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How Do You Deal with Overload?

Updated: May 4, 2020

One of the issues we all face is the overwhelming weight of everything we have to get done. Between work, family, and personal obligations, it can seem almost impossible to get anything done. So we use calendars, checklists, and to-do lists to try and at least keep everything organized – hoping that nothing “falls through the cracks” that could later turn into a crisis.

Sometimes, though, the sheer volume of tasks can be enough to overwhelm us – even leading to a state of paralysis that prevents us from accomplishing anything at all.

Parents of young children are very familiar with this – when small children are overstimulated, they do one of two things: they go to sleep…or they cry. In a similar vein, when we have too many things competing for our attention and focus, we do the same thing – we either zone out and accomplish nothing, or we get seriously stressed and frustrated...and this keeps us from getting our best results.

A similar phenomenon appears regularly in photography.

Consider this photo, which was taken at the Nezu Shrine in Tokyo. This is a beautiful location, offering a refuge of sorts from the noise and distractions of the surrounding area.

The problem here wasn't capturing a beautiful image – the problem is that it’s all beautiful, and when you try to capture it in a single image, the eye has a hard time deciding what to look at. The bushes in the foreground? The yellow tree in the upper right corner? The stream in the foreground? Or the red building in the center?

It's almost too much to take in at one time. In a way, the picture creates sensory overload.

In photography, the solution is often to “crop” the image – essentially cutting some of the image away so what remains is pleasing to the eye. Look at the edited image – the one at the top of this article. The elements in the perimeter have been removed from the visible area of the image, and the focal point of what’s left is clearly the building.

How can you apply this concept in your own life? As an example, we use mind maps to help us organize ideas and strategies in our business. At times, these mind maps have looked like 100-legged spiders, each “leg” representing some idea or opportunity that will allow us to better serve our customers and clients.

The problem is that there’s simply too much there to deal with effectively. So what we’ve done in the past is reduce this list to just three items – the three most important ones, and these were what we focused on.

If it wasn’t one of these three, we left it alone. If a new opportunity presented itself, we would step back, evaluate it, and decide wither to shelve it for later consideration, or replace one of the primary three items with the new one.

Essentially, we "cropped out" anything that wasn't central to our goals and objectives, and this left us free to focus on what was most important.

Do you understand what the key elements are in your life? Are you able to identify what they look like in your daily activities? If you can answer these two questions, then you'll be able to use the strategy of cropping to eliminate distractions and create laser-like focus on what's truly important.

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