Overwhelm – How Do You Manage Yours?

Overwhelm – How Do You Manage Yours?


Overwhelm. We all experience at one stage or another. Whether it happens frequently or rarely, it's a bit like that other "it" that people say happens.  If you try and tell me it never happens to you, I won't believe you.  Either that or I'll ask you how on earth you manage it! This post aims to examine it in a bit more detail and take a look at a few ways to help overcome it.

Why Does it Happen?

Overwhelm usually occurs when the number of stressors you're coping with outweigh your coping skills. Symptoms can vary, but if you recognise any of the following you may very well be a casualty:

  • sadness
  • stressing out over little things
  • anxiety and fear
  • depression
  • feeling angry all the time

I don't think I need to tell you how easily that can happen when getting a new business off the ground. One minute you're on fire with passion and enthusiasm and the next you're in a crumbly, weepy heap. What with testing ideas, little money, not much support from others who understand what's necessary and all of the other stuff in your life competing for time and attention (family demands, part time job, self-care), it's no wonder overwhelm can sneak up and completely take over!

How do you handle it?

Stressed Woman holding hands to forehead

The Traditional Approach

The traditional approach to fending off overwhelm is the to do list. It sounds great in theory, but in reality it can be yet another stress.

The key here is flexibility and experimenting with different approaches until you find what works for you.  Be warned, it may be VERY different to what everybody else finds works for them.  That doesn't make you weird - that makes you smart for being able to think outside the box.


  • you can see everything that needs to be done at once
  • it's easy to add to the list
  • you can get a great sense of satisfaction when you tick things off


  • the linear nature of a to do list means it's easy to focus on what hasn't been done yet
  • it's ever growing! (What's that piece of paper I can see that looks like a toilet roll bolting out your door and down your drive?)
  • it usually focuses purely on one aspect of life - work

There are many other approaches that others find work well for them.  To go over all of them would make this an extremely long blog post so I'm just going to focus on a couple of them. They're modifications on the 'to do' list, but may work a lot better than the traditional version.


The Pomodoro Technique

This method was so named because of the tomato-shaped timer that Frances Cirillo used to invent the technique back in the 1980's. (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato.) The idea is to work on one thing for 25 minutes (termed a pomodoro), then take a break for 5 minutes and then move onto the next 25 minute block. http://pomodorotechnique.com/


  • It's said to improve mental agility
  • It can be good if you have a short attention span or multiple short projects to get finished in one day


  • It can be disruptive if you stick to it rigidly and the timer interrupts you when you're 'in the flow'
  • Personally, I find 5 minute breaks aren't really long enough
  • Handheld timers/phones, etc., can be annoying to set over and over again

Variation: I've found that the 30/30 app for iPad works much better for me.  You can customise the amount of time you want to spend on each tasks, schedule breaks in between, colour code them and assign individual notification sounds - PLUS plan your whole week out ahead of time.  It's available for both iPhone and iPad, but I'm not sure if there's an android or Windows phone equivalent. Even better - it's free!  (No, I'm not affiliated with them in any way - I just love the app!)


My Previous Technique

I used a weekly scheduling pad to map out the stuff to get done during the week including all of my breaks, housework, meal times, weekends, etc. I know other people add other touches that help them, too.  Sue Kearney, for example, colour codes hers to ensure she maintains balance in her schedule. For me, the following are important considerations:

  • allocate time according to the size of the task (or portion of the task if you're breaking it down into chunks)
  • include 'ME' time for balance

An example:
My priorities each day are as follows:

  • check social media platforms (x 10 and more) for one of my major clients each day
  • work on my current project
  • work on my digital marketing and business consulting services
  • get some physical exercise (I do this by ensuring I hop on my exercise bike for at least 10 minutes after each social media check, which equates to 40 minutes of exercise a day and I hardly even feel it!)


  • I could look back on my week and see how much I'd achieved
  • I could carry tasks forward if I needed to
  • My schedule had inbuilt flexibility when I needed it


  • there was still a possibility of overwhelm if I didn't leave space to carry things forward
  • I didn't use a timer (although I could have combined this approach with the 30/30 app)
  • I didn't have a long term view of what was coming up


My Current Technique

At the moment I'm using my paper, A5 day-to-a-page diary for an overview of my external commitments each week (meetings, client work, personal time, etc) I've taken to utilising Asana, a project management application, to keep my daily and longer term tasks and projects organised. It's a nifty program that allows you to divide your work up into projects, to add team members, to assign tasks and have them repeat if necessary and provides the capacity to upload and share files, add notes to specific tasks and projects and a whole heap more.


  • It's easy to create and assign tasks when and as I need to
  • It's easy to update
  • I can use it on my iPad or laptop to keep up to date with what I need to do
  • It has a very intuitive interface


  • It doesn't have a visual timeline like a Gantt chart, but I'm actually thinking of using the instructions here to create one in Excel and use it as a guide in conjunction with Asana
  • When you mark tasks as completed it has unicorns that fly across your screen that say "Hooray!" and "Whoaaaa!" and other assorted things that make me think of Charlie.  This thrills my inner hippie but aggravates the logical, geeky part of me NO end!



Regardless of which system you choose, it's essential to stay flexible.  You need to ensure you schedule some quiet time away from the business for you as well. Don't set your expectations too high. If you're in business it's a pretty sure bet that you have a 'to do' list at least as tall as you are.  If that's the case, choose the things that will move you forward the most each day. Once money starts to come in you can outsource the other stuff.  In amongst all of this, is the importance of planning, which will be my topic in about a fortnight's time.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear how you schedule your stuff so that you minimise overwhelm and ensure a balance between your personal and business life.  Why not leave a comment so that others can benefit from your experience as well?

PS: If the unicorns ever disappear from Asana, I think I'd be very disappointed, in spite of my geeky critic!


  1. Excellent write up. Also interesting to see that there is no one perfect way. I’m currently doing the pomodoro technique quite loosely, unless I am in flow and I forget all about technique. I also find myself doing 5 minutes activities to do with tidying different parts of the studio, say. Something like a chunking down one activity such as organising books in the bookshelves. Just take one shelf and organise, dust, whatever. .. great write-up

  2. Thank you, Jan. I start doing 5 minute decluttering things, but always get sidetracked. I think my weakness lies there! A wonderful friend told me about a decluttering ‘game’ she found online. I tried to find the link but couldn’t. Anyway, it goes like this: on the first of the month you declutter one thing, on the 2nd two things, on the 3rd three things and so on. I keep missing the 1st of the month, so I keep putting it off, but I think I may have to make a start on whatever day it is when I next remember! I love your approach too!

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