Everyone experiences a time in their life when they feel like if they try to do anything else then they might just implode.
I’d be concerned (and maybe a little bit envious) if I were to come across someone who never had – unfortunately it is just one of those emotions that everyone will come across at least once in their lives. It could occur at any point in life; University, becoming a parent, moving out, or at any other ordinary life event. For me it was University. I had so much to do all the time – even if I had finished my set tasks and assignments, I could still do the weekly reading, or read ahead onto next week’s topic, or do general research. I have extremely high expectations of myself, and I so badly wanted to do well in my degree that I gave myself far too many tasks – more than the average person would be able to complete.
So, of course, when I started failing to finish my to-do lists, I would feel disheartened, demoralised, and a bit like the ground was about to swallow me up any second. I’ve got to be honest, it wasn’t healthy. But, the reason it wasn’t, is because I had ridiculously poor time-management and organisational skills that I wasn’t able to keep up with it. It is only recently that I have conquered this skill (or at least that’s what I tell myself), and it is now very rare that I feel overwhelmed to the point of imploding.
Does this sound all too familiar? I’ve compiled my strategy to overcoming overwhelm:
Be more organised.
Learn to be organised with your workload. One of the easiest ways to feel overwhelmed when you’re busy is to immediately put every task you need to do into a floating existence in your mind, resulting in you forgetting about it right until it becomes crucially important. I used to be guilty of this; my awful memory never failed to surprise me. However I have learnt to stay on top of my tasks and learn to be organised in all aspects of my life. The simplest way to be more organised is to write things down. Literally. That’s all you have to do. Easy right?! When you write things down, you are temporarily removing them from your brain without actually forgetting about them completely. I’m a huge fan of a list, to-do lists being my go-to when I feel like everything I need to do has equal importance. Once you’ve mastered the art of a list, you’re on the way to becoming an organisation queen, trust me.
Read: How To Stay On Track
Once you’ve made your to-do list, what now? It can be equally as overwhelming to look at a list of 10+ things to do when you don’t even know where to start with it. This can sometimes take time to do, but it can save you heaps of time in the long run. Sit down and have a think about which tasks on your list are really important and need to be tackled straight away. Whenever I make a list, I number it in order of priority to complete it, and then make a new list in the correct order. I find this super helpful when I have loads to do, which is usually Uni work with numerous deadlines, and it helps me to keep on top of my workload.
Another great way to prioritise is to pretend that you only have one hour to complete as many tasks as possible. (Maybe you do only have an hour, in which case, get cracking!) This way, your brain will find it really easy to pick out the tasks that need to be completed within that one hour time frame. So, look at your list, do you really need to do some ironing within the next hour? No? Then move on to the next thing. For me, this is when I am most productive.
Importance vs. Urgency.
Linking from the previous point, know the difference between what is urgent and what is important. Sometimes we get the two confused, and get our prioritisation all wrong, and end up being totally counter-productive. Some things may be important to us personally, but that does not make it something that is urgent. Things that are important can include things that help us to progress towards a goal, or things that need to be done at some point, such as household chores. However, things that are urgent are things with a deadline – whether this is a work task, a Uni task, or calling somewhere before they close for the day. It can be so difficult to distinguish between them, and we can easily tell ourselves that a task is urgent because we want to do that one first, when in real terms, it probably isn’t. If you get all of your urgent tasks out of the way first, then you will feel a lot more relaxed and a lot less stressed than you were previously.
Always look ahead.
Okay, it’s impossible to predict the future, but it’s still important to look ahead and be prepared for what may happen in the future and know how to react when it does. You might already feel like the world is out to get you with the amount of work you already have on your plate, however it is easy for life to go full circle and throw something else spanner-related in your direction. Always be prepared for something else to crop up, by tackling the most important things first. This way, if another important thing appears from the beyond, it won’t throw you off track too much, and won’t have too much of an impact on your stress.
Make a routine.
Stick to your prioritisation and don’t wander off track. It’s easy to make your list, to write it down, prioritise it, and write it down again, but unless you actually follow it, it is completely and utterly pointless. If I’m honest, this is probably the most difficult part of this process, because it can be really difficult to be strict with yourself so that you don’t wander off track. Sometimes, if my prioritised list isn’t enough, I segregate it even further. (Right now you’re probably thinking I’m some organisation freak as opposed to queen, but bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this I promise!) It’s okay to split your list even further and give yourself a time-scale. If you normally struggle with sticking to a routine, if you give yourself a certain few tasks to do each hour, each morning or each day, it is soo much easier to stick to. I used to be horrendous, but now I very rarely get overwhelmed in these situations, I make my [many] lists and slowly work through it at my own pace.
Don’t be hard on yourself.
Furthering the above point, it’s completely okay if you have lots to do; if anything, it’s natural. Don’t be hard on yourself for being busy, and don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t complete everything you need to do. Sometimes spreading it over a few days is actually beneficial, because at the end of the day you’re not superwoman, and nobody expects you to be. Other than maybe yourself, but if that’s the case, you need to forgive yourself for just being an ordinary human every once in a while! And whilst I’m on the topic, being human means that you are allowed to give yourself a break. If you have a day where you just feel like you absolutely cannot be productive, then that’s okay. I have them all the time, and you’ll end up needing more of them if you keep expecting so much of yourself 24/7. Need more girl-boss advice for giving yourself a break?
Do quick jobs first.
If you can tackle anything in under 5 minutes, then do it now. Having multiple things on your to-do list is bound to make you feel overwhelmed, so if you can eradicate a few things quickly then you are likely to feel a lot less pressured. I find this super helpful when I have a scarily long list, as sometimes the tasks I need to do are so simple, like “email lecturer”, “print off lecture notes” or “put on a dark wash”. Let’s be realistic, all of the above could be completed start to finish within a 5 minute time-scale, and yet these are the things that we often end up forgetting about. Besides, you could turn a 10 task to-do list into a 6 task list, and I know which one sounds more manageable and less overwhelming.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. One of the main causes of stress for myself and many friends around me is that we bury our heads in the sand instead of the fear of asking for help. Well, here’s a revelation for you, it’s not a weakness, and it can prevent a whole heap of stress that I’m sure you do not want, nor need. Allow other people to help if they can, and if you need the help. If your friend is heading to the printer too, ask them to collect your documents for you. If your housemate or partner isn’t busy, ask them to put the washing machine on for you. If your colleague is working on the same job as you, ask them for a bit of support and guidance if you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Get rid of the desire to be a perfectionist.
Sometimes it’s good to be a perfectionist, and it’s always good to take pride in your work. However, it’s not good to let it prevent you from being productive. I used to be terrible for this; tasks would take me three times as long because everything had to be neat and perfect and worded correctly. I’ll admit, I am still like this – I don’t think that ever goes completely, but it can be negative when it gets to the point that it makes you counter-productive and, if I’m honest, anxiety-filled at the thought of doing anything that isn’t quite right. Over time I have learnt that nobody is perfect and that is absolutely okay. So what that I made a small typo in my email, at least I got the message across. So what that my Uni lecture notes weren’t very neat, at least I made some. So what that I accidentally put a white sock in my darks washing, it’s still white. Perfectionism is unrealistic, and once you get rid of that desire, not only will you have more time to complete your tasks, you will also be a lot happier!
What is your coping mechanism when you feel overwhelmed at the extent of things you have to do? Feel free to comment below, I’d love to take on some more ideas!