I am not a particularly organized person by nature. I tend to rush around frantically as I try to do everything all at once. Big surprise: that doesn’t work for me. I end up only doing a half-hearted job on everything without actually finishing any of it. When I feel panic set in as I try to tackle three things at once, it’s a good sign that it’s time for me to step back and force myself to focus on one thing at a time.
That principle recently became very real to me when I started the publication process for my next novel while we were packing up for a summer of staying in other people’s houses before moving to England. Now I am juggling my family’s move and my novel.
At some point in the midst of the frantic busyness, I had to sit down and work out some coping strategies or else I would have gotten so overwhelmed nothing at all would have been accomplished. These are some tips that work for me, and I hope they help you when life gets overwhelming.
Create Effective To-Do Lists
One helpful way to tackle overwhelm is by creating one or more lists. Lists can still be overwhelming if they are too long and disorganized, so I prefer more than one. I choose to categorize and prioritize my to-dos into several smaller lists. Some great categories are:
- Most important
- Needs to be done sometime but not immediately
- Would like to do but not essential
- Delegate to someone else
Using specific categories ensures I don’t fritter my time away with trivial things and leave the big things until too late. It wouldn’t do me any good, for example, to spend my entire day packing towels and washcloths only to have to unpack the box at the end of the day so I can use my linens to wrap my breakable dishes. Categorized lists are a helpful way of keeping track of what needs to be done when so I can avoid floundering in the morass of unspecific tasks.
Also, who doesn’t love checking things off a list after they’re done? It’s so satisfying! That sense of satisfaction can go a long way in and of itself in combating overwhelm. It can be easy to feel like you haven’t accomplished anything in a day without some sort of concrete evidence of your labor. Check marks beside items on a list are great reminders of what you have done, and they can give you that needed boost to keep going.
Break Up Heavy Tasks
Sometimes, though, even the categorized lists feel like too much. For me, just because a task is on the list doesn’t mean I can get through it in one fell swoop. For example, I sometimes hit a wall and can’t stand packing one more box.
If you feel you are in danger of burning out, you can switch between your big tasks to keep each one fresh. Come to a good stopping point on one, even if it isn’t the exact end, and then tackle something else instead. With my novel and packing goals, I can finish one box and then work on copy edits for a while. When my brain feels like mush from writing and rewriting, I come to the end of one chapter and pack another box.
Coming to a natural break point in each task before switching to another is crucial here; otherwise one can fall into rushing back and forth between unfinished tasks without ever finishing any. It can be a tricky balance, but done well, it works beautifully. Remember, this is not the same as multitasking, which can leave you feeling like nothing is getting done.
You are always more than your to-do list! When life becomes overwhelming, you must make time for self-care. Sometimes self-care looks like getting the job done. Sometimes self-care involves taking a step back and remembering that there is more to life—and more to you—than a set of tasks.
Here are a few things we can all strive to remember when life gets overwhelming:
1. Drink water & eat healthy food
Staying hydrated is so essential to keeping a clear head and healthy body. No amount of caffeine or energy drinks can compare. In the same way, healthy eating choices allow us to process information better and make better choices. In the moment of burn out, that chocolate might be calling, but if you can ignore its siren lure and choose something more filling instead, you’ll thank yourself for it later.
2. Go for a walk
Going for a walk, or at the very least getting outside for some fresh air, is tremendously important. It can be easy to think that you don’t have time for a walk because you have too much to do, but taking that time to clear your head, move your body, and breathe the fresh air means your can tackle your tasks with more vigor.
3. Take a break
Sometimes, you just need a proper break in order to rest your body and your brain. What brings you joy? Whatever it is, pursue it every so often to ground yourself. For example, even with half my kitchen packed I took time the other day to make rhubarb-blueberry muffins, because baking is something that helps to settle me. Remind yourself that taking a break will help you move forward on your goals, not backwards.
You Can Get Through This
In the end, some of the most important things I can do are accept that there are times I am going to feel overwhelmed and to learn how to manage those times so they don’t sweep me under. The above are the strategies I’ve found work best for me.
I’d love to hear any tips or methods you have found work well for you. How have you overcome some of life’s most stressful seasons?