If you’re like many of us, the holiday season adds even more pressure to your challenge to cover all that needs to be done in your professional life.

At times like these, it’s more critical than ever to step back, take a breath, and look at how all the component pieces fit into the larger picture. This will allow you to reduce the feelings of overwhelm as the bigger picture takes shape.

The two main ways to examine the component pieces of the puzzle are outlines and visual maps. Once you’ve organized the context and detail in front of you, you can get a sense of them as if they were physical objects, which are easier for your mind to grasp and act upon.

Even more importantly, since our short term memory can hold only about seven things at once, chunking things down into components and sub-components allows us to digest what is going on at each level of detail. From that depth of understanding, solutions usually arise and present themselves naturally, as we focus on each piece and the relationships between the pieces.

A client I’ll call Bob came to me after trying to meet the demands of his growing business by hiring several new field representatives. However, since his new hires didn’t have enough expertise or motivation to succeed, his business reputation was at risk.

Bob was at a loss trying to decide what to do. He didn’t know whether to cut back and hire new employees one at a time to allow for more training, hire yet another representative to train as supervisor, or find an entirely different strategy.

Bob and I made a list to describe the specific areas where the problems appeared in his organization:

  • New training for field reps
  • Supervision of field reps
  • Motivating and inspiring staff
  • Procedure in the field
  • Coordinating daily operations

After identifying these key aspects of his challenge, we were able to zero in on a solution that included hiring an office manager, setting up a more formal training program, and writing an operations manual. Bob also realized that, as a natural introvert, he needed to take a leadership development course in order to become a more inspiring leader.

When I last spoke with Bob, his new operations manual was nearly complete and his employees were responding well to his more confident leadership.

Another client I’ll call Jane struggled to manage three different businesses at the same time. She could not decide whether to cut back on one or two of them, hire more people, or simply prioritize her time more effectively.

Jane used a visual map with ovals representing each of her three businesses on a page. She drew the interconnections with lines and arrows and wrote the key objectives of each business underneath.

Once Jane saw her businesses and their relationships laid out in front of her, she said “Oh! Now I see how they really are pieces of one thing! I don’t want to drop anything, but this first business can wait for several months. The other two have to grow at the same time now because they depend on each other.”

Prioritizing the competing demands of her three businesses became much simpler with this new understanding, and she experienced greater ease and efficiency as her businesses grew.

What component pieces are part of the most challenging situation facing you right now? Delving more deeply into the nature of your challenge and chunking it down before taking action gives the time and space for your natural wisdom to provide the best solution and reduce overwhelm.

What challenges have you faced and what solutions have emerged? I’d love to hear from you.