Overcoming overwhelm one step at a time

We all feel overwhelmed at times. The feeling that there is just so much to do that even getting started is just one more task on an endless and impossible list. For those of us who mix self-employment with parenting or caring, the pile of tasks is even higher and more precarious. Then, like a Jenga tower, the crucial brick is pulled and the whole thing comes crashing down.

Whether your crash is minor or major, it leaves you frozen. That may be for a day, a week or even months.

Periods of over-whelm are normal. It comes and goes. It’s part of living a full, creative and compassionate life. The trick is to accept it and deal with it rather than deny it and fight it. However, if it lasts much longer than usual and deepens into anxiety or depression, it may be time to get professional help from your GP or a counselling service like BetterHelp.

But for the usual cycle of overwhelm, don’t beat yourself up. The worst thing you can do is ruminate and over-complicate things. The best thing? Keep it simple. And your very best friend is the humble to-do list.

At it’s simplest, this time-tried productivity hack (for that is what it is!) needs no more than a pen and paper. Just the thought of a new notebook can make me smile and relax. It’s why memo pads remain our top stationery purchase. Just write the list and tick it off. Take it one step at a time.


If the list is still too long then you need to prioritise. Separate the tasks out depending on how urgent and important they are.

If the task is both important and urgent, it’s high priority – do it now.

If it’s important but not urgent – schedule a time to do it. Find a way of making yourself accountable or having a deadline for those tasks. It’s too easy to never get around to them, but those are the really important tasks that will move your life forward. In your business it may be exploring new suppliers, developing your marketing materials or networking. The things you know you should do, but that get pushed out of the way by the flashing red items.

If it’s not important, but urgent – try and get someone else to do it for you if possible. Those items are potential time-wasters so give them the minimum attention possible.

Not important and not urgent? Dump those tasks, they really don’t matter!


You ignore your list and the sky doesn’t fall down. Hmmm. Your life and business doesn’t move forward either. You know you need to take action, but you are still frozen and desperately procrastinating.

It is time to get help. If you want the help to be copper-bottomed, then hire a business or life coach. They will help you to set goals and stay on track. You’ll meet or talk regularly and review progress. If you have not done what you said you will do, they will hold you to account.

A cheaper, but less reliable option, is to find a friend in a similar position and become ‘to-do list buddies’.  Send each other your lists and then update and encourage each other throughout the day as you tick each item off.  If you work on your own a to-do list buddy can be like having a fun colleague on the days you do lists.


There are of course apps for all this. Wunderlist lets you set up lists for different projects or parts of your life, with due dates, reminders and notes. With Trello you can share your list with others. Kanban Flow includes a pomodoro timer, where you break tasks into 25 minute chunks and work against the clock. Or you could just use a kitchen timer. And the note pad.  It doesn’t need to be complicated. The main thing is to get started, take small steps and keep going.

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