One of the most popular parts of my Time Management and Stress Management seminars and workshops is when I give my audience simple clear instructions about how to deal with a feeling of being overwhelmed by the amount of things you have on your plate.
Here is a short summary of that simple routine. if you like it, at the end, I will point you to some resources, where you can find it explained in more detail.
When you feel overwhelmed by all the things you need to do, it can freeze you into not doing any of them, which will only make the situation worse. So you need to seize control. And here’s one way.
- Know your enemy
The first thing to do is to make a “Now List” – all of the things that are overwhelming you on a single list. I suggest a black pen. If it fits on one sheet of paper, how bad can it really be.
- Kill off the weaklings
Go through your list with a red pen and cross through any items that really are not important – if they don’t get done, there will be no consequences (or the consequences are acceptable to you).
- Send the stragglers to the back
Now take a new sheet of paper and a blue pen. Go through your list and find items that can wait 24 hours or more, without serious consequences. Transfer them to your new sheet (“Tomorrow List”), and cross them off your “Now List”.
- Tackle the tiddlers
Take your last pen (green is good) and go through your list, putting a big asterisk against all the items that will be quick to do (five minutes max). These are your “Tiddlers”.
- Frenzied attack
Now spend 20 minutes in a frenzy of doing as many Tiddlers as you can. Start with the first on your list and work down. Don’t try to be clever.
At the end of 20 minutes, cross off all of the Tiddlers you killed off with your green pen, and take a five minute break to get a drink. During that break, decide which two of the unmarked items (“Big Fish”) are most important or pressing.
- Measured Attack
When you have your drink, start work on your top Big Fish, and start by dividing it into steps. Only tackle those steps that are urgent now, and transfer the rest of the task to your Tomorrow List. Work for around 45 minutes then cross off any work you’ve completed and take a break.
After your break, return to step 5 and keep cycling steps 5, 6 and 7 until you feel back in control.
More Resources for Handling Overwhelm
This process is designed to handle a stress response; because that is what overwhelm is. So one place you’ll find my overwhelm routine is in my book, How to Manage Stress (Brilliant Stress Management).
You will also find it described in my more recent book, Powerhouse.
But, best of all, you will hear me describe it, with graphics to help you, in my video course, Practical Time Management. Indeed, one of the preview videos that you can watch (scroll towards the bottom of the page) is my distinction between two similar, but vitally different, concepts: overload and overwhelm.