The Creative’s Blog

3 Steps Out of Overwhelm

Paralysis due to overwhelm is one of the biggest emotional hurdles creatives encounter; but don’t worry you’re just three steps from inspired action and getting your project back on track.

At a conference last weekend, writers brought Natasha Hanova and me their most pressing career questions in our sounding board session. The number one concern was a variation of: “I feel like I need to finish my draft & market my work & launch my business & understand contracts & revise &… All right now. I’m so overwhelmed. I don’t even know where to start. ”

After they unburdened themselves of their perceived  failure, I had them take a deep breath, and taught them the secret escape from overwhelm:

Let yourself act on the Three Next Steps, ONLY.

Three steps.

That’s it.

Serious face. No more than three.

Right now, you’re sitting there thinking exactly what those incredulous writers said to me. I have ten million things I need to do. How on Earth can focusing on three measly things possibly help me?

Whittling your list down to three, breaks impossible into I’m possible. It lets you work with 100% attention by narrowing your focus. This makes you more efficient. Three tasks completed with decisive, empowered action builds momentum and generates energy to let you tackle three more steps on your way to whatever that big end goal is.

Now you’re intellectually considering the possibility that this Three Next Steps trick may work. But it still doesn’t feel like it will work, because Ummmmm, seriously this list is huge!

Feelings and brains are tricky sneaks. Sometimes it’s easier to just prove something to your brain by acting, and then our feelings catch up on the back end. So, let’s trick your feelings and begin rewiring your brain for action.

  1. Pull out your infinity list.
  2. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Rub your fingers together until you can feel each of the unique ridges on your fingertips. Take another deep breath and rub the fingers of one hand across the palm of the other, focusing on how that feels. Do this until all you’re thinking about are the physical sensations in your hands and fingers. This takes about two minutes. (This quick little mind-interrupt gets you out of your feelings and chaos stress brain, which makes the next step easier.)
  3. Pick three things.

Choose items that fall into these categories: 

Easy. What’s a one-and-done that you can accomplish in five minutes or less? Reply to an email. Look up the meaning of a name to see if that’s a good fit for your new character. Pay a bill. Adding an easy item to the list gives you a dopamine hit and some energy when you complete it. It provides forward momentum to build upon. On days everything feels impossible, choose three easies.

Fun and/or fulfilling. What do you get emotional satisfaction from as part of your creative work? Maybe you love drafting a new scene. Maybe you relish seeing your business email inbox hit zero. Maybe you enjoy building out your creative support triangle by posting positive comments on a fellow creative’s social media. Fun/fulfilling tasks remind us that we’re living our dream. As you cross these items off, take a second to remember you’re one of the lucky ones who enjoys your work. Gratitude wires your brain to look for possibility, which is real handy the next time a complex problem shows up on your list.

Expanding your skillset or knowledge base.  What do you need to learn in order to get to the next step on your project or level up in your career? Learn what an SSL is, and confirm why you need one, for your website. Decipher  the language that’s been overwhelming you on that new contract in your inbox. Research what headstones in Burma looked like in the 1700s for that scene you’ve been avoiding. Engaging in learning tasks keeps us from getting bored and provides us with a sense of accomplishment which makes us want to keep working on this phenomenal career of ours. Brains like to grow; feed them with knowledge.

Day-after-day of Three Next Steps builds into an intentional life of your choosing. And the cool part is because we are growing in our craft, careers, and as humans there is always a next step. Next steps take us to unforeseeable places and grand adventures, but we only get there if we keep moving.

What are the Three Next Steps you’ll take to build a creative life you love?

By Jessica Conoley

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Great strategy! And beautifully written. I love the flexibility of this plan, because we all have “three easies” days once in a while. I also appreciate the reminder that gratitude has a real impact on brain function. Thanks Jessica.


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