What to Do When You Are Overwhelmed

Posted by Todd Smith

Throughout my career, I can recall countless periods of time when I was overwhelmed and stressed out. As I reflect back on many of these periods, they were during seasons of great growth in my career.

While sustained stress is not good for you, if you are not experiencing any stress at all, it’s likely you’re not growing. Think about it. Being comfortable never leads to growth.

In this lesson, I will share with you the process I go through when I am stressed out and overwhelmed.

Step 1. Prioritized list. When I find it hard to breathe because of the pile of work I have to complete, I STOP everything and take 30 minutes to sit down and prioritize all my responsibilities. While I keep a daily to-do list which is very helpful, the list I am referring to will include my responsibilities that go beyond those on my daily to-do list.

Step 2. Strategize. I then think through what is involved in completing each of these responsibilities. I review in my mind the process of what must get done to complete these tasks. This is my opportunity to try to get my arms around each of my responsibilities and to fully understand what needs to be accomplished and the amount of time it will take.

Step 3. Two lists. When I feel that I have a clear understanding of what needs to get done, I create two lists. This first list includes the things that ONLY Todd Smith can do, listed in priority sequence. The second list contains the things I will delegate to others, also in a prioritized sequence.

Step 3. Delegate. As an entrepreneur with no employees, delegating to an employee is not an option. My four options are my wife, my kids, my dad, and outside service providers. While I seldom ask my wife and kids to do things for me, they do help out where they can if they sense I am totally overwhelmed.

The key to this step is to try to find people who can help you by doing the things that others can do. It might be asking your neighbor to pick up your child from soccer practice. I’ve learned that as long as you don’t abuse these relationships, people will generally be happy to help when you are in a crunch.

Step 4. Responsibility. Now it’s time to evaluate the things that only I can do and consider the time remaining to do them. My objective is to determine if there are enough hours in a day to complete these tasks on time. I am not talking about normal working hours. I mean all available hours outside of sleeping and eating.

Since I take great pride in being a person who is responsible, I will get up an hour earlier, stay up an hour later, and work weekends to fulfill my responsibilities. There are times when it’s not possible to achieve an effective balance between family and career. This is one of them. I am 100% all about work.

The good news is that these periods generally last less than one week. My family understands that the benefits my efforts provide are worth those times I have to put my head down and work without coming up for air.

If I determine that I can’t complete something on time, I immediately call the people who will be affected. I explain the situation without making excuses and tell them when it will be completed.

No one likes to hear about a missed deadline, but everyone I deal with appreciates having advance notice.

Step 5. Attack. I turn off the phone, shut down my email, and attack my responsibilities in priority sequence. Every big thing is made up of little things, so I just do the little things in priority sequence. Sometimes I feel like I am walking in quicksand, but I just keep trudging and eventually, it all gets done.

I have found that when I break down my responsibilities and attack them in a prioritized sequence, I feel less stressed because I know I am working on my plan and doing all I can do.

As you complete each item on your list, cross it off. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue with your attack.

Next time you feel overwhelmed, come back to Little Things Matter and take 5 minutes to read or listen to this lesson.

Welcome these times in your life and learn from them. These are often the times when you are forced to spend your time doing the things that represent the highest and best use of your time. When you spend your time doing what only you can do, you will maximize your value to the market.

Your greatest opportunities for personal and career growth can come from being overwhelmed.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 43 years and founder of Little Things Matter. This blog contains over 200 of his timeless life lessons.

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