When you get so busy that you can’t switch off, and all you can do is think about work, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
So how do you overcome overwhelm? How can you be more productive while feeling less stressed? How do you reclaim your time when there’s so much to do?
In this episode lawyer-coach, Dina Cataldo introduces the techniques you can use to get through and avoid overwhelm. She also gives some tips on how to be more productive and explains the importance of your internal thought processes.
Website: Dina Cataldo
Instagram: Dina Cataldo
Dina Cataldo helps driven lawyers get out of the grind, create clarity on their goals and boost productivity so they can reach their goals with more ease.
A UCLA grad, Dina double-majored in English literature and history. After graduating from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, she became a criminal prosecutor and has tried dozens of jury trials ranging from DUI to homicide – and negotiated thousands of cases.
After a breast cancer diagnosis at 29, Dina realized that breast cancer was the best thing that ever happened to her when chemo seemed like a vacation compared to her 70-hour work weeks.
She has taught workshops and spoken to audiences at UC Davis Medical Center, Folsom State Prison, California State Prison – Sacramento, the Saint Thomas More Society, the Association of Corporate Counsel in Sacramento and on her podcast, “Be a Better Lawyer.”
Dina offers one-on-one coaching to lawyers committed to finally changing their lives for the better.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- [1:50] How Dina felt about quitting her career as a lawyer.
- [02:45] How Dina went from being a lawyer to becoming a coach for other lawyers.
- [06:00] What “overwhelm” means and how to identify if it’s happening to you.
- [08:08] The problem with using distractions when feeling overwhelmed from work.
- [13:04] The importance of being intentional with the words you use around work.
- [16:17] The dangers of “overwhelm” and the negative effects it can have.
- [19:11] How to design your life to be more productive and satisfying.
- [23:10] The importance of questioning and framing your thoughts around work in the right way.
- [27:30] Practical steps you can take if you are feeling overwhelmed.
- [29:39] How to prioritise your time and reduce how often you get disturbed.
- [34:33] Long-term strategies you can use to reduce the risk of overwhelm.
- [41:47] “Time blocking” and how to use your calendar effectively.
- [47:27] Useful tools and resources to learn more about time blocking.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase. This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.
To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.
Episode 130: I’m too busy! Overcoming overwhelm at work - with Dina Cataldo
Jeremy Cline 0:00
You're busy. In fact, you're not just busy, you're too busy. In fact, you're not just too busy, but you are completely overwhelmed. You just don't know which way to turn. You don't know which job to start next. You can't stop thinking about work. You just can't switch off. What can you do to help yourself? That's what we're going to talk about in this week's episode. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.
Jeremy Cline 0:41
Hello, and welcome to the Change Work Life podcast, where we're all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. I bet if I asked my listeners whether you're busy, at least some of you would say that you're too busy. Everyone always seems to have a lot going on, especially if you have a demanding job trying to compete with the demanding home life. But what happens when you're so busy that you start to feel overwhelmed? You look at your workplace to-do list and think there just aren't enough hours in the day to get through it all. You almost feel paralysed not knowing where to start. Do you just plough on and hope things are going to get better? That's what we're going to talk about this week, and I'm delighted to welcome my guest, Dina Cataldo. Dina is a former lawyer for whom 70-hour work weeks were the norm. She now helps driven lawyers get out of the grind, create clarity on their goals, and boost productivity so they can reach their goals more easily. Dina, welcome to the show.
Dina Cataldo 1:38
Thank you for having me. I'm really happy to be here.
Jeremy Cline 1:41
I gather from a previous conversation that you actually quit being a lawyer altogether at the start of this year, 2022. How did that feel?
Dina Cataldo 1:50
You know, it felt very right. And I say that because I had been mentally preparing myself for years to get to that point. I know that a lot of people think that, when you leave the law, you just make a decision, and you just leave, and suddenly, everything is sunshine and roses, and life is just better. But if you're skipping from job to job, or for me, it was job to full-time entrepreneurship, you take all of your thoughts and all of your feelings with you about work. And so, I made sure that I really cleaned up my thoughts about the work that I was doing, how I was showing up every day, so that when I transitioned, it felt very natural, it felt very right.
Jeremy Cline 2:37
And going back into your history, what was it that led you from being a lawyer to starting to coach other lawyers?
Dina Cataldo 2:45
Yeah, so I would say that journey started for me about 10 years ago. And I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 years old. And at that point, when I was told, 'Hey, you've got to do chemo, you've got to stay home from work and do chemo', when I did that, it felt like a vacation. And so, I knew something wasn't right about the work that I was doing. And when I started to really look at what interests me, like if I just asked myself and allowed myself to think, like what if, what if there was something else that was calling for me to do that, what could it be, I started to notice that I was writing in my journal 'Start a business'. And so, I went on this whole journey of like, how could I create a business and be a lawyer? Like what skills would I need to learn? What would I need to be doing? How could I do it? And I opened myself up to possibility, and I started trying things. I didn't know what I was going to be interested in. I just started trying things. And along that path of entrepreneurship, I found coaching. And coaching seemed to connect all the dots for me and helped me understand why I felt overwhelmed, why I felt stressed, why I wasn't making the progress in my life that I thought I should be making. And when I discovered it, I was like, 'I found the keys to the universe.' And so, the more I got into it, the more I realised I wanted to help other people find this, specifically other lawyers, because we're not taught any of these skills in law school or as a kid, we're just expected to figure things out without any direction about how our brain works and how we can sabotage ourselves if we don't understand how our brain works.
Jeremy Cline 4:34
It's really interesting how you describe going off and having chemo as kind of like being on a holiday. I've heard people describe having that sort of diagnosis as a wakeup call, it's the kickstart they need that makes them reassess their life, but to describe it as a bit of a holiday, that must speak volumes about the sort of working life you were experiencing up until that point.
Dina Cataldo 5:01
Oh, yeah. And I mean, I hear this from other lawyers too. The lawyers that I was working with at the time, we'd kind of joke around, really morbidly, about, well, what if I was just hit by a bus? Not enough to kill me, but just enough to seriously injure me, so then, in that way, I had an excuse not to be working. And that's the sad thing about the mentality of so many lawyers in the profession, is that we think that it's not okay to reorganise our life, so that we prioritise ourselves. And so, we just keep doing the same thing over and over again, thinking that's the way it should be, not leaving ourselves open to other possibilities.
Jeremy Cline 5:42
That's an absolutely brilliant point. And frankly, if we just stopped the interview there, that would already give...
Dina Cataldo 5:48
That's it. We're done.
Jeremy Cline 5:49
I absolutely loved that. But I did introduce topics, so we really probably should talk about it. Is overwhelm just about having too much on?
Dina Cataldo 6:00
It's really about not allowing ourselves to feel the feelings. Right? Lawyers are really bad, notoriously bad at feeling our feelings, and not analysing and taking a step back and saying, 'Look, this doesn't mean anything about me that I'm having these feelings, all that's happening is that I'm having a lot of thoughts about the work.' And it's easy for me to say that now, looking back at it, but when you are in it, and you're feeling, like I'll give you some examples, because there's some indicators, if somebody is overwhelmed, they might be doing some things that are showing up as resistance. Right? Resistance to the feelings, resistance to feeling stress, resistance to feeling overwhelm. Right? We describe it as overwhelm, but we're really resisting any of the negative feelings we're having, when we're thinking we have too much to do, there's no way we can do it. I'm behind, I'm never going to get ahead. Right? Our thoughts are what generate our emotions, and emotions are just a vibration in our body. And these emotions can feel really bad when you aren't aware of what's really causing everything. Okay, like what's really causing the problem. Because you could be looking at your inbox, seeing files in it, and you could be thinking like, 'Okay, well, I can take care of the most important things right now, that's not a problem.' Or you could be thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm so far behind, I'm never going to get caught up. I hate my job, I hate my life. I don't know what to do.' There's a very different approach to circumstances in your life, and they can either create overwhelm, or they can help alleviate overwhelm. And that's a practice, it doesn't happen all at once.
Jeremy Cline 7:57
So, when you say overwhelm is resistance to negative feelings, do you mean that sort of looking at your circumstances and feeling negatively about them, or is it something else?
Dina Cataldo 8:08
So, let me give you an example I hear from some clients. Some clients, they'll come home from the office, and they're exhausted, right? The reason they're exhausted is because they've been fighting the whole day with themselves and really hating the work that they're doing. But then, they come home, and instead of finding ways to recharge, that require really connecting with ourselves and what we really need, instead of doing that, they'll turn on the TV, and they will just zone out. And they tell me it's because they're avoiding their thoughts, they're avoiding thinking about work. Right? They're thinking about, 'I don't know what to do, I have so much to do, I don't know where to start.' They've got like this running commentary in their mind about the work that's creating this feeling of overwhelm. And the television is there to help them numb out that feeling. The television is just like alcohol, online shopping, cocaine, like anything that can numb us out, so we're not connecting with ourselves and seeing what the real issue is. And the real issue is, they're not allowing themselves to feel what's happening and really understand like, 'Hey, this is something that I have, an ability to', I'm going to use the word self-soothe right now, but it's not really self-soothing, it's just like, look at, like just look at it, because they don't want to look at it. And what happens when we start looking at it, like when I start talking to my clients, I say, 'Let's really look at how you feel, really sit and feel that overwhelm, what does it feel like in your body? Is it tense in your stomach? Are you feeling tension in your shoulders? Are you feeling like you can't breathe? Are you feeling like your shoulders are slouched over?' When they start to really recognise that feeling, that's the first step to connecting with themselves, so that they can start finding ways to open up and see new possibilities. But because we are told that we should have it all figured out, that we should know what we're doing, we think there's something wrong with us, like there's something fundamentally wrong with us, because we don't have it together. Right? I put that in quotes, because we think there's a right way of doing things, and we want to numb out, because we think that we're doing something wrong.
Dina Cataldo 10:31
Presumably, you're not saying to people that they shouldn't come home from a busy day and turn on the TV. Because I know a lot of people who wouldn't be happy to do that, myself included actually.
Dina Cataldo 10:40
Yeah, I mean, see, here's the difference. There's a difference between turning on the TV and truly enjoying it, right, like being there and being like, 'I'm just going to watch this.' But what's happening is that they're not enjoying the TV. What they're doing is they're scrolling online while they're watching TV, or thinking about work while watching TV. And they're not being present. They're not connecting with themselves. I love TV. Like, this is the thing, I love movies, I grew up on classic movies, I love Doctor Who, I love all of these amazing Sci-Fi things, yeah, you know, you're right there, so right? But it's like, I love those things, and I allow myself to enjoy them. I'm not thinking about all the things I need to do anymore. I used to use the television to numb out, so I totally 100% get the people who are just like, 'I just want to numb out, I don't want to think about work.' But that's not what they're doing, they're thinking about work the whole time. At least that's what I see when lawyers come to me, and they say, 'Look, I'm totally overwhelmed, I don't know what to do.' Instead of allowing themselves to connect with themselves and start to really see what's going on and feel that, they're cutting that connection off and going to something that numbs them out, like wine, it could be television, it could be food, to help them feel better, instead of getting to the root cause of it, which is the thoughts that they're having. Because that's what causal coaching is, really getting, that's what I do, really getting to the root of the feelings instead of going outside of themselves to self-soothe with like food or wine or TV or something like that.
Jeremy Cline 12:27
I can't tell you how happy it makes me to hear you, over in the US, describe how you like Doctor Who, as someone who has been a fan of the programme for probably best part of 40 years. So, that has really tickled me. There's good busy. So, there's the busy when you're energised, and you're enjoying what you're doing. But that can probably tip into too busy. So, when you're doing this sort of looking at yourself, how do you identify when you're kind of reaching that tipping point between good busy and too busy?
Dina Cataldo 13:03
Yeah, first of all, I'm going to totally change, I'm hoping, your language around this. Because busy to me, when I hear the word busy, I automatically get this feeling of anxiousness. Right? Like, busy is just like, 'Ooh.' And I noticed that one of the ways that us, as lawyers, we want to talk about our work is that, 'Ooh, we're busy', meaning like that's a good thing, right? And so, instead of creating connection with people around us, we just say, 'I'm busy.' So, let me give you an example. So, I went into an elevator one day, and I said, 'Hey, how's it going?' And the lawyer responded to me, 'Oh, I'm busy.' Like, okay. Like, there's no room to talk. Right? It's just like, 'I'm busy.' Oh, okay. Why is she saying, does she really feel busy? Probably. Right? Is she trying to show me like her thoughts about what it means to be busy? Oh, that means I'm being a good lawyer. It means I'm doing my job, you know, all of those things. So, instead of saying busy, I like to say, 'Am I making the most impactful actions right now?' Am I taking impactful action versus being busy? Which busy can mean a lot of things. It can mean that busy is, I'm taking the most impactful actions, it could be. But usually, when I hear people say, 'I'm busy', they're avoiding the most impactful actions, and they're just doing things so that they feel like they're being productive.
Jeremy Cline 14:28
And usually, certainly, if in a team meeting, my boss asks, 'Is everyone busy?', that usually means, 'Do you have enough chargeable time?', or 'Are you recording your chargeable hours?'
Dina Cataldo 14:39
Right. I mean, it's just, when we start to look at the language that we use around our work, it's all impacting how we think about our work, and it's the most important thing we can start changing, just noticing the words that we use when we talk about work. Like, 'Oh, I'm behind. Oh, I've got too much to do. Oh, I have to do this.' Like, 'Oh, I'm so busy.' Those are so heavy, when I say it out loud, I feel the weight in those. Versus like, yeah, instead of the question being like, 'Are you all busy?', like that, 'Hey, you guys got enough work to do?', right, it's like, 'Hey, all of you okay? How are you doing?' And leaving that up to the lawyer to say, 'Yeah, I do need some work right now, because I'm not making my hours.' So, it's a very interesting way that the leadership in the legal profession has been trained, it's all been trained to be busy. Be busy, that's the only way you're going to make it as a lawyer. Rather than looking at do you need help here, or do you need any more hours.
Jeremy Cline 15:54
You've touched on it already, but can you speak a little bit to what overwhelm can lead to? Where can it take someone, if it's not, I don't want to use the word treated, because that's entirely the wrong word, where can it go, if someone doesn't recognise and take steps to do something about it?
Dina Cataldo 16:17
Well, from my personal experience, and I see this reflected in the other lawyers that I talk to, it can lead to feeling paralysed and totally powerless in your life. It can feel like everything is hard, and then, you don't want to do anything. It's really demoralising when you have this idea of how you think things should be done, and then you don't find yourself measuring up, so to speak. Right? It's really demoralising when you are thinking about all of the things that you need to get doing, and you find yourself wanting to do anything but those, you really do believe that there's something wrong with you, you must be defective. That's how I felt. And so, to know that that is the normal course of events, I guess it's one way of saying it, when we don't address those feelings of overwhelm, I think that alone can help so many people just knowing that it's not their fault that they feel that way, that they're not defective, that there's nothing wrong with them, and that they can enjoy the legal profession. Right? If that's really what they want to do, they can enjoy it, they can find love in it. It may not match up with ultimately what they want, when they start looking at their priorities, when they really start creating that space to think about what they want, allow themselves to want things, it may not match up. Or they may want to find another firm. But that's the glory of addressing overwhelm, it's starting to clear up your brain, so you can allow yourselves to want things again.
Jeremy Cline 18:03
The legal profession, like I'm sure many others, can be quite cyclical in nature, depending on your practice area. So, you might have a period where you are working pretty intensely, if you're working on a particular project or a corporate deal. And that could be the period where you're working really long hours, maybe even you feel like you're struggling with it, working till 10 o'clock at night, every night for a few weeks, or even longer, working weekends. But quite often, that will come to an end. And then, you might have a bit of a quieter period. So, if you are stuck in that busy period, where's the line between 'I'm overwhelmed here' and 'Okay, I'm in a really busy period here, but chances are things are going to quiet down a bit in a few weeks' time, once I've got through this'?
Dina Cataldo 19:01
Oh, yeah. I love this question. So, this comes down to being able to want things and then design your life around those things. So, for me, I was a criminal prosecutor, and so, my life was designed around, I needed to design it around how do I build a business and how do I run trials, right? Because I was doing trials at the time when I started this. And so, I realised that I needed space in my life to do that. And so, I made myself a morning person. I was never a morning person, I hated mornings, I felt busy and rushed, and I hated it. But I noticed that that was something that I was creating. And so, what I could also do is say, 'Okay, well how do I create something I really enjoy?' And I say all of this in the context of how I built my business, because I used that free time I gave myself in the morning when I was in trial. So, I could wake up, and your listeners are going to think I'm crazy, but this is what I do, and I love it, it might change in the future, and I'm okay with that, but right now, for the last several years, I've been waking up at four in the morning. And the reason I do that is because I know my best time is the morning, for my brain. And it allows me to slowly go into my day and have my cup of coffee, all of that good stuff, whatever I want. And then, when I get home, if I'm tired, it's not a problem. I've done everything, I can look at my day and say, 'Yes, I am 100% satisfied, everything I wanted to get done was done.' And if it didn't, all the most important things got done. Right? And that's all I needed. And then, I can watch TV in peace, okay. So, I say that because, as a trial attorney, I could wake up at four, get ready, go to the office, prep for a trial, work through my trial, I'd have meals prepped already, so the lunch wasn't a problem, I'd have something to eat, I'd set it so I could leave at four, go to my yoga class, this was pre-COVID, and then after yoga, I could come home, rest, and then go to sleep and start the trial the same way. So, I'd go to bed at eight o'clock, so then I'd have enough rest, so that when I woke up the next morning, I was ready to go for trial. But you're not always in trial. So then, what it's up to us to do is use that time in a way that reflects what our priorities are. Maybe your priorities are having a reading habit. I have a big law client, and she does mergers and acquisitions, and that's exactly the cycle she goes through, she's like working, working, working, she's got big deals, and then, she's also incorporating things that fill her up. What we're not doing, most of us, is not filling ourselves up, so then, we have the ability to have those periods of time when we do have more work, we have more volume that has to be done in a shorter amount of time. But when you're filling yourself up, when you're prioritising yourself and your needs, like creating that space to have coffee in the morning, if you can have it quiet, awesome. Having that space to eat something healthy or to go for a walk. When you fill yourself up, it's a lot easier when you have those periods when you have high volume to say, 'Oh, I have the energy to do this. This is okay.' And a lot of lawyers decide they want to stay in the legal profession and be okay with that cycle.
Jeremy Cline 20:26
It's really interesting what stresses out lawyers. You can get stressed out by being too busy, but then, you can also get stressed out by not being busy enough. And I think what I'm hearing from you is that we should see those periods of not being all that busy as opportunities, rather than something to be concerned about. There might be this lingering feeling of, oh, maybe that last thing was the last busy period I'm going to have for ages, and that hours are going to suffer and that sort of thing, but perhaps that's not the right way of looking at it.
Dina Cataldo 23:05
Well, this is the way I look at it. It's always going to have to do with our thoughts about how we're feeling. So, if you're thinking, 'I should be busy right now', you're going to feel anxious. Of course, that makes a lot of sense. But if you're thinking, 'Oh, this is natural, this is the ebb and flow of my chosen profession', then it's not a problem. Right? A lot of times, we make it a problem because of what we think other people think about us. So, let's say like, oh, well, I only made 30 hours of billable this week that my boss must think that I'm a slacker, or that I'm not a good attorney. Meanwhile, the next week, they're going to be clocking like 40 hours of billables, and what are they going to make it mean then? Right? It's always like, 'Oh, well, now I'm a good attorney.' So, the difference between being a good attorney and a slacker is 10 hours? I don't think so. That's how you know that it's all in your thoughts. It's all about how you think, how you believe what 30 hours means to you, 15 hours means to you. And if you're an entrepreneur and you own your own practice, you know there's going to be an ebb and flow. You see it month to month, sometimes you make all of your money in a few months, and then you have an ebb, and that's the natural flow of business. But if we make it mean something about ourselves, and we really believe that, we make it mean, oh, well, we're in a slow period, and that means we're not doing what we should be doing, then we're not going to be taking action to fill ourselves up or to promote our practice. If you own your own practice, you may not be taking action to promote your practice in a way that's going to help you and those months where you have that ebb.
Jeremy Cline 25:02
So, I think that sometimes what happens when people get quiet, it's the fear that that's it, there's not going to be any more work.
Dina Cataldo 25:14
If you are in a period where you're telling yourself that you're too slow, that you don't have enough business, then ask yourself is it true that you don't have enough to do. What does enough mean? Start really questioning your thoughts and getting specific, because when we're in vague, we are not solving problems, our brain is not in problem solving mode. So, start asking yourself is it true. Is it true that I don't have enough to do? What does enough mean? Get specific. How many clients are you saying you want? How many hours are you saying you need to be billing, and why? Okay, get super specific, because it may not even be true. But let's say it is true. Let's say it's 100% true that you have like 10 hours of billables, and your brain is telling you, 'No, I needed to make 30 this week.' Well, then, it's up to us to get to work saying, 'Okay, that's interesting', not judging ourselves, but saying, 'Oh, that's interesting. Why? What is different about this week? Is it because I don't have the assignments? Is it because I'm not being proactive in building business? What is it that I could be doing to build up my hours? Do I need to be asking for the work that I want? What's happening there?' But if we're not getting curious, we're not going to get into problem solution mode, we're just going to get into victim mode.
Jeremy Cline 26:39
Let's go back to the other end of the scale. So, the person who is definitely not suffering from a lack of work, but they feel like they've got too much work, they're doing the long hours, and it's just all getting on top of them. And they've listened to you, and they've started to realise, 'I'm not feeling good about this. If I even have time to turn on the TV when I get home, I'm not enjoying it, and I can't concentrate, and I am fidgeting and looking at my phone and scrolling through things.' What are some of the things that that person can start to do practically to begin with, now they've started to recognise that there's something going on here, which they're not happy with?
Dina Cataldo 27:28
Yeah, 100%, because it's one thing seeing it, it's another thing starting to do something about it. So, one of the things I do with my clients, and I suggest to people, is say, at the beginning of your morning, say it's Sunday morning, Monday morning, whatever it is, write down the top three things you need to get done that day. Is it write a brief? Is it make a phone call? What is it that you must get done that day? And then have a fourth item, a bonus item. So, if you get through those three things, then four, five, those are bonus, like yes, those are things I want to do. Because that's at least going to focus your brain in a way that is helpful. Because a lot of times, we sit at our desk, and we look at the desk, and we're like, 'This is a mess. Oh, you know, I should clean my desk first before I do anything.' And of course, that's an uphill battle, right? There's too many papers, where am I going to organise it? It takes a long time. But rather than putting your brain in an area that's not necessary right this moment, you could put one, two, three, the most important things that are going to get you your billables, that are going to get you the most impactful results you want to see in your practice, do those first. And then, as a bonus, you can say, 'Okay, and then, I'll spend 30 minutes on my desk, clearing it out.' So, that's one suggestion just to say, okay, get really specific about what must get done today, leave the rest. Okay, and you can do that every day, to just alleviate some of the weight that your brain is creating for you and creating that unfocused feeling.
Jeremy Cline 29:09
I have definitely had days where it's got to about four o'clock in the afternoon, and I haven't even got to item one on my to-do list. Because there's been other things come in, a colleague has come up and asked you to help with something, there's been an email or a phone call from a client. Sometimes you might be able to protect that, sometimes you might feel like you can't. So, can you talk to that, what you do when you've got your three must do's, and it's four o'clock, and you haven't even started on number one?
Dina Cataldo 29:39
Yeah, let's go back to the setup of how you're working. Right? And when I say you, obviously, I'm talking about the listener, right? If you are at your desk, you have more control than you think. Yes, people will want to come into your office, they will want to take your time, they will want to talk with you on the phone, they will want your immediate attention. Okay? Now, this is how I look at it. Those are just like not a problem if they need to get done today. So, let's say you're in your morning, you've got your three must do's, you've got to do those things, because that's what's going to make your day what you need it to be. Those are the things that are on deadline. Whatever it is. Take a look at your office and your surroundings. Do you have notifications on at all times? That's step one. That will alleviate so many people right now, because I guarantee you right now there's at least a handful of people listening who have notifications all over the place. Put that on your clean-up list. The clean-up list for me is make sure you don't have notifications on, that includes phone, email, all of that. If it's important, someone will find a way to contact you. Okay? So, there's that. Two, on your voicemail, if at all possible, leave a voicemail in which you leave your expectations, you give them expectations, the people who are calling, you say, 'Hi, your call is really important to me, I review my messages every day at noon, please leave a message. If this is urgent, please dial zero", if you have an assistant, 'and they will help you.' Right? So, that way, you are not picking up the phone constantly, interrupting yourself, and then making everybody else's desires your priority. Because you've got to prioritise you, you've got to fill up yourself, getting your things done, before you can help anyone else. That's another thing that is like a quick tip that I would offer people. Another thing that I do, and I know a lot of lawyers are hesitant to do this, is close their door. Close the door, and put a sign on there. You could say 'In a Zoom meeting'. I mean, you can make it so that people are less likely to knock on your door. It doesn't mean they won't, people can do whatever they want, right? But it does mean that you can prioritise your time in a way that helps you. And if somebody asks you for help on something, you can always ask them like, 'When is this due? Is this something that is due at the end of the day? No, it's not. I can't help you right now. But maybe later, after I've completed X project.'
Jeremy Cline 32:27
Going back to the start of what you were saying there, one of the best things I ever did was turn off notifications on my email. So, when you get the little sort of symbol coming up, and the little box, which kind of like, I have the sender in the first line of the email kind of coming up, and then fading away again, I switched that off, and I'm so glad I did that. And I think part of it is having the courage to recognise that it's going to be okay. A part of the thing, particularly with lawyers, as a service profession, is you kind of feel like you have to be there, you have to be on hand. And if you see someone phoning, you think, 'No, I've got to take this, because it might be important', or whatever. But it requires a certain amount of courage to take a step back and think, 'You know what? They can go through to voicemail, and I'll pick it up, and it's going to be okay.'
Dina Cataldo 33:23
Yeah, and I've even had, the same thing with the voicemail, I would leave my email address on my voicemail, because that was my preferred form of contact, I didn't prefer the telephone, and so, people would email me, and I loved that, because I could direct them to the kind of communication I liked doing. So, that way, you have more control over how people are contacting you, and you can control whether or not you're checking your email all the time, you can start saying it's okay, I love that. And I use that too. It's like, it's okay, it's going to get done, everything's going to be fine.
Jeremy Cline 34:02
So, we've got a few tips and tricks, and we've got your three things I must get done this morning list, which is quite useful if you find yourself feeling like you're beginning to get overwhelmed. You can sort of use that as an exercise to start to take control. What longer-term strategies might you have that people can use, so that they don't ever get to this feeling where they're just feeling completely overwhelmed with what they've got to do?
Dina Cataldo 34:31
Yeah, and I do want to say, it is okay to feel overwhelmed, you've just got to notice it. Like just notice it. Right? We wouldn't have all of these emotions that we experience unless we were meant to feel them. It's just a signal that we can take a look at something. And I think oftentimes, we look at feelings as negative and positive, and the negative ones we're not supposed to feel, but why would we have the negative ones there if we weren't meant to feel them? Life is 50-50, we're going to have positive emotions and negative emotions, if you want to label them that, but really, I look at them all as emotions that we're supposed to feel because we're human. They're just giving us different messages that we can pay attention to, to make change in our life. So, what I teach my clients, I outline for them is this, okay? You start by just clearing your day, because a lot of times, we're not in a mental space to make a long-term change, because we just feel like there's so much work, okay? And really, what's happening a lot of times is that we think we need to get it all done right now. There's this urgency so many of us feel that it all needs to happen faster, we need to be getting things done faster, we need to have it all done now. But when we do that, we are creating the overwhelm for ourselves, because it's going to get done. But what we do is we overestimate what we think we should be accomplishing in a short period of time, and we underestimate what we can accomplish in a longer period of time. And what I like to do is say, look, plan your week out. If Monday morning, you just want to jump in and start going, do it Sunday night. You spend an hour on this, okay? This is going to be the best hour of your life. This hour is your investment in your long-term success, in your long-term fulfilment, if you do it step by step. And I have something for them if they want, that will walk them through exactly what I'm talking about. So, we can talk about that later. So, first of all, in this hour, you're going to spend just 20 minutes letting your brain go to all the places where it says you have to do things. What are all the things your brain says need to get done this week? Like right now. Everything. Just write it all down. And the reason I say 20 minutes is because you're going to stop, and you're going to think, 'Oh, that's it.' But no, there's more, your brain always has more. So, just like really allowing your brain to just spill it all out on that piece of paper. Home Depot trips or wherever, you know, they're going for, you know, home improvement or trips they need to take their kids on, or they get a soccer game, whatever it is, write everything down. And include the things you want to do for yourself. This is incredibly important, and everybody forgets to do this. What do you want to do for yourself this week? It may not even sound possible for you, but just write it down. Do you want to spend 30 minutes going on a walk, doing yoga, meditating, reading a book? What do you want to do? Cook meals, do some meal planning? Put that in there. Because those are actually the most important things that are going to happen on your to-do list And every time I help a lawyer with this, they 100% say, once they started including themselves on their to-do list and putting themselves on the calendar first, like I'm going to explain to do, every single one of them said they felt less resentful, less overwhelmed, less anxious, because they filled them up first. They filled themselves up first. Okay? So, that's step one. Did you have any questions about that one?
Jeremy Cline 36:42
Just a comment that I absolutely love the idea of putting yourself on your to-do list, and not necessarily thinking of it in terms of something that might sound particularly productive or self-improvement. It can be, as you say, reading a book, but it doesn't have to be like a self-development. It could be a work of fiction. It's a trap I find myself falling into. So, when I commute to the office, and I'm on the train, I get into the rut of thinking I've got half an hour now, I should read whatever self-development book I think is going to help me. And you know, there's a place for that. It is a good opportunity to do that. But it's allowing myself the grace, I suppose, that if I'm not in it, I've had a tough day at work, I don't have to then spend my time on that journey engaging with that. I can just read a work of fiction, you know, something that I'm doing purely for enjoyment purposes.
Dina Cataldo 39:28
100%. And I think that's a really important point for your listeners to hear. So many of us think that there's something wrong, that we're not doing something on our to-do list. Even if it's for ourselves. And instead of just saying, 'Today, I really don't have the energy to do XYZ. Or I decided, I don't want to shoot myself to death, saying like I should be doing something, I really want to enjoy it.' So, if I'm not enjoying it, that's okay for me to say no, and just be kind to yourself instead of saying like, 'It's on my list, and I didn't do it, and therefore I'm a bad person, I'm never going to accomplish what I want to accomplish.' Just say it's okay. It's all right. All right, I like that. So, the second thing on that list, after you've created it, is start crossing things out that don't need to get done this week. What does not have to get done? Maybe you do not have to clean the garage. Maybe you do not have to go shopping. Whatever it is, cross it out, give yourself permission not to do everything. Maybe it doesn't have to be done this week, but maybe it needs to be done in two months. It's like, okay, then put a little reminder for yourself on your calendar that in a month, you want to relook at that. So, just know it doesn't all have to get done this week. After you've crossed everything out, what remains, start making estimations about how long you think things are going to take you. Important note here, estimation is okay. You don't have to have anything perfect. You are making this like an experiment. You're like a scientist, experimenting with your calendar, nothing has gone wrong if not everything gets done or something takes longer than you think, you're just learning how long something might take you, like a research project, or a document, whatever it is, just know this is a learning process, and you were going to go through another process, another step here is going to give you some space, so that, if you do have something that takes longer than you think, you're not freaking out, because you've given yourself a little bit more time for that. Okay, you with me so far?
Jeremy Cline 41:44
Dina Cataldo 41:45
Okay. So, whatever your calendar is, I know there's some lawyers who like three, four calendars, and I'm going to say, narrow it down to one, pick your favourite, and go. My favourite is Google Calendar, but whatever works for you, whatever makes your life easier. I have clients who have one particular calendar that works for them that is linked with their assistant's calendar, so that anytime the lawyer puts their information, what their plans are for the day, they don't have an assistant who's suddenly blocking a counsel for a time they had to write a document. So, there's communication between the assistant and the lawyer about when time blocking and how time blocking happens. Because that's what I teach my clients, time block. So, when you start putting things on the calendar, you put them on your calendar in this order: you, your family slash friends, number three is everything else. So, for me, what that looks like is, I want my quiet mornings with my coffee or my tea, like that's going to happen first no matter what. I have a walk with my dog. Maybe I leave some space in there to journal. Well, maybe I always do that. So, yeah, I'll have space in there to journal. And then, I get ready. Right? Sometimes I'll change up the order, but what's important is I've created space for myself to have the morning I want. It may not be as long as what I like to give myself. Something comes up, you have other priorities that come up, you may not be able to give yourself that luxurious space, that's okay, you give yourself something. And then, you put on, throughout the week, what you want to do. I have a client who loves swimming, so she puts that on her calendar. She wants to make that her priority, because that fills her up. And she walks her dogs, that fills her up. But we've got to have those moments throughout our week where we're filling ourselves up, and we are energising, so that we can give that energy to other people. Because everything's energy, and if we're not filling our tank up, we're not going to be able to give to others. Same thing with our family. How often, I'm guilty of this, I'll speak for myself, it's like if I don't fill myself up, I find myself being a little more snappy, a little more snappy at the people around me. I'm not as fun a person to be around. But if I'm filling myself up, it's a lot easier for me to be happier and nicer around people. Like that's just the way it is. And that's because I've given myself what I needed, so that I could be present with the people that I love. And then, all the work stuff, I'm so much more efficient, I'm so better able to focus, because I have given myself true rest. I haven't been pushing emotions aside, numbing myself out. I've been letting myself just be, and not try to fill my brain with random news, websites, although I do that too sometimes. There's no perfect way to do this. We're all human, I do this too. But these are the things that are the most impactful for me, and I see it with my clients too. Do you have any questions about that part?
Jeremy Cline 45:04
No, not on that bit.
Dina Cataldo 45:06
Okay. And then, as you're putting stuff on the calendar, just watch that you're not like putting things back to back to back. That's how we tend to make our calendars, like no space in between things, right? Just like, 'Oh, okay, 8 to 9, I'll be writing a document, and 9 to 10, I'll be researching such and such thing, and then 10 to 11, I'll be in a meeting.' And you're like, well, when do you go to the bathroom? I will have clients who say, 'I just, I couldn't go to the bathroom, because I needed to get my billables done.' And I'm like, 'What!? Wait a minute! Time out! No! This is not okay!' Create the space for yourself to do that, make it okay to take care of yourself. Right? We're humans, we're not robots. And I think the legal profession really teaches us that we're robots, and that's not true. And then, just practice this, the most important part is an evaluation at the end of the week, saying, 'Okay, well, what worked?' What really worked for me, what did I really like? Just set aside 30 minutes to be like, 'Oh, yeah, that walk in the morning, that really invigorated me, I loved it, I need to make sure I do that again. Or you know what? I know, for me personally, I don't like working out in the morning. It feels too, it shakes me up too much. I don't feel like doing that. So, I do my workouts in the afternoon.' That's just something I play with. So, same thing with the work items, work with what feels good to you, or you're not going to do this. And then, challenge yourself. I offer a challenge, do this for 90 days. Seriously sit down and do this 90 days. You can't really see progress with anything, like a habit being built, until you've done it for about 90 days. So, like really say, 'Okay, let me sit with this. Let me do this every single week.' And then, the more you tweak it, the more you play with this, be the scientist, the easier it's going to become for you.
Jeremy Cline 47:04
Brilliant. So many good tips there. We could carry on, but I think we better leave it there.
Dina Cataldo 47:09
I know, right? We really went on, didn't we?
Jeremy Cline 47:12
So, someone who wants to explore this a little bit further, do you have any tools, books, websites, podcasts that, I know have your own podcast, anything that you recommend that people take a look at if they want to dive into this?
Dina Cataldo 47:27
Yes. So, if they want to dive into what we just talked about with time blocking, I have the Busy Lawyer's Guide to Getting Five Hours Back Each Week. And they can get that at dinacataldo.com/busy lawyer. And then, I have my own podcast, To Be a Better Lawyer podcast, and I talk about different topics every week. They're not necessarily time related, but they definitely get into the mindset of being a lawyer, and how to really be a better one, which is why I really enjoy doing it, because I get to talk about everything from worry to overwhelm to, I just did a podcast on the co-dependent lawyer, which was really super fun. So, those are two big ways to really get more. And also, I'm on Instagram, @dina.cataldo. And I basically share something every day, that's going to help with mindset.
Jeremy Cline 48:23
Brilliant. Well, I will put links to all of those in the show notes. Dina, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Dina Cataldo 48:30
This has been really fun. Thank you so much for inviting me, I really appreciate it.
Jeremy Cline 48:35
Okay, hope you enjoyed that interview with Dina Cataldo. Before we started this interview, I was expecting Dina to concentrate on the techniques which you could employ to help yourself get through and avoid overwhelm. And Dina did do just that, all those tips about managing your calendar and managing your to-do list. What I hadn't expected is that we were going to spend quite a lot of time talking about the thought process, talking about making sure that you're doing stuff which fills you up, which gives you energy. I hadn't really thought about that as a way of managing overwhelm. But I can see the sense in what Dina is saying. So much of the way we feel at and about work comes down to our internal thought processes, how are we feeling, how are we feeling about work, what are we allowing to take over our lives. So, I hope you got some useful insight from this interview about how you can manage overwhelm. There was a lot in this interview, and so, if you want to take your time to pick up little bits, then do take a look at the transcripts. There's a full transcript of the interview, and you'll find that on the show notes page for this week's episode, which is at changeworklife.com/130, that's changeworklife.com/130. And there's also there a summary of everything we talked about. And this is another one of those episodes which I think a lot of people would benefit from hearing. I'll bet you know that person who doesn't just work the really long hours, but just feels resigned to it. They're not happy about it, but they're just programmed to believe that that's what they need to do, and oh, well, that's just the way it is. If you know someone like that, then I'm sure they're going to benefit from listening to the interview with Dina. So, do please share this episode with them. In the meantime, there's another great interview coming up in two weeks' time, so subscribe to the show if you haven't already, and I can't wait to see you in two weeks. Cheers. Bye.
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