When you’re overwhelmed with work deadlines, life deadlines, laundry, thank you cards, a doctor’s appointment, ten papers that are due tomorrow, a dog that needs a walk, plus eight million other things, it’s pretty amazing how incapacitated you can get. What are you supposed to do? It’s not humanly possible to accomplish all this, let alone accomplish it in the time allotted. You have a right to be overwhelmed: the conditions you’re facing are too much for a person to manage gracefully. What ends up happening in times like these is ironically, nothing. When we’re overwhelmed and our attention is taxed, many of us try and run in 13 directions at once, and as is to be expected, we don’t move far in any of them.
When you start to drown in tasks, the best thing to do is one thing at a time, and first and foremost, to not waste time freaking out. When you start to lose it, remind yourself that you can only do what you can do, and past that, it’s impossible to do more. Be comfortable with that fact. Accept it and let it go. Not the end of the world. You’re human and you’re a hard worker. You will try your best.
Next, you can make yourself a list of what you will take action on, and in what order. I call my list “Priorities” (only because it reminds me of what this list means). On your priorities list, think out what exactly needs to get done first, all the way to what could be done last. Decide based on all related factors: due date, availability of needed supplies, etc. If everything is equally important, this list might be arbitrarily decided, but that doesn’t matter. Just decide it and write it. Now it is set in stone. You will follow it and in the order it is written. Don’t look ahead, just focus on #1.
Work on accomplishing that task. Don’t get sidetracked, and don’t waste any time freaking out about how much crap is still left to do. That’s just valuable energy being sucked away that you could definitely use, plus it’s irrational. Remind yourself to stay calm. If you start to have thoughts like “This is hopeless” or “OMG, I’m not gonna be able to sleep,” stop right away. That is the stress talking. Don’t worry. You will do what you need to do, when you need to do it. You will take care of yourself, and it will be fine. This is not the end of the world, it just feels like it is right now. As soon as you take a chunk out of the work at hand, you will feel much better and you will be amazed to see how quickly it goes. Your brain has a tendency to dramatize things when you’re overwhelmed – a workload vertigo. The stack ahead will appear much more doable with every passing hour.
While you work on your priorities list, keep a promise to yourself to take care of your basic needs first. Things like: if you are cold, get yourself a jacket. If your back hurts, stretch. When you’re hungry, get yourself something healthy to eat. Let your eyes rest. Let your feet rest. If you’re pulling an all-nighter and you need to have your wits about you tomorrow, get an hour of sleep. Sometimes when you’re working your butt off, things like this take on a lower level of importance, and that’s not cool or necessary, plus they hurt your productivity in the long run.
This may seem simplistic, but sometimes having the structure of a list with rules is all that you need to get through a tough time. My hope is that you recall this when you could use it the most. It has helped me immensely, I hope it does you too. Happy Sunday and happy long weekend if you happen to get one this week!