How to Handle Overwhelm?

How to Handle Overwhelm?
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(Justin DiRose) #1

This last week has been insane. My newborn has been sick and not sleeping, my 2yo has not been resting very well either. Work has been ever increasing in the amount of both proactive and reactive work falling on my plate. I’ve felt entirely overwhelmed.

When I get into these states, I feel every little hole of my system. The temptation in this place is to want to throw it all out, run away from the problem, and try a new tool (or go back to an old one... OF2). Obviously, that’s not the problem. The problem is I feel overwhelmed. Yet that’s not to say there aren’t some glaringly obvious holes in my system that are being revealed, too.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Written down the major tasks that need to take place.
  • Tried to get as close to neutral at home (laundry, dishes, etc. taken care of)
  • Started working off my written list instead of my big monstrosity in Todoist that gets out of date in half a second if something blows up
  • Tried to take a step back and evaluate priorities

I don’t feel I have a good grip, though, on my situation.

I’m sure many of you have felt overwhelmed before. How have you handled it? What’s been effective? What hasn’t? I’d love to learn more together.


(Rosemary Orchard) #2

I try to find enough time to do a brain dump, then I can see everything that’s bothering me and negotiate with my brain which things are urgent vs the things that can wait. If I don’t write down what’s bothering me then it keeps bothering me, which ends up being a big waste of time.


(Joe Buhlig) #3

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

I was recently in the same position. I’ve had a ton of client projects hit me lately and it’s been a challenge keeping up with it. I was stressing out about and having a had time falling asleep at night.

I ended up free-writing in a journal and taking random notes on a whiteboard in an attempt to get as much out of my head as I could. The main goal was to look for some form of system or alteration to my process that would make it possible for me to keep track of the vast number of client projects in action and the state they are in.

About 45 minutes into this process, I realized what I actually needed to do was change the structure of my business and form a new LLC. It’s quite an undertaking to build out and certainly increased my workload for now, but I can see the clear path to less stress and I’m on pace to achieve it in about a weeks time.

Soooooo… write stuff down… on paper. :blush:


(Paul Sufka) #4

I’m a big fan of Jocko Willink’s strategy: prioritize and execute.

In his own words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmaYK0p9WAM

Biggest thing seems to keep the system to handle these as simple as possible.


(Mike N) #5

The brain dump is usually my first step as well.

This may be a little ‘woo woo’ but I use a mantra that I repeat over and over in my head when in those situations. I just keep thinking “Do the next thing…Do the next thing…Do the next thing.”

I find forcing my brain to loop on that vs. the overwhelm calms me.

Another useful thing is to try and “steal a march”. I know in the productivity world we always talk working less, work life balance, etc. Sometimes the answer is to burn the candle at both ends. Taking a nap, then getting up at midnight to work gives you a free day. It is generally quiet, new issues aren’t generating, and you get the opportunity to get out in front of stuff.

Two rules:

  1. know what you’re planning to attack in that window, and generally it should be something that if given several hours of attention will make everything else easier or unnecessary.

  2. Keep it to yourself. Working all night as a badge of honor to receive praise / sympathy devalues it and wires you to do things in that manner for praise in the future.


(Justin DiRose) #6

Shameless plug.

I’ve honestly been enjoying the iPad + Apple Pencil.

I spent about 2 hours on Sunday doing exactly what you all are discussing. Brain dumping all my priorities, and slashing through my task manager. (I will have some news to share on that eventually too).

This was really helpful and surfaced a few things:

  • I keep too much stuff in my task system. My well intentioned reminders often make me feel overwhelmed because I only have so much time in the day.
  • Habits and recurring items don’t need to be duplicated in the task manager and another app.
  • I need the ability to better triage and give status to my projects to stay sane.

I’ve also got more opportunities on my plate than I know what to do with, plus a family and job! It’s a great season of life, but I’m really seeking wisdom to handle it well. I want to make choices that set me up for the future well. That’s been a chunk of the stress too. But I feel after the brain dump time that’s settling out.

Amazing what a little writing session can do for clarity!


(Josh Rensch) #7

Tell me more. Do you put your habits into your task manager? How do you see your streaks and such? Is that important to you?


(Wilson Ng) #8

Habits and recurring items are hard when there are too many of them. It might be better to put some habits and hold or drop them. I’ve dropped many a habit and resumed it much later after the dust settles.

I know I’ve had to focus on 1-3 new habits at a time and incorporate them. I’ll drop them after a trial period if it doesn’t work out for me.

It’s like the GTD system. There’s just so many moving parts to try to adopt and it becomes difficult. Focusing on one habit at a time will ingrain into my muscle memory. Then I can focus my attention on the next habit.

As long as I have one place for the routine habits/maintenance tasks, I’m OK. Like you said, there’s no need to duplicate the tasks.

I think my overwhelm comes from having too many active projects. I have to put some of them on hold for a while and just finish whatever is on my plate today.


(Mike N) #9

Task managers don’t necessarily make good project managers / trackers.

This. Adding more than a handful of new habits generally fails for me as well. Unless you need reminders or reporting, habit tracking fits really well on the analog side of a hybrid system. Using the apple pencil / ipad in this context would be included in the below.

I generally use one of two options:

1 - I normally create a weekly page, similar to what Joe outlined in his analog system post or most Bullet Journal weekly spreads. I’ll list the my key items for the week and any habits I’m working on with a goal value next to it ex: Run 5 miles (3) or Meditate for 15 minutes (5). Then just make a tally mark as I do them.

2 - Make an actual grid tracker, common with the Bullet Journal community with the days on one axis and the habit on the other. Mark off the blocks as you perform the habit. This gives you a nice visual result if you are that type of thinker.

  • Slightly off topic on embracing the iPad as a primary device - Most folks seem to act like they need one perfect setup for this i.e. a specific external keyboard. The beauty is that you have an incredibly flexible form factor. At home / office I have a stand that puts the iPad at eye level and use a bluetooth mechanical keyboard, treating it as a normal workstation. On the go, I have three different keyboard combinations depending on the days expected work. A lot of typing - then I’ll bring a heavier keyboard (like the Ramsem or Brydge keyboards) that effectively converts the iPad into a laptop. Less heavy typing focused work or a need to travel light - the standard smart keyboard cover. Then you add the pencil.

(Justin DiRose) #10

I was kinda using both Todoist and Streaks. I’m kind of in between how to approach it right now because of…

I’m trying to do just this. What are the habits that matter right now? Can I pick just one to focus on? Which one?

Man, habits are hard. Especially with things like exercise.


(David Sparks) #11

So much of this boils down to being realistic about what you can and can’t do in a day. While you wouldn’t agree to go to lunch with two different people in two different places at the exact same time, we constantly do that to ourselves with project and task management. Get a handle on that and everything gets easier.


(Rosemary Orchard) #12

Definitely this!

Personally with habits I have a few days every so often where I drop everything (well, excluding brushing my teeth, eating, and other things crucial to feeling like a human). What I do though is I evaluate afterwards which habits I missed, this might not be missing doing them - but the feeling that comes afterwards. This helps me evaluate which habits are really becoming beneficial to me.


(Justin DiRose) #13

That’s so true and something I’m frankly terrible at!

Has anyone been down this path and have any tips for being realistic for your time?

The biggest challenge for me is I’m mostly on a managers schedule at work. I can take on commitments and think I have plenty of time one day and then have something blow up, or constantly be bombarded with questions from my direct reports. That seems to keep me in a reactive mindset some days, and I struggle with that.