Your Tips: How to Deal with Overwhelm

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I posted a few weeks ago and invited ideas and tips on dealing with overwhelm and wanted to share the great ideas with you from Facebook and posted in my blog comments.

I found some common themes running through the comments, including:

  • always keep a to do list (written or electronic)
  • organize your tasks by priority
  • take time away from work just to relax and recharge

There are some really great tips and resources in the comments!  Thank you everyone who replied.  :)

“Make a list
Organize it by priority
Start down that list one at a time
Mark each accomplished thing with DONE!
That last part is very satisfying and encouraging. :)
…Last but not least, I never expect to get it all done. Instead I am glad to simply have gotten anything done at all.”
– From Anna Hakes

When I’m in overwhelm, the best thing I can do for myself is to . . . walk.away.slowly. And go do something else for a while. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it works for me. I come back recharged and refreshed and usually have a different perspective on what needs to get done. It also helps with the crabbiness factor.”
– From Lisbeth Tanz

“Hmm…I’d have to say lists, bubble baths, jazz music, and wine — and NOT necessarily in that order. :-)”
– From Traci Hayner Vanover

“I feel your pain, Michelle. I have been dealing with a lot of overwhelm recently.  When I feel like I want to start crying, I get up from my desk, spend 15 minutes doing something non-work related, then come back and take a few moments jotting everything down that needs done. I keep three little notebooks; one each for high, medium and low priority. It keeps me from getting things confused. Things can be crossed off, a new page can be started, etc. without different priority tasks getting jumbled.”
– From Angie – The Work at Home Wife

“Hi Michelle,After some major changes recently I have been feeling a lot of overwhelm (I think mostly created in my mind).One thing I decided this week was to limit the amount of time with social networking (which definitely gets away from me). My friend and I discussed the following schedule:
Wake up at 6:30am – get outside and walk or run or whatever I feel like (I’m not calling it exercise, I’m re-framing it to “ME TIME”)
7:30 – shower & get dressed
8 – 9am Have breakfast and spend 60 minutes on social networking, both doing things on my business and catching up on friends/family. 8:59am – log off facebook (actually LOG OFF)
9-12 – work on my client’s work
12-1 – rest, lunch, re-charge 1-5 – work on my client’s work
Haven’t figured out the rest. I have full time client work, PLUS I’m trying to build my own business. I figure from 8-9 every day is really for that. I want to spend another hour each weekday on my business (either blogging, working on my product, writing my book or whatever) then four hours over the course of the weekend.
Wow, this is therapeutic! So glad I could share it with someone.
I think when I was “chained to a desk” I believed being on my own, self employed, accountable to only me would be perfect. What I realize now is that all of that is true, only if I be the boss I need to create structure for managing my day (and thus relieving stress).”
– From Stacy Kennedy

“The only difference for me between a busy week and overwhelm is how I looked after myself. When I schedule what I call my “feel good” activities first before everything else? Everything flows. When I don’t? It’s not pretty!
Some of my “feel goods” include:
* at least one date with a friend per week
* mani/pedis make me happy ;-)
* time alone and silent (all ringers, bells and whistles off)
* one day a week where I don’t have to get up early! * at least 1-2 retreats per year
I suggest exploring what your non-negotiable “feel good” activities are. And have some fun with it, because it’s supposed to feel good!”
– From Sandi Amorim

“Grow legs and attack you…” Ha! Been there, done that.Prioritizing what’s really important is key. I’ve really gotten myself off track over the past couple of days. Not in the sense that the outside stuff isn’t getting done, but the personal, “sharpening the saw” stuff has fallen by the wayside. And those are the things that are key, no matter what else is on my plate.
Thanks for the great reminder.”
– From Lyman Reed

“Hi Michelle,
When I’m overwhelmed by work, and once I realize it, I get away from my desk and do something utterly physical.
That often looks like doing the dishes, watering the plants, taking a bio break. Hmmm, I see a theme here: water.
Water gets me in touch with my deeper emotions…
I touch them, then ask the CEO question:
– What’s top priority?
– What 2-3 things will give me that sense of accomplishment by the end of the day? – Lastly, what if anything can I delegate?
Or, sometimes I just realize I need help and ask for it. I start by asking the universe, then my husband, who also works from home, or a friend.
Like Stacy Kennedy, I also set a schedule because I’ve realized over the years of working for myself and being a novelist that overwhelm comes often from a lack of clear boundaries and focus.
Ah, the bane of fiction writers! And our source of creativity… to merge with the universe or not…
There’s a time and place for everything!
Thank god I get overwhelmed sometimes so I can see where I need help.
Thanks Michelle for the question! And for the support at 31 Days Blog Challenge. I look forward to reading your comment generated blog post (so I can copy it!;-) )”
– From Beth Barany

“Michelle, I completely understand where you are coming from because I have been overwhelmed quite a bit lately, myself!!
I don’t have any solutions that help make the list magically disappear which I sense would be the best solution of all for those of us with way too much to do and way too little time for doing it. Your strategy sounds like the best way to tackle the list, itself.
What I can help with is the anxiety! Because at the end of the day, we know it won’t all be done and we have to find ways to make peace with that knowledge.
What helps me make peace is chamomile tea followed by meditation. For the average tea ritual, any tea will do, but for overwhelm, I recommend less coffee and more chamomile tea! Sip it and imagine it gently chansing away the overwhelm, replacing it with calm.
After you have finished your tea, have a brief sit-down meditation where you either (1) focus on releasing the anxiety or (2) ask for intuitive guidance about how best to handle the list or the overwhelming requirements, in general.
Sometimes, when I am quite and still, the most amazing ideas come to me that I am sure I would not have thought of if I hadn’t stopped to meditate.
Best wishes for gently releasing the overwhelm!”
– From Jeanine Byers Hoag

“Michelle –
I have found that the times I feel most overwhelmed are the times when I have started too many things and not really finished any of them. And yes, it can be a heavy burden.
Usually, like you, I’ll sit down and write things out on paper, in order to prioritize them. There’s just something magical about having a list, isn’t there?
I tell people that ‘what gets measured, gets done’ so I would be terribly hypocritical if I didn’t follow that advice. Writing things out gives you a great opportunity to change things in your life from “shoulds” to “musts” like Tony Robbins says.
I like how Beth mentioned doing something “utterly physical”, too. That’s a great tip. Sometimes a nice walk or jog is enough to invigorate the senses, get the blood flowing, and allow inspiration to take hold. I have often hit the treadmill or jumped in the pool when I felt I was becoming overwhelmed, and the physical relief alone has usually been enough to allow me to refocus.
I also noticed above that Traci mentioned wine. I am partial to a good beer, but whatever your poison, when you can take a little of the edge off, you can absolutely open your mind and relax your spirit. Now…I would not recommend “over serving” yourself, otherwise your list of priorities gets a little nutty!
Those are my time-tested tips…
Great post!
Keep up the excellent work!
– From Mike Shippey

Much like everyone else I often have the panicy “Oh goodness I have to much to do and I don’t know where to start!”I try to create a rythem and flow to my day. However I have not quite perfected it yet.
I start out by checking facebook and my social sites, and my email.My day starts with paid client work. I do all the work that I can before I attempt with anything else.
I then blog, look for clients, network and socialize.
If I have problems deciding what is the most important thing to do I write lists. I don’t always get my lists done but I attempt to organize and focus.
I’ve also been looking for tools to assist with listmaking and getting myself organized. Its all an ongoing process and I’m glad that I’m not the only one that feels overwhelmed sometimes.”
– From Angela Reinholz

“I agree with everyone :)
Getting up and walking away from my desk helps, doing something (anything) not involving the computer for about 30 minutes.
Making a list is good too. even if I never look at it again at least it gets it out of mu head or at the very least it puts it into some form of order. I figure if I wrote it down first it is probably at the “top of mind” so maybe I should do that first. It gives me a place to start without getting too caught up in the analyzing of the list.
For those of you looking for good “list” things check out Zoho Planner ( It is free. It lets you create as many lists as you want and you can even create sub-lists within your lists. Then you add items to the list. Each one has a little checkbox next to it. When you check the box it moves the item to the bottom in a section called…Completed.
This works really good for those days when you feel like “I got NOTHING done today”. If you add each thing you do to the list throughout the day, then check them off. Then at the end of the day you can look back and see exactly what you did get done. And you can see what still needs to be done.
So again with the getting it out of your head.
It has been a great help to unjumbling my head and my partner’s also.
Thanks Michelle for the great post. You have obviously struck a hot topic :)”
– From Cindy

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michelle Shaeffer, Michelle Shaeffer and Michelle Shaeffer, Rebekah Rotstein. Rebekah Rotstein said: RT @SmallBizMuse: Blog: Your Tips: How to Deal with Overwhelm blogboost […]

  2. It is nice to feel like I’m not alone in the overwhelm! Making a list is a great idea but I so rarely stick to it. It does let me feel more organized and to be honest I do seem to get more done. I really appreciate the point of being happy about what I did get finished rather then worrying over not getting everything done. It really is all about perspeictive isn’t it.
    Bonnie recently posted… Pass the HappyMy Profile

    1. You’re definitely not alone! I think it’s a challenge for most of us.

  3. I have started creating a 5 item list. Rather than write everything that needs doing, I write down the 5 most important things. 5 things that will mean I have done a days work.
    It’s not an overwhelming list, it doesn’t get rolled over for weeks, most of the time it gets completed in 2 days if not one. And even then as long as I replace one task for another, I still complete 5 items. Like just now, write 3 blog posts was replaced with wash dog, (who currently hates me).
    It works for me, so I don’t get overwhelmed while still accomplishing things.
    MJ Schrader
    MJ Schrader recently posted… What If I Don’t Know What I LoveMy Profile

    1. That sounds like a good way to avoid the overwhelmed feeling of a 5 page to do list. Might have to try that myself!

  4. I’m always organized and I always use lists. Those things help to a point. However, I still get overwhelmed from time to time. What works for me in those situations is to get away from it all and do something that rejuvenates me (e.g. walking in nature, writing in my journal, meditating, drawing, having a bath with candles).

    1. So true – there’s two sides to it – the getting work done – and the recharging. :)

  5. Excellent post! As a weekday single mother,(hubby is an OTR trucker),and a freelance writer I get overwhelmed on an almost daily basis. I can never accomplish everything that needs to be done in a 24 hour day, and taking care of myself is always on the back burner. I will definitely be putting some of your tips to work!
    Carrie recently posted… Companies Who Hire Freelance WritersMy Profile

    1. That’s a lot to juggle! My husband has driven OTR in the past and it’s not easy. Definitely do squeeze in some time to take care of yourself, even if it’s little things. You deserve it! :)

  6. I am good at following lists on what I consider “real work,” but bad with the admin-type work-things like maintenance on email clean-up, file organization of closed projects, etc.

    But then I get to a point where it makes me totally crazed and I whip myself into a frenzy until the task is done. Not the best method in the world! :-)

    Walking always helps me unwind-love crisp, fall weather and seeing all the animals along the way-horses, geese, cows, goats.
    Cathy Miller recently posted… Try LinkedIn if You’re Stuck on Blog TopicsMy Profile

    1. I understand that “method” well – explains why I’m up at 4am Alaska time tonight… :)

  7. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with data and information on the internet, everyday we get new emails with the latest and best offers, every second, tons of new information is posted on facebook and twitter profiles.
    It is important to stick with 2-3 experts in your niche and skip information from any other experts. You also don’t change teachers and school every week.

  8. Nice post. I use to manage my tasks and that works well. The problem is when I get REALLY overwhelmed I tend to abandon todoist. Doh!!
    Mark recently posted… WordPress Shopping Cart themesMy Profile

    1. Yeah, overwhelm likes to cause system breakdown, doesn’t it? I’ll have to check out – thanks for the tip, Mark.
      Michelle Shaeffer recently posted… Weekend Inspiration- What’s PossibleMy Profile

  9. I need to start a list to prioritize my life. It will make things alot easier. Thanks for this post :)

  10. You are right, we need to make a list on our priorities and act on them diligently. That is an effective way on how we can better overcome our feelings of overwhelm. I just watched a video that relates back to your topic. It’s a good thing to watch especially the advice you will get about how to overcome overwhelm.

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