Between work, meetings, household chores, and — for some — parenting duties, we all have a lot on our plates right now. And as the to-dos pile on, it can be hard to know what to tackle first, which leads to feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Taking a moment to pause and prioritize isn’t always easy, yet research tells us that trying to constantly multitask only ends up backfiring and adding to our stress.
We asked our Thrive community to share with us the little ways they prioritize when they start to feel overwhelmed. Which of these will you try?
Name your top priority item
“I recently found that keeping a long to-do list doesn’t improve my productivity. I would always start with the easiest tasks and end up keeping myself busy all day with projects that were less important. Now, I’ve started asking myself what my number one priority task is for the day. By only having one thing to prioritize in the morning, it gives you more focus and more energy to get things done.”
—Furkan Karayel, inclusive leadership advisor, Dublin, Ireland
Consider the four D’s
“I use the technique called ‘Decide, Ditch, Delegate and Do.’ The method works because it focuses on what you can do to help yourself when you feel overwhelmed. It helps shift your mindset from rumination to constructive action. First, you decide what’s important to you, then ditch what feels like an unnecessary task, look at what could be delegated, and then what is left is your ‘do’ list.”
—Beverly Landais, career coach, Tunbridge Wells, UK
Try the 4:8 breathing technique
“When I am feeling overwhelmed, I take a moment to slow down and breathe. It always feels counterintuitive to stop doing things when we already feel we have so much to do, but I do a 4:8 breathing technique that always helps me prioritize in stressful situations. First, take a breath in through your nose for a count of four, breathing into your diaphragm and keeping your shoulders relaxed. Then, exhale slowly like you are blowing through a straw for a count of eight, controlling your breath so you can exhale for the whole count. After just three rounds of this technique, you will already feel yourself relaxing and your mind clearing.”
—Paul Nuttall, holistic health coach, Lisbon, Portugal
Use the 15-minute rule
“I break my tasks down into 15-minute chunks. I look at what I can do in 15 minutes, and if the task can’t get completed in those 15 minutes, I feel better knowing I at least got started. Oftentimes, just starting on an agenda item gives me motivation to work on other ones.”
—Kristin Meekhof, author and therapist, Royal Oak, MI
Keep a master to-do list
“I keep a master list of things that need to get done. At the end of each day, I try to write down what my priorities are for the next day. I like to keep the list to three or four things that are achievable with the meeting schedule that I may have. When things are busy and that all goes out the window, I’ll set aside time to regroup. At the end of the week, I go back over my master list and plan accordingly. It makes a real difference when you start to feel overwhelmed by everything you have to do.”
—Mary M., HR manager, Downingtown, PA
Go for a quick walk
“When things get overwhelming, I take a step back, both mentally and physically. I first go for a walk to take a quick breather for around twenty minutes. Then, I come back, open my notebook to write a clear to-do list for the week, and start prioritizing. I head to my calendar to block out ‘focus time’ or slots where no one can book meetings in so I can scratch things off the to-do list.”
—Suzan Elsayed, management consultant, London, UK
Do a braindump
“When I feel overwhelmed, I do a braindump of everything that’s in my head, so I can begin to find places for each of the things on my plate. For the most urgent items, I block out time away from social media and my phone, and work with a timer in focused chunks of 25 minutes. With the remainder of the tasks, I schedule them into my calendar. When I know I have allocated time and space for them, it helps to reduce the overwhelm and panic.”
—Jo Gifford, content development strategist and author, Cambridge, UK
Pause for a moment of self-care
“When I begin feeling overwhelmed, I acknowledge that it’s a signal that I need to step away from distractions and focus on myself for a moment. I limit social media, instead taking walks and baths — simply pausing to focus on one ritual that will help me take better care of myself. Then, when I return, I focus on one priority for the day. I have found that this helps me to refocus and feel better, and then I can feel a little less overwhelmed.”
—Kathryn Djordjevic, pharmacist and researcher, Toronto, ON, Canada
Make digital notes
“For someone who thinks quite abstractly and randomly like myself, the trusty iPhone Notes tool does the trick when I begin to feel overwhelmed. I make lists there that integrate multiple projects and enable me to make ongoing changes, and I enjoy the gratification of bolding and deleting items as I progress. I also start writing many pieces — articles, songs, book components — in the Notes tool. It’s so easily accessible whenever inspiration hits, and it makes all your to-do’s feel less overwhelming.”
—Chris Lumry, nonprofit filmmaker and songwriter, Redding, CA
How do you prioritize when you start feeling overwhelmed? Share your tips with us in the comments.
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