get things done

How to Fight Overwhelm and Get Things Done: Four Simple Steps

Have you ever had a day (or maybe a whole week) where you felt completely overwhelmed by work and life?

Perhaps several crisis situations had cropped up: difficulties with clients, problems at your kids’ school, a forgotten deadline or lost document. Whatever the exact causes, you ended up in a situation where you needed all your powers of concentration – and it was tougher than ever to focus.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, or if you know you might have to face up to overwhelm again in the future, here’s what you can do.

Step #1: Write a To-Do List

Even if you don’t normally use a to-do list, or if you only use it for one part of your life, writing a list is a great place to start when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

One way to structure an emergency to-do list is like this:



This week:

For each section, write down what absolutely must be done, what should be done, and what could be done in an ideal world.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and totally lacking in control when all your “need to do” items are in your head. By getting them out onto paper, you can achieve some perspective.

Step #2: Ditch, Delegate, Delay

Take a look at that to-do list with three words in mind: ditch, delegate, delay.

If you can ditch an item, then do. Get rid of it completely. Maybe you don’t need to attend that seminar after all, or you can just buy some cookies at the store instead of baking a batch at home.

If you can’t ditch something, try to delegate it. Are you really, truly, the only person who can put together that presentation or proof-read that big report? Look for colleagues – or, at home, family members – who can lend a hand.

If you can’t ditch or delegate something, see if you can delay it. Perhaps you could postpone a meeting until next week, or even next month. Maybe you could leave starting that new project for a couple of weeks.

Step #3: Work in Short, Focused Sessions

When there’s too much to do, you might think that the best solution is to put in more hours. Perhaps your first reaction to a busy day is to work through your lunch hour, or to avoid taking breaks during the day.

Chances are, though, that you can’t maintain focus for hours at a time. Most people can concentrate for around 25 – 45 minutes before their attention begins to flag.

Even though it might seem counter-intuitive, the best way to get more done is to work in short, focused sessions, taking regular breaks (even if those breaks are just a couple of minutes away from your desk). Try setting a timer for 30 minutes, and see how much you can get done in that time: you might surprise yourself.

Step #4: Take Preventative Measures to Avoid More Overwhelm

It’s easy to end up living in a constant state of overwhelm, never quite catching up. If that sounds like your daily reality, it’s time to make some changes.

Do you have too many goals, and would you make faster progress if you put some on hold?

Can you adjust your work hours to give you enough time to get everything done at home?

Could you hand over some of your projects (whether work or voluntary) to other people?

Take some time to think about how you can make more space in your life – and how you can protect that space from outside demands.

If you like, share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments below: let us know what you’re going to do this week to fight overwhelm.

Photo credit: ‘Hike‘ by Big Stock

19 Responses to How to Fight Overwhelm and Get Things Done: Four Simple Steps

  1. Paige says:

     Paige Northam

  2. Anderson says:

     Great article really helpful!

     I just started my own blog on motivation would be great if some of you
    guys could give me feedback ( and don´t forget to like on facebook if
    you enjoyed it). Here is the link to the blog: thx in advance ;D

  3. Great tips! I know I have a tendency to overwhelm myself trying to make massive progress on my goals so I make myself break tasks down into more manageable tasks. In fact my ‘to-do’ list is actually a running list – 1st page is today’s goals then you scroll down to the next page and it’s the goals for the week. This way after I check off what I’ve accomplished today it’s easy to move tasks up from the weekly page and also to always have an overview snapshot of my progress during the week. Scrolling down to the third page are my goals for the month – again, looking at this at the beginning of each day helps to keep me focused and on target without overwhelming myself.

  4. Justin Mazza says:

    There is no worse debilitating feeling than being overwhelmed. I like to have a plan set up in advance so when overwhelm happens I am ready to deal with it.

  5. Lauren says:

    Great tips! I will try them!

  6. Natalie says:

    Great suggestions Ali,
    The first thing I do when I feel overwhelmed is start writing.  I write down the answers to these questions. What am I overwhelmed  about? What are my options? Which task will give me the biggest return? Which task, if left undone, will cause the most problem?

    Writing these things down makes me focus and stops my mind from running in circles. By the end I am calm and clear about what I must do.

  7. Vivek sharma says:

    Very informative and truly inspiring!
    I am a published Author and would like to invite and request you to kindly review one of my recent work’s whose’s content is quite relevant to what you write about.
    Its an Ebook Why do You Do What You Do? available at
    I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  8. Excellent post. I think many of us are too caught up with too many goals that we aim to achieve. But forgetting that completing is actually more important than just merely setting goals.

  9. Excellent post. I think many of us are too caught up with too many goals that we aim to achieve. But forgetting that completing is actually more important than just merely setting goals.

  10. Excellent post. I think many of us are too caught up with too many goals that we aim to achieve. But forgetting that completing is actually more important than just merely setting goals.

  11. Mrjvorst says:

    I think it is also important to schedual time for yourself.  This will make you a happier person.  When you are happy and positive, you are more likely to do something rather than act like a bump on a log.  Personal opinion.

  12. Rudolph says:

    Hi, I’ve gotta say that once in a while I come to this page just to feel at ease, if you what I mean, all of your articles are terrific, I truly love them and well there are certain things that I’d like to attain but again other things get in the way… so I feel overwhelmed…
    It’s not that easy not to feel that way but thanks to this article, I think I could cope with such issues.

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  14. ActionPowerPro says:

    the way to get things done is to reduce the amount and complexity of the tasks in the first, if you review your tasks, you will find that there will be a lot of parts here and there that you don’t really need to do

  15. Great post. I think it is very very important for us not to over set our goals. I believe that be realistic and focus is the key to success.  Your step 3,
    Work in Short, Focused Sessions is the best take away that i have. It is so powerful but many people neglected it.

  16. The article is well written. This blog is a unique on due
    to the kind of information it is carrying. I would like to thanks the writer.

  17. Jeff Doubek says:

    No. 3 is a compelling thought… 25-45 minutes of max attention. Knowing your limits could really reshape your workday and how you plan your time. Great post!

  18. Gangax44 says:

    Real EYE-OPENER,wonder when I can implement this ( DELAY)

  19. Pingback: How to Beat Overwhelm | IQ Matrix Blog

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