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How Should Writers Overcome The “Overwhelm Virus”

Remember the reaction when the World Health Organisation declared the pandemic earlier this year? People started stockpiling things. Toilet paper disappeared from supermarket shelves. City after the city went into lockdown mode. Unable to function as normal, people glued to the news. The daily toll, the economic downturn, the difficulties in finding a vaccine, no end at sight. No wonder we were overwhelmed.

But the pandemic was not the first time when we felt overwhelmed. We all experience it from time to time. When we are under emotional stress, when we have too much to do, or when confronted with many challenges, overwhelm is what happens.

The tell-tale symptom of overwhelm is that we can’t think and act rationally.

We tend to freeze and unable to function normally. It’s a scary experience. We may not know which way is up or what way to swim. We feel stunned and unable to react. 

For writers, it happens when we undertake a new project—a project like writing a book. You know where I am coming from if you have read my previous post where I announced I would be publishing a book in 30 days. I panicked because I had so much to learn. Publishing, editing, cover design, formatting, marketing, launching, a whole load of things I knew nothing about.

On top of that, I had writing to do.

After a few days of panic attacks, I came to the realization that there is an antidote to the “overwhelm virus.”

It is called – “planning.”

It came as first-hand insight from observing the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The countries that “planned” well manage to control the infection and avoided the fatalities.

People who seem to get things done despite a lot of work on their plate have just one ace up their sleeve, and it is called “planning.”

When faced with writing a book or a blog post, you can’t just sit down and churn it out. Without a plan, you would soon be floundering. Time and time again, the people who are overwhelmed almost always have no plan.

Once you get to the root of overwhelm, you will always find a lack of planning.

It is a bit like being on the road. You may have a plan to get to your destination, but things may have changed since you got into your car. There might be too much traffic or an accident up ahead, or every lousy driver decided to show up on the road at the exact time you started on your journey.

When we get started on any project, we got to have a plan to make it happen. That plan may not stay the same all the way through, as I am discovering with my book project. The plan may change as things change. But there are still three basic ingredients that would stay the same.

  1. Time
  2. Focus
  3. Route

Allocate time to work on the project.

If you have not put aside daily time to work on the project and hope that you will be able to fit it in with your daily routine, you’re setting yourself for failure. “Hope” is never as good as a strategy.

One of the best ways to set a time is for a project is to tag it along with the tasks you do on a repetitive basis. For example, I listen to online courses while cooking dinner. Dinner gets cooked, learning happens.

For my book project, I have given it two hours in the morning when the interruptions are minimal because distractions and interruptions are two other demons leading to failure.

Minimize distractions.

Nir Eyal writes in his book Indistractable,” In future, there will be two kinds of people, those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves ‘indistractable.'”

We all get distracted by the volume of information at hand. There is so much demanding our attention all the time. The more we consume the more we crave. It is not possible to eliminate distractions completely from our lives but it is possible to delay them.

I forbid myself from checking emails or any social media platform, read articles, or a book for the whole hour in the morning while I am working on my book. It doesn’t work all the time, but it works many times. I am hoping, with time, I will be able to solidify this habit.

That takes us to the third ingredient of a plan.

Plan the route.

It is like going to the airport. If you are in a new city and hire a car, the first thing you will do is set up the GPS. Without that, you will be circling the unknown streets. But in your own city, you know the route to the airport by heart, having driven there several times.

I am applying this analogy to learn the route to writing and publishing a book. This book is going to be an experiment. An experiment to learn all there is about publishing in 30 days.

I am going to find shortcuts too. Only when you know the landscape well you can find the shortcuts. The people who are overwhelmed think there is only one route to the destination, the longer route.

There you go. My antidote to “overwhelm virus.”

Nothing beats a plan.

First, put a plan in place, then turn it into a routine. Routine is what gets things done on autopilot.

Planning also stops you from going over the top. When your energy is drained, you are reaching the state of “overwhelm.”

Anyone can do whatever they want to do without feeling overwhelmed with a bit of planning.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

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