By Emily Morrow

5 Tips for Handling an Overwhelming Time


How to cope — and flourish — when the unexpected happens.

So you’re feeling overwhelmed.

When your routine has been turned upside down and things are out of your control, it is never a good feeling. If you’re anything like me, that feeling of a lack of control can quickly turn into thoughts like, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this,” or even, “I don’t *want* to do this.” 

When the unexpected happens and it feels like all your plans have gone up in flames, there are things you can do to help bring some balance and stability to your new normal.

Here are our five tried-and-true tips for handling an overwhelming time — no matter what that means or looks like for you. And remember, we believe in you, and we *know* you can get through this!

1. Set realistic expectations

When life’s thrown you a curveball, there’s just no way that you’ll be able to be as productive, as present, or as efficient as you were before — and that’s okay. 

Let me repeat that: It’s okay.

Take stock of your new situation and be realistic about what’s going to have to change. 

Maybe you won’t be able to join that early morning phone call anymore if your kids need your full-time attention. Maybe your meal planning is totally different than it was last week. Maybe your workout routine will need to change or be cut back. Maybe instead of working uninterrupted from 9-5, you’ll have to break that into smaller chunks. 

Whatever it is that’s changed for you, sit down and give yourself some real talk. Write down a list of every single thing that needs to change and *how*. And then give yourself some grace. Recognize that unusual times and circumstances require unusual actions, and commit to doing the best that you can under the circumstances. 

The next step? Make sure you clearly communicate your new expectations and goals.

If things are going to have to change at home, have a family conversation. Set up a 1:1 with your boss if your work is what’s going to be impacted. 

Be up front and open about what’s going on and what the new normal is going to look like for you. And if there’s anyone who’s not supportive or understanding of your situation, ask them to work with you to set realistic expectations and goals. Be solution-focused, and help drive the conversation towards something that can work for you.

2. Identify your priorities

Once you’ve set your expectations, it’s time to prioritize.

Your to-do list is probably a million miles long, but what *actually* needs to happen today? Again, be realistic here and temper your usual expectations for yourself.

We like to use the Eisenhower Matrix (it’s the foundation of our Ink+Volt Priority Pad!) to help sort out what’s urgent, what’s important, what’s urgent *and* important, and what’s neither.  Here’s how to use it:

  • Start by identifying anything that’s both urgent and important — things like appointments, deadlines, and events that *have* to get done today should go at the top of your list. 
  • Follow that up with anything that is important but not urgent. These are actions that are going to get you closer to your long-term goals (remember, adjust your expectations given the circumstances!) When you’re overwhelmed, you might find that things like self-care become part of the important category. Prioritize these things to do next on your to-do list.
  • Next up are the tasks that are urgent but not important — those are things like favors that other people have asked of you, regularly scheduled emails that are supposed to go out, etc. These are things that you should consider whether you can delegate to someone else with more free time, or automate the process. 
  • Lastly, identify the things on your list that are neither urgent nor important. These should be totally ignored for the time being until you have more free time.

3. Make a schedule

Once your to-do list is prioritized, it’s time to make a schedule for your day. Our favorite way to do this is time blocking

Take the time to actually write down what you’re going to get done, when you’re going to tackle it, and how long it’s going to take you. 

Physically writing out your schedule for the day and blocking off the time needed for each task is going to make you much more likely to stick with it and stay on track. It can also make things feel less overwhelming when you see them all laid out in front of you (as opposed to swirling around your imagination!).

So whether you use your favorite notebook, your digital calendar, a planner, or the Ink+Volt Today Organizer notepad, start writing! And be sure to include important things like time for meals and breaks.

Here are some other helpful tips and things to remember when you’re starting time blocking:

  • When it’s time to work on something, focus *just* on that task. That means no emails, no social media, no texting or Slacking with friends. (But be sure you build in time for those things into your schedule! Otherwise you’ll get thrown off, because these are also part of your day.) 
  • Schedule your tasks for the time period when you are best equipped to complete them. I am the most productive right after breakfast, so I usually try to tackle my hardest tasks then and save less strenuous items for later in the afternoon when I often start to lose focus.
  • Add in personal time! You have one life, and though work and personal things might *feel* totally separate, it’s important to find a way to combine them in your to do list in a way that makes sense for you. That means blocking off time to prep meals, work out, call your friends or family, and decompress. 

4. Make time for mindfulness

When things feel out of control, it’s important to set aside time to get centered and to relax your mind — even if it’s just for a few minutes. 

Our minds are naturally running at a hundred miles per hour, jumping from our anxieties to our to-do lists to the annoying thing someone said earlier and back again — rinse and repeat. By carving out just five minutes each day to practice mindfulness by completely focusing on a single task, you’ll be doing a lot to help your stress level.

When you’re dealing with an overwhelming time of life, we know that time is a limited resource. Here are a few ideas for ways to relax all in under a half hour.

If you have 30 minutes or less:

If you have 10 minutes or less:

  • Breathing exercise: Inhale for a count of four, hold that breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and then hold that for a count of four. Repeat five times. 
  • Make a list of 5 things you are grateful for
  • Watch an inspirational video
  • Stretch

5. Reflect and adjust

At the end of each day, set aside time to reflect on your progress and assess what went well as well as what didn’t. Identify what elements of your new routine you should repeat tomorrow and what you need to change.

Ask yourself:

  • What worked today?
  • What didn’t?
  • Did I get done what I needed to?
  • Did I accomplish what I *wanted* to?
  • How do I feel?
  • What do I need to change tomorrow?

Be honest with yourself, but also kind to yourself. Remember: right now, you’re dealing with unusual circumstances, so it’s understandable if you’re not operating at your most productive. The important thing is that you’re assessing and making adjustments each day to make tomorrow the best that it can be.

We’re cheering for you!