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


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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

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