15 Ways to Overcome Overwhelm

A game plan deskpad filled in with a blue pen, next to a gold candle on a white desktop

When life gets busy, it feels like everything is happening all at once.

There are multiple work deadlines to complete. Appointments to rush to. Personal obligations to fulfill. And a never ending stream of emails and texts. 

During these busy times, you can’t help but feel completely overwhelmed and stressed. 

Thankfully, there are ways to overcome overwhelm. It’s a matter of taking a step back and relying on tools and systems to help you get things done.

Below we’ve gathered our favorite productivity and time management tips to help you overcome overwhelm. Follow these techniques to help you manage your busy days with ease.   

1. Declutter the mind

It’s hard to concentrate when you have a million things going on. So before getting started on a big task, take a moment to clear out your mind. Maybe it’s meditating for a few minutes. Or doing morning stretches. Or writing in your journal to release your worries and concerns. Not only will you feel so much better afterwards, but you’ll gain the clarity you need to focus.

2. Reward yourself with an easy task 

Dragging your heels on a task? Then follow the Premack Principle of combining a challenging task with an easier one. In doing so, you’ll make a hard task seem that much more palatable. And by alternating challenging work with a task that’s less intense, you’ll conserve mental and emotional energy. 

Challenging task: Disputing a bill with your insurance company
Easy task: Submitting an invoice
Challenging task: Drafting a cover letter
Easy task: Updating your calendar

3. Reward yourself with an actual treat

Maybe it’s candy, a cup of coffee, or your favorite social media account to scroll through. Human beings are very rewards-oriented, so entice yourself with a special treat to get through a task.

4. Use time buckets

Take a cue from Bill Gates and manage your work using time buckets. How to do it: Create different buckets for your work, such as admin, creative writing, marketing, etc. Then look to see how much time you’re spending on each bucket. Take note of the buckets draining your time and energy. And which ones need more attention.

5. Mise en place

Mise en place is a culinary term that means “everything in its place.” Professional chefs don’t cut up vegetables or measure ingredients as they go. They prepare in advance to avoid scrambling around in the kitchen. So get organized like a chef and make sure you have everything in its place. Before you sit down to work, set up your tools like your notebook, notepad, and pens. And gather the essential documents you need to get your work done.

6. Don’t be afraid to use “do not disturb”

If your device has a do not disturb option, use it. Sometimes, just knowing that a text message or phone call might come through is enough to distract you from your work. Set “do not disturb” hours and put your phone in another room. Then look at your messages when you’re ready.

7. Identify 3 things you’d love to get done

You have a lot of tasks on your to-do list. But instead of pressuring yourself to get through them all, which will only create more stress and overwhelm, ask yourself: What 3 things would I love to get done today? 

Maybe it’s writing an article, picking up a prescription, and finally getting around to organizing your closet. These are your top 3 priorities and they will give you a huge sense of accomplishment when you complete them.

8. Identity 3 nice to-dos

If you finish your top 3 priorities, then you can get around to the remaining tasks on your list. Again, start small by addressing the 3 tasks that would be nice to get off your plate.

9. Run on autopilot

It takes time and mental energy to remember everything you have to do. So take advantage of automating regular tasks so that they don’t occupy valuable mental space. Automating tasks like bill payments, email responses, and social media posts can help you coast through busy days.

10. Plan the night before

Tired of hectic mornings? Give yourself a calm and confident start to the day by planning the night before. Check your calendar, make a to-do list, and identify the top tasks that you want to tackle in the morning.

11. Identify your busy seasons

Sometimes, busy days catch us off guard. But, more often than not, the busy periods in our lives are quite predictable. Maybe it’s the winter holiday season or back to school or your company’s annual special event. Prepare for these overwhelming periods by looking at your calendar and identifying your peak busy seasons. Then you can plan in advance and avoid overextending yourself. For example, no more hosting guests around the same time as your big work event.

12. Check-in with yourself in the middle of the day

When life gets busy it’s easy for the day to get away from us. So check-in with yourself in the middle of the day to put yourself back on the front foot. Are you on track with your priorities? Do you know what task you need to work on next? This mini check-in lets you know how you're doing and what you need to do to adjust.

13. Take regular breaks

It sounds counterintuitive but taking a moment to rest will actually help you do better work in the long run. So go out and take a walk around the block. Make yourself a cup of tea. Or close your eyes and do absolutely nothing. Your mind and body will thank you.

14. Reduce decision-making fatigue

Whether it’s figuring out what to eat for dinner or watch on Netflix, the simplest decisions always seem to be the most taxing. Simplify the decisions in your life by having a default option. Meal plan in advance. Have a list on-hand for what to watch on Netflix. Figure out what to wear to work the night before. Save your mental energy for the important decisions in your life.

15. Connect with your overall goal for the week

During busy times, it’s hard to get a sense of the bigger picture. So focus on smaller goals and timeframes. Ask yourself: what is my main goal for the week? Maybe it’s to make headway on a work project or expand your professional network. Decline projects and invites that don’t meet your big goal. Prioritize tasks that serve your overall goal.

Written by JiJi Lee.

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