What To Do When You’ve Got Too Much To Do

When overwhelm threatens to overwhelm you

Tuesday 6pm

I’m writing this blog post as a displacement activity. I absolutely do not have time to be writing blog posts right now.

My to-do list is never-ending. I seem to add more things to it than I ever cross off. Like that Greek myth about the guy endlessly pushing the boulder up the mountain [Google says his name was Sisyphus].

My inbox is stressing me out. I try to do the whole inbox zero thing so I hate having to scroll down my inbox. Right now, it definitely isn’t inbox zero. There are so many emails there and they are all tagged to follow up.

I feel like there’s so much to do that I don’t know where to start. So I’m not starting at all which isn’t helping. Because now I’m beating myself that I’m not doing more and being productive.

Ugh. I hate feeling like this.

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Wednesday 10am

Turns out that trying to do everything on your to-do list at 6pm after a long day delivering training before going on stage for an event is not the best time for getting stuff done. Who’d have thunk.

This morning, after a good-night's sleep and some food (yep, I hadn’t eaten last night), it’s no surprise that I feel much better about life.

The inbox isn’t empty but I feel like I’m back in control. I’ve even got some of those less palatable tasks done this morning.

It’s always hard to practice what I preach. I see this as a reminder that this a practice, not a performance. It’s okay to trip up. I learn from getting it wrong, just as much as I learn from getting it right.

Here are my top tips when overwhelm and procrastination are threatening to overwhelm you.

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  • Get the basics sorted. I forget to eat when I’m busy. Not only that, but I am continually amazed at how much better feel once I’ve had something to eat. Maybe you don’t drink enough or don’t get enough sleep. Not looking after these basic building blocks of our health and wellbeing is a sure-fire way to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. Make sure you’re fed, watered and rested…you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. Or maybe that’s just me.
  • Have a nap or go for a walk. Don’t just sit there feeling terrible. You won’t just snap out of it and start getting stuff done. You need to stop and reset before you try to tackle things again.
  • Break big tasks down into small steps. I often find that I’m putting a task off because I think it will be really hard or I’m not sure how to do it. Breaking it into smaller pieces makes it much easier to face. There’s always a few bits of it that I know I can do easily and make some progress on. My mum always asks me “how do you eat an elephant?”, and of course the answer is one bite at a time.
  • Prioritise. What do I actually need to do right now? What can wait for another time when I’m feeling more focused? Where’s a good place to start? Will clearing the inbox clear my mind or will I just spend time feeling productive but not tackling the things that will make a difference?
  • Plan time for fun or relaxation. When I feel overwhelmed, I often notice that’s in the middle of several days with lots going on. If I can, I’ll see if I can squeeze something fun or relaxing in. But I find even just planning something for the weekend or next week is enough. Knowing that I have a break coming up can be enough.
  • Just do it — as Nike would say. I’m a bit of a perfectionist (it’s taken me 3 days to actually get this post finished after making some initial notes in the midst of my overwhelm). There are times when I won’t even have started a task because I’m worried about it not being perfect. And, of course, it is never perfect. If I could collect up all the time and energy I’ve wasted worrying about how to do something or how to make it perfect rather than actually doing it, I would have all the time and energy I’ll ever need. So, time for a cliche or, and they’re cliches because they’re true: done is better than perfect. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Sometimes, you’ve just got to get over it and do something.