By Jiji Lee

Getting Things Done When You Have Anxiety


Strategies to help you move forward when your mind has gotten you stuck.

Between juggling work deadlines or navigating office politics, or coping with the unpredictability of the freelance life, it’s no surprise that many Americans are experiencing work-related stress and anxiety.  

And if you add to the fact that we’re all living in an intense and overwhelming time, it’s even more of a challenge to manage our stress levels. 

Fortunately, there are strategies and tools we can use to help us get things done when we’re feeling anxious. 

So whether you’re trying to finish projects at work or accomplish tasks at home, we’ve listed simple ways to help you take that first step and follow through.

While these tips can be helpful for people who are feeling stressed and anxious about their workload, it’s important to consult a doctor or licensed medical professional to ensure you’re getting the right resources and help for you.

Journaling for productivity and anxiety

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with work, a journal can be an essential tool in helping you manage your stress and anxiety.

Journaling has been known to have numerous benefits for our mental health, including helping us identify and relieve our anxious thoughts. 

Oftentimes, when we’re feeling anxious, we have difficulty locking in on what exactly is making us feel this way. We start catastrophizing or thinking about worst-case scenarios, but we’re not really sure what the underlying issue is. 

If you find yourself in this situation, it can be helpful to pause and start writing things down. It starts to feel like emotional excavation. You get closer to identifying the things that are causing you distress. Sometimes, being able to identify what the issues are, can be the first step towards relieving them.

Plus, the act of journaling itself can be hugely therapeutic. How often do we get the opportunity to express ourselves with honesty and candor, without  fear of being judged or silenced? Journaling is like getting something off your chest. And not having to worry about the blowback. 

Your journal is like a non-judgemental, neutral outlet. You can unload your secrets, your dreams, wishes, and insecurities. You can spend pages writing about whatever you wish, without worry.

The ability to write down what’s on our mind can be quite cathartic. No longer are these thoughts and emotions swirling in your mind. Now they are released on paper. And when they’re released on paper, these anxious thoughts can feel easier to let go and move on.

Some people also find that journaling helps them find solutions to problems. So, for example,  let’s say you’re feeling anxious about a meeting with your boss, perhaps a journaling session can help you uncover the underlying issues that are causing you stress. Maybe you fear that your boss will express displeasure with your work. Or maybe you’re new at the company and you’re nervous about making a good first impression. 

By identifying the source of stress and anxiety, you now have a way of trying to address it. 

Returning to the example of meeting with your boss, maybe a solution can be writing a list of your strengths and reciting positive affirmations. Or maybe reaching out to a coworker to give you advice so you can feel better prepared.

As for how often you should journal, you can try maintaining a regular journaling routine to reap the benefits. Or, you can turn to it when you need an outlet during a particularly stressful time.

You can try both methods, and even tailor them, to create a practice that works best for you and your needs. 

Write a to-do list

When work seems intense and you’re not sure where to start, try starting with the very first step: a to-do list.

By writing things down, you’ll know exactly what you need to do. 

Plus, a to-do list helps you better prioritize your tasks. Everything can seem urgent and intense when it’s stuck in our mind. But seeing it all laid out on paper can help us clarify what’s truly important and urgent, and what can be pushed until tomorrow or the next day.

Do a brain dump. Take out a sheet of paper, and do a “brain dump.” This means literally dumping out all the errands, tasks, assignments that are dwelling in your mind. It’s almost like when you dump your clothes on the floor when you’re doing laundry. Everything is one big mess. But then once you start sorting and organizing, you have an easier time accomplishing the task. 

Sort and organize. Then you’ll want to start sorting through your tasks. You can make a separate column for personal errands, work deadlines, and family obligations. 

Schedule. Now that you have organized your work into clear, distinct categories, you’ll have an easier time scheduling them. So maybe you’ll want to schedule your errands for a weekend, or schedule a time early in the week to work towards your office deadlines.

Scale down big tasks 

In order to make big projects or tasks feel less overwhelming, try breaking it down into micro-parts.

When something is small. It feels more manageable. 

Here are examples of how you can break down your big task into micro pieces. 

  • Big task: Renew driver’s license
  • Micro tasks: Enter licence expiration date in calendar; make appointment at dmv office to renew license before then; assemble required paperwork 
  • Big task: Write an academic paper
  • Micro tasks: Enter deadline in calendar or planner; brainstorm ideas for paper; create an outline; research; write a rough draft

Do one micro task at a time, and don’t feel compelled to do them all at once. The trick is to take a tiny step, then another one, and another one, until you find yourself completing your task. 

Work backwards

If you’re feeling anxious about a project deadline, it can help to work backwards

First, you’ll want to look at the deadline, and then figure out what is the last thing you would need to do before the project is completed. 

For instance, if you have to give a presentation, you know that the presentation is the final step. What’s the step before that? Maybe it’s doing a rehearsal for the presentation. And the step before that would be finalizing your design and putting all the bells and whistles on your presentation. And then keep working in reverse until you’ve identified the first step.

You can use your deadlines to your advantage and know which benchmarks to hit by a certain date. 

Combine work with pleasure

Another technique you can use to make a task seem less overwhelming is to combine a task with a pleasant activity.

Maybe this means taking a walk while making a work phone call. Or playing music while you work. You can try making a list of things that make you feel calm, safe, or confident. Then see if there’s a way to integrate that activity into your task, to make it more doable.