The Christmas season is wonderful — and incredibly busy. The programs, the gifts, the family time, the sermons, the special events, the dinners, the last-minute details… it can all add up to a huge stress load. What if you could take 15 minutes and lower your stress level — feel less overwhelmed, more in control, and ready to get something done? Would that be attractive?
I’m not talking about a massage, a medication, or the proverbial ‘stiff drink.’ Those are attempts to escape stress. I’m talking about looking that giant hairy stress monster in the face & cutting it down to size.
Is that really possible? Don’t doubt me until you’ve tried these 5 simple steps:
Grab a pen & paper, and timer, and see how you feel in 20 minutes.
1. Sit down and pray. (2 minutes)
God hears short prayers. “I’m overwhelmed. I need courage and clear thinking, and a firm place to stand. I need your help to put together details, and bring along people and resources to help. And I need courage to say no to some things I’m pressured to do. Help me to be wise, right now, and less overwhelmed 20 minutes from now.”
He will hear.
Now, keep going.
2. Make a list. (5 minutes)
I could bore you with studies about how lists make you more effective and less overwhelmed. I could talk about how your brain is like your laptop RAM — it can only handle so much without slowing down. I could talk about how writing is a neuromuscular activity that helps your brain process information. I could explain that writing a list is like saving data & closing programs — it allows your brain to stop work on that project, so you feel less overwhelmed.
HEY! YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO ARGUE WITH ME! WRITE THE LIST. (If you already have a list, go to step 3-4, and spend twice as much time on them.)
PRO TIP: This list needs to be ACTIONS, not PROJECTS. The difference? Projects contain many actions. “Prepare for Christmas Program” is a project. “Print Scripts” is an action. Write this list based on actions, and you’ll feel more in control.
3. Identify 3 things on that list that don’t really need to be done. (2 minutes)
Trust me: Some of your overwhelmed feelings are from people-pleasing. (Especially if you’re a pastor!) Identify those tasks that are on your list because you said “yes” to too many things, trying to make people happy. Then, eliminate some of those things.
Force yourself to say “no” to something, to someone. (If you’re a people pleaser, the temptation here will be to say ‘no’ to yourself, to cut something YOU wanted to do. Do not do this in this case! Say no to someone else.)
There’s a reason why Peter Drucker once said, “The first thing that should be required to enter the ministry is a 6-week intensive course in saying ‘No.'”
4. Prioritize the list that’s left. (2 minutes)
Put a 1 beside the most important thing, a 2 beside the 2nd most important. You get the point.
The top 3 things should be things ONLY you can do. That’s why they are important for YOUR list. No one else knows how to do them, or they are part of your core responsibility & core skills.
5. Call in help from 3 people (9 minutes.)
Here’s how to know who to call:
- Has anyone told you “call me if I can help you?” Believe them.
- Is anyone solidly on your side? Recruit them.
- Is anyone a busy, competent person? Trust them.
- Who loves you? Let them love you.
- Who owes you a favor? Call it in.
Call the person, then:
- Humbly tell them you’re overwhelmed and ask if they could help.
- When they say “yes” (and they most likely will!), give them something from your list, further down than the top 3.
- Spend a few moments explaining the task, clarifying the “win” (what success looks like)
- Tell them when you need it done (deadline)
- Ask if they have questions. Tell them to call if they need further direction.
- Thank them profusely, and tell them when you’ll check in to follow up.
Now, don’t you feel better? If you’re tuned in to your feelings, and you followed those 5 steps, you’re now experiencing fewer overwhelmed feelings, and more relaxed control. Now, it’s all about action, of course.