong in any great detail. When I took ownership for my failings and realised where I was going wrong, I finally had something to work on and that put me on the right road. What advice would you give to students facing their own battles? It’s important to keep pushing on. Recognise that everyone fails at some point in their life and those setbacks make your victories even sweeter. The best leaders come through adversity. Ask for help and don’t be ashamed of what you’re going through – someone has been there before. What, in your view, is the most important skill to develop? I think there are two important skills that young Chartered Accountants could benefit from. One is perspective; a lot of us work in high pressure environments with tight deadlines and it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. There’s nothing more important in life than your physical and mental health and well-being, so keep perspective and make sure you take care of yourself and those most important to you. Second, sheer grit and determination. To get where you want to go in life, you have to be willing to put in the hard yards. Keep the head down and you’ll get there. And finally, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Surround yourself with good people and good things will happen. Surround yourself with people who understand that you have a busy professional life, who will support you in your darkest hour and who will drop everything to help you with even the most mundane chore. They will keep you going when the road gets tough.

Sep 01, 2017
Personal Development

Sometimes you are presented challenges where you find you cannot cope. While we might not be able to change the amount of work that has to be done in a day, we can change how we react to it. I describe stress as being the scenario where the challenge you are facing seems to exceed your capacity to cope. We can feel threatened, overwhelmed and like we’ve lost control of the situation. While it seems odd to be sitting here writing about stress when it’s a warm, sunny summer’s day outside, stress doesn’t take the summer off. Learning how to deal with stress is a year-round task. The day from hell To illustrate an overwhelming challenge and our difficulty in coping, I thought we’d start with a really difficult day in work – the day from hell. While a small amount of stress can be a good thing – it provides a sense of urgency and it gets us moving – this is bigger than that. It took off like an out-of-control rocket, we are being pulled beyond ‘useful stress’ into a more manic orbit, and we end up in the ‘too much to cope with’ zone for too long.  When this happens, we lose three things: energy, short-term memory and the ability to problem solve or think creatively. We become quite primitive and it feels like we are in survival mode. We just want to survive the meeting, the phone call, or the afternoon. In summary, ‘stress eats energy’. 60-second recovery In reality, there’s very little we can do about the pace of a really hectic work day but we can do something about our response to it. For this, discipline is our most useful strategy. For those days from hell, we need to build ‘recovery breaks’ into the day. It only needs to be about 60 seconds, but – and here’s comes the discipline – the break should be once per hour throughout the day. Discipline eats stress Here’s your challenge: take a deliberate recovery break for one minute out of every 60. This will require a certain amount of discipline and mental toughness. In fact, you should be doing this even on good days. Remember, you’re doing this to ensure that you stay mentally fresh for as long as possible throughout the day. You are also doing this to ensure that you leave work with energy for what’s after work – life! When you create this discipline, and you stick with it for a week, it means you have energy to burn at the weekend. Otherwise, you spend that downtime in survival mode, dreading the return to work the following week. Recovery actions What do you actually do for the 60-second recovery? That depends on what you need. Sometimes it will be something simple that gives you a sense of control back, other times it will be something that slows down your mental traffic, and other times it will be something that energises you. Here are some examples: tidying, filing, reading, chatting, stretching, walking, improving your posture, and, the best one of all… breathing. Increase capacity If you’ve been following my well-being series, you will have come across  references to mental fitness. I am in the fitness business and fitness is about increasing capacity. Stress management is not about reducing stress in work and life, it is about increasing our capacity to cope with whatever is coming next. And when it comes to increasing capacity, discipline is your best friend.   Physical is the new psychological As you can see from the above, almost all of the strategies for stress management and mental health are physical and not always mental. It’s always beneficial to go out do something. Your body has the answer: calm the body and the mind will follow. Stopping is not recovering Leaving work and going home does not count as recovering. If you just crash into bed, you will still feel exhausted in the morning. Doing something that absorbs you – that energises you – is recovering. Finding the discipline to go for a short walk rather than watch television is recovering. Going to your yoga class is mental toughness and recovering. Remember: discipline eats stress. The key to resilience is working really hard, stopping, recovering properly and then working really hard again. Work success So far in this series I have been focusing on an operational level – how to have high self-worth, how to operate on the edge of comfort, how to have great habits and how to manage stress better. In the remaining two articles, I will be taking a more strategic approach.  See you then.

Jul 03, 2017