Apr 4, 2022

The Magic Trick to Stop the Overwhelm Cycle

Feeling a little crispy right now? A little overwhelmed and fraying around the edges?

A significant symptom of overwhelm is lack of focus and distraction.

Getting from one task to the next without succumbing to shiny distractions or bailing because the task isn’t fun (I’m looking at you #taxes) seems to require more than the typical effort. 

Have you ever wandered into the kitchen with a pen and a candle and forgotten why you were there? Or opened a zoom meeting unsure why you’ve joined the call? Unlocked your phone and started looking at a text message and forgot you were turning on music so you could finish writing a helpful piece for your email friends?

No? Just me?

This distraction happens when we’re not recovering from a global pandemic with the resulting epidemic levels of burnout. It can happen on any random Tuesday. 

The cycle we face is discretion leads to lack of focus which leads to reduced productivity and onto overwhelm which causes more distraction. And when this cycle becomes chronic, we face burnout. It’s that a sweet cycle {sarcasm}?? ARGH!

The solutions to burnout are complex and take time. More than a quick two-minute blog. What I can offer is a tiny, magical nugget of right-now, in-the-moment practice that will keep you on the productivity track.

A wise leadership mentor, Amy, taught me this simple tool that decades later I still use for myself, my kids, and my clients:


I know everyone says you have to focus on what’s in front of you, but the more important question is how? How do I focus?

Amy’s little trick was this:






That’s actually what focus is: completing the task before switching course. Opportunities to change course mid-stream present themselves every moment, outside and from within.

How to use the FOCUS magic:

I would (well, still do) repeat this quietly to myself when I am walking through the house or the office.

  • Walking through the door with my bag? Follow one course until successfully at the closet where it belongs rather than stopping at the kitchen table.
  • Delivering a folder at the office? Follow one course until successfully at the person’s desk, not the break room because — cookies!
  • Popping online to check a URL? Say it out loud with me, friends: Follow One Course Until Successful.

Especially when switching from one activity to any kind of screen, I say out loud what I’m doing. 

  • I’m looking at my calendar for the meeting time.
  • I’m checking my email for this document.
  • I’m opening Instagram to message Gail about Clubhouse.

Using your voice works in all these circumstances. When we say the goal with our out loud words, we give extra signals and support to focus our brains toward accomplishing that goal.

Why the magic works:

When we focus on successful completion, we’re working with our brain’s natural reward system. Every little completion is a tiny dopamine release. The brain stores that as evidence of accomplishment. When we see our accomplishments, we have less overwhelm, and we feel more successful. So we stay focused. And our productivity increases, further reducing overwhelm.

Whenever the distraction is keeping you in the overwhelm cycle, I know this immediate trick will get you back on track.

And over time, we will develop a stronger habit of focus. And hopefully, you will feel a little less frayed around the edges.

I’d love to hear your stories of using FOCUS. Share this on social and let me know what you did!



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