Can’t keep up?
It may be Overwhelmination

In Productivity by Emerson Jane BrowneLeave a Comment

coffee mugsIt was 11:00am Sunday morning.

As I stood there making my tea I was thinking about everything I want to accomplish today and was already feeling stressed and incompetent because I know full well that I will not be able to get to it all done.

Suddenly, I asked myself,

How would I be feeling about all I need to get done today if I did not have a blog?

Interestingly, the pressure dropped away and I could see how I could pace myself to accomplish all the disparate todos tugging at my attention.

Now, neither that question nor the answer is going to cause me to terminate this blog, because the blog and the writing are not really the issue. Reality is, if I did not have the blog writing to use as the pressure creator I would find something else.

Pressure

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The question simply served as a powerful wake up call to how much I pressure myself.  And even more important, how I use that pressure to feel defeated before I even start the day.

Why?

Why do so many of us put ourselves under so much pressure that we feel we can never catch up? I am not alone in this, I know.

Is it to prevent fear of failure? If I always have too much to do, then I will not feel I have failed if I am unable get it all done?

However, it may also have to do with perfectionism – which I know is a problem for me. But I love doing things well.

I spend an extraordinary amount of time on each post I write on this blog. I am not someone who can whip out 500 words without fully exploring a topic, hit “publish”, and walk away. I don’t like writing that way. And equally, I do not like reading blogs that are written that way. They often do not say much and I feel the author has wasted my time.

Because of my perfectionism and because of my varied interests I always have a lot on my plate.  But that does not explain the issue of how or why I put so much Pressure on myself.

Procrastination?

In my continued study of Productivity, I recently have started researching Procrastination – reading books and research articles. One book that I have just begun is Piers Steel’s The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done.

Interestingly, according to Steel, the “Perfectionistic theory of Procrastination” is one of the best-researched topics in the study of procrastination. And it has been thoroughly disproven.

Perfectionists who are also procrastinators are more likely to seek help for their procrastination problem, which is what threw many researchers off. But perfectionism is not a symptom nor a cause of procrastination

In a 2007 article, Piers Steel states that

Strong and consistent predictors of procrastination were task aversiveness, task delay, self-efficacy, and impulsiveness, as well as conscientiousness and its facets of self-control, distractibility, organization, and achievement motivation. 1

Perfectionism and pressure are not on that list.

I actually am not a procrastinator, especially as compared to some family members and friends. And Piers Steel research supports my assessment.

Instead, I would call myself an “Overwhelminator”.

Overwhelmination

file000713952237“Overwhelmination” has many of the same outcomes as procrastination but it is different. In fact, in many ways, it is almost the opposite of procrastination.

In 1992, George Ainslie authored a book called Picoeconomics. 2  Piers Steel has used Ainslie’s picoeconomics theory to explain procrastination.

In its basic form, the theory is simple. We must choose from a variety of possible rewarding activities. In choosing among them, we have an innate tendency to inordinately undervalue future events. We tend, then, to put off tasks leading to distant but valuable goals in favor of ones with more immediate though lesser rewards. 3

Piers Steel expands on that theory to say that “impulsiveness; that is living impatiently in the moment and wanting it all now” is the Achilles Heel of procrastination.”  4

“Overwhelmination” is almost the opposite of that.

We can visualize the future goal. And we load on task after task in our attempt to reach the goal.  Meanwhile we neglect the pedantic tasks of modern day life.

For me it is the undervaluing the near term rewards – such as having a clean kitchen – in favor of the future goal of having a book (or books) published and being out and about as a speaker.

There is another key characteristic of Overwhelminators. We tend to have many interest, many goals (both near term and future), and are usually skilled in multiple areas of our lives. This brings to mind one of my favorite poems of Rilke’s: “You see, I want a lot”.

The trick for us Overwhelminators is to find the balance between ‘plunging into our depths to drink in life’ and yet learning to swim with calm sure strokes in the river of day-to-day living.

You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.

So many are alive who don’t seem to care.
Casual, easy, they move in the world
as though untouched.

But you take pleasure in the faces
of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
who grip you for survival.

You are not dead yet, it’s not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.

So, here I am, 4 ½  hours later, hitting “Publish” on this post (actually setting it up to go out on Tuesday).

I wish I could say that writing this post has not lessened the pressure I feel.  But that is not the case. If anything, it has increased it. Why? Because the posts that I had hoped to write this weekend remain unwritten  – as they have for weeks now.

I wrote this one today because it was on top of my mind and at the tip of my fingers.  I am relatively happy with what I have written here because my heart was in it.  But, is this a sign of procrastination? The impulsivity to write what was on top of my consciousness rather than buckle down and write the app reviews and a post or two on some new brain research?

I don’t know. But I hope you have enjoyed the post.

Photos & Poem:

  1. Coffee_Mugs_4139 downloaded from MorgueFile.com years ago.
  2. photographer “nacu” from http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/18951
  3. photographer “biberta” from http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/229811
  4. Rainer Maria Rilke  The Book of the Hours (translated by Robert Bly)

Footnotes:

  1. Steel P. The nature of procrastination: a meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychol Bull. 2007;133(1):65-94
  2. Ainslie, G. 1992. Picoeconomics: The strategic interaction of successive motivational states within the person. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  3.  Steel, P, & Konig, C J. (2006). Integrating theories of motivation. Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review, 31(4), 889.
  4. Schouwenburg, H. C. (1995). Academic procrastination: Theoretical notions, measurement, and research. In J. R. Ferrari & J. L. Johnson (Eds.), Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment. (pp. 71-96). New York: Plenum Press. as cited by Steel, P.
Emerson Jane Browne

I am Emerson Jane Browne. I write about Brains, Apps, & Productivity, and many other aspects of Life. I speak to TBI support groups, speak and teach workshops at tech, music, and writer conferences. I consult with organizations on strategic planning and building a strong community.