This post was originally published on July 16, 2009.
Sometimes when my to-do list is a mile long and I’m short on time and feeling overwhelmed, I feel like if I can’t finish everything right now I’m going to lose it. Don’t you hate those days?
Well, when I’m having a day like that, there are a few things I do to immediately make myself just a little calmer. That little bit of perspective is usually enough to allow me to get it together and get things done.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are some easy things you can do to get it together:
Clear your space.
Even if you don’t have time for full-fledged cleaning, take some time to ditch the clutter. I’m talking about the papers on your desk at work, the weeks of junk mail and magazines piled up on the table, and the breakfast dishes in the sink. My husband uses the dining room table as an office, which doesn’t bother me, until he gets a few days worth of papers stacked up all around him.
Take five minutes to clear the space around you. Get rid of the clutter, throw the papers into the recycling bin, and put the little nick nacks back where they belong. This includes your email inbox. Go through your emails, tackle the easy stuff with a quick reply, and add more involved tasks and responses to your to-do list. You’ll feel better instantly.
Make a list.
Now that your space is clear, take a few minutes to prioritize your to-do list. If you’re anything like me, your to-do list is scrawled in no particular order or, worse, stored in your brain. By making a physical list, you can not only prioritize and visualize what needs to get done, but you’ll get the satisfaction of crossing off your accomplishments.
I usually try to tackle the most difficult tasks first, but if you’re already feeling burned out, it may help to start with something easy to help you recharge. Find an order that works for you, and take a moment to evaluate your list and determine the best way to get everything done.
Take a walk.
I know, it seems counterproductive to take a break when you’re already short on time. But sometimes you just need to remove yourself from the stressful situation and take a time out to gather your thoughts and your sanity. I write a lot in my job (and of course for this blog), and sometimes I’ll spend two hours looking at a blank screen before I get up and take a break. After a quick break, I often come back and finish the project in 30 minutes because I’ve had a chance to gather my thoughts.
If you can’t take a walk, at least take a few minutes to take some deep breaths. If you feel tied to your to-do list, it’ll only make you feel resentful and you won’t be as productive. Remind yourself that you’re in control of the situation, and you can take a break if you need to. When you return, you’ll likely be more focused.
What do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed?