Overwhelmed by Work:What’s Too Much?

  • Someday Lesson: Unless you know exactly how long your to-do list is you can’t make objective decisions about what to work on.

Valentin.Ottone on Flickr.comSince December is Planning Month on Someday Syndrome let’s tackle a Someday Challenge that’s planning related. Specifically let’s look at Angela’s problem with being overwhelmed with everything she has to do.

Angela suffers from I’ll Get Around To It Someday. She knows what she wants but can’t seem to find the time or energy to follow through. She says “Someday I’ll find the time and energy to fulfill my dreams.” The thing is she’s not very specific about what those dreams are. When looking one year into the future however, she’s much more specific saying that she will have implemented some of her programs, have produced the show she wrote and be able to support her children financially.

The problem is that she’s so overwhelmed by the normal anxieties of life that she can’t see clearly. It seems to be so much stuff that she’s paralyzed by all the stuff. She moved her office in-house so that she could work on things 24/7 but that hasn’t worked which isn’t surprising. Bringing the office into the home is likely to create more anxieties not fewer. Without a clear separation of work life and home life the stress and guilt of working or not working 24/7 multiples exponentially. Every moment at work outside of regular hours takes away from family time and every moment with the family is one less moment striving for the work-related dream.

In our go-go-go world this sense of paralysis is common and it’s something many people suffer from. It happens when you allow your to-do list to get longer and longer which results in panic and paralysis.

Angela mentions anxiety at all the day to day stuff. That especially happens when you keep it all in your head – it builds and each item seems unrelated to anything else. As well, as I said working on things 24/7 is not the best way to get things done. I take plenty of time off and I’m one of the more productive people I know. I focus on relaxing when I’m not working and when I do work I don’t fritter because I know I have time to relax later.

So what does Angela need? She needs a plan. She needs to know what she’s working on when. However, she can’t create that plan until she knows exactly what she wants to work on. Yes, in her one-year-in-the-future vision she hints at what she might work on now, but the ideas are still very abstract. They’re results, not actions.

When looking into the future, it’s important to focus on actions. Outcomes are great, but they don’t motivate well because they leave a gap between the current state and the future outcome. That gap can only get filled by action.

Taking Action

And what actions does Angela need to do? What actions do you need to focus on if you want to achieve your dreams? How can you choose any one thing when there the to-do is longer than a line up to buy U2 concert tickets?

You might just pick one random item and work on that. Or you might pick the top three things that have reached crisis mode.

Or you might take a bit of time to plan out your actions, which first requires some research.

In this case, research doesn’t mean going out and looking up information or talking to others. For this type of research you are going to interview yourself. Using a blank piece of paper or a new document on the computer, write down the numbers 1 to 100 (if you’re using paper, you might need two or three sheets). Now fill in all 100 slots with everything you do during the day – both work and non-work related. Don’t forget as well those things that you want to/feel you should get done but haven’t gotten around to yet.

Why? What will Angela get out of overwhelming herself even more? How will this exercise help you?

Right now Angela feels overwhelmed by all of her to-dos. These to-dos however are only in her head. Just like in last week’s Someday Challenge, Angela needs to clear her head of the overwhelm and getting it out on paper does just that. Plus by giving yourself a goal of 100 items you’ll likely have a hard time reaching the goal and you’ll realize that you don’t actually have as many things to do as you thought, taking off some of the pressure.

By emptying your head of your to-dos you’ll also be able to look at all the items objectively. When they sit in your head they all seem equally important and necessary.

What Next?

So now you have a list of items that you do (or want to do). How do you take this list of actions and turn them into a plan that works for you, gives you time to relax, and moves you towards your dream?

You prioritize, delegate and delete items from the list. You whittle it down until it fits into a schedule that’s manageable and comfortable.

And no, it’s not easy. In fact this sort of Someday Challenge paralyzes many people.

You need help. You need the outside objectively of someone who isn’t so intimately connected to the actions, someone who can help you decide priorities and what doesn’t really need to get done after all.

You can get that help by filling out a Personalized Someday Assessment. It takes only a few minutes and just might mean the difference between being overwhelmed and being happy.

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8 thoughts on “Overwhelmed by Work:What’s Too Much?

  1. Hi Alex,

    I like the idea of taking a sheet of paper and writing down ALL of your to-do’s so that you’ll realize that there isn’t all THAT much to do anyway. It’s a very similar concept that I discussed in an article on my blog recently that talked about “Transferring” your worries onto a sheet of paper.

    Not only are you able to visually SEE what it is that’s stressing you out in your head, causing you to realize it’s probably not as much as you thought, but I think on a subconscious level we feel like we are taking the responsibility from having to remember EVERYTHING and transferring it onto that sheet of paper, thus reducing the amount of stress we place on ourselves to keep ourselves “on top” of things.

    It’s a great exercise and while I’ve only thought to do it with general “worries”, I really like the idea of doing it with a to-do list as well.

    Thanks again for the great article!
    .-= Jonathan Beebe´s last blog ..Transfer Your Worries =-.

  2. […] to do when you’re overwhelmed with work? Alex Fayle has some suggestions at Someday […]

  3. Alex Fayle says:

    I’ve done it for worries as well and yes it works really fantastically! It really helps drive action because seeing things down on paper (or computer screen) helps generate creative thinking and solutions.

  4. Thanks for this article, Alex.

    You’ve given me a lot to think about in terms of my own projects and possibilities. I particularly appreciate your list of ways to prioritize the To Do list. It’s great how you acknowledge that sometimes what’s at crisis — which feels so disorganized — can be part of the process.

  5. Donna Willingham says:

    Thanks for this exercise, Alex, I found it really helpful in focusing on reaching the goals in my own job and personal life. I feel I should also share with you an amazing course I did in Cairo that I found life changing – Sarah Merron of Fire Dragon Coaching teaches strategies that really helped me focus on getting the best out of myself and others around me, for both my work and personal life. She runs courses all over the world, so it’s a fantastic way to travel at the same time. Here’s the link, I found it had a very powerful effect on my life: http://egyptnlptraining.com/

  6. Shirley says:

    And what do you do if your list is at 115 and you’re still going?

    I’ve got a meeting with my line manager on Friday, so hoping to think about sensible ways to raise it then. :/

  7. Alex Fayle says:


    115 is a list that’s way too long – time to cut things out at least for now. Decide on the priorities and ignore the rest. Keep the list but focus on only a small slice of it.

    Good luck!

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