What to do if you’re overwhelmed


I look at the unsorted, overlapping piles of paper, bills, printouts, letters, receipts, etc on my desk at home. I shake my head and escape to sit on my patio.

Out of sight. Out of mind.

Earlier, I escaped to swim laps in the nearby public pool.

My desk at work is equally in a state of disarray. Behind closed cabinets and within closed drawers are unsorted piles. Nobody knows except for me.

These are the marks of a time-challenged, or rather, a time-starved person.

On Facebook, I wrote: “Grant me the luxury of time, to wake up naturally without the pressure of appointments and expectations and waste time without feeling guilty.”

Many agree with me. But there are some people who can’t understand how I could get myself into such a state. They are the ones I envy — those with work life balance or a lot of time on their hands.

One friend wrote, “it’s not a luxury but a priority.” I must make time a priority rather than remain a slave to it.

I start first by wasting time. After I have spent a good day not doing what’s on my list, I am ready to tackle the problem at hand.

My “to do” list is always full. It’s become a bottomless pit. How do I get back in control again?

Prioritize: choose little things that have a deadline

  • I will sign that tax form and mail it to my accountant. He will do the rest.
  • I will grade the piano tests I gave on Friday even though I don’t need to return them until next Friday. Doing things early will take the pressure off the anticipation of not having time to do it later.
  • I will put the assignment I gave to my piano class online so that I won’t have to answer emails about them during the week.

Start big things without finishing them right away so they become doable.

  • I will start the two chapters due this week so that I can at least sense some progress.
  • I will do a little bit of the project administration each day.

Set rules and stick to them

  • I’ve long wanted to go to bed by a certain time so that I could wake up early. Here’s rule number 1: go to bed by 10 pm.
  • Rule number 2: wake up by 6 am. If 8 hours is not enough, go to bed by 9 pm or wake up at 7 am
  • Choose and commit to doing certain workouts during the week so that I will not negotiate when the time comes or have to decide and choose during the week when time is at a premium.

Implement a time management scheme that works

  • I make a list of what I will do tomorrow. This way, when tomorrow comes, the list will not keep growing. It’s always a finite list. I will only do what I’ve listed yesterday to do today. If I list anything new, that will have to be done tomorrow. Mark Forster, the time management guru and top life coach in the UK, calls it “do it tomorrow.”
  • Keep lists on the refrigerator and add to them. For example, shopping list, to fix it list, to return list. Once the lists are long enough and I have some spare time, I go take care of them.
  • Keep an online diary – a google calendar. Much stress comes from worrying about forgetting.

Say NO.

  • Learn to be like my mother and sister: guard my time. Don’t give it away so easily.
  • Don’t be so flexible. Pause. Think. Delay. Don’t react quickly.
  • Practise saying no.
  • Learn the different ways of saying no without feeling guilty and without offending the other party.

Reward yourself when you are no longer overwhelmed.

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