3 Tricks to Make Life More Manageable When You Feel Overwhelmed

Life has a way of becoming overwhelming. It seems that there’s more and more to do the older you get, especially once you start living on your own. Your to-do list grows out of control, and eventually the amount of time it would take to get it all done exceeds the amount of time you have left until retirement. Just one project can be enough to stress you out and leave you overwhelmed. What do you do when you’re drowning in work – both at the office and at home? As insurmountable as the tasks may seem, you can tackle them. The first thing to do is break them down.

Big Project –> Smaller Projects

I remember my freshman year of college. The second quarter was a full schedule, starting with 8:30 am classes covering a range of topics that weren’t necessarily in the major I wanted to study. All three of my classes provided me with a syllabus and a list of all homework and tests for the following ten weeks. Being the obsessive list-maker and planner that I am, I decided to map out the whole quarter’s homework so I’d be ready for it. Likewise, I guesstimated how much time it would take to do each reading and assignment. After an hour of planning and calculating, the staggering number left me in tears. How was I ever going to find enough time to do all of this homework in addition to my lengthy commute and part-time job? I thought I was going to die of homework.

As you may have noticed, I’m still alive. The endless readings, assignments, and study sessions didn’t do me in, and it’s partially because I broke it down. I took each day one at a time, and it wasn’t so bad when I kept the bigger picture out of my head.

Here’s a more recent example: I’ve always kept pretty much all my emails. You never know when you’ll need to look up some old info! As such, I meticulously organize my emails into different folders and subfolders so they’re easy to locate when needed. In the last few months, I completely fell behind on my organizing, and had an inbox of over 900 unsorted emails. I knew I had to go through them and sort them into their appropriate folders. But it was such a daunting task that I kept putting it off.

Finally, I realized I just needed to start working on it. Even if I didn’t finish, I could at least get the ball rolling. I decided to work on it for just 15 minutes each day. That’s enough time to make some progress, but not so much time that it sent me into a stressed out avoidance breakdown. I added that 15-minute block to my to-do list each day, and after a couple weeks, all my emails were sorted and my peace of mind was restored.

Break it Down into Something Manageable

Think about the big project that’s looming over you right now. Why does it make you feel overwhelmed? If it’s the shear size or amount of time it requires, see how you can break it down. Let’s say you’re writing a book. Don’t stress about writing a whole entire book. Focus on the parts that go into that. You’ll need some time for research, some time for outlining, and then time to write a draft of each chapter. Each of those is a manageable, small (enough) goal that you can work on.

Instead of looking at a project as 100 hours of work, think of it as, say, 1 hour a day. If you stick with it and work little by little each day, eventually you’ll cross the finish line.

Apply the 15-Minute Technique to Everyday Work

Breaking work down into smaller amounts can help with all kinds of tasks. When tackling your projects, try working for short amounts of time, interrupted by brief breaks. The Pomodoro Technique suggests working for 25 minutes, taking a 5-minute break, then working for another 25 minutes. See if something like that helps motivate you to work on even the most unappealing of projects. When cleaning around the house, don’t save the bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, and vacuuming all for one day. Clean for just a few minutes each day and everything will stay sparkly and pristine without stressing you out.

Of course, some tasks really do need long-term focus. Some projects have tight deadlines, and you can’t slow it down to fit into your 15-minutes-per-day workflow. Those may require a different kind of motivation, be it the fast-approaching-deadline-inspiration that college students pulling all-nighters know so well, or some energetic tunes pumping through your headphones.

But when you can break it down, it will help you to work on daunting tasks little by little. In no time, you’ll see that you’ve checked it off your list and are feeling a little more relaxed than before.

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