What to Do When You Have Too Much to Do

Is your to-do list impossibly overwhelming? This quick fix will help you conquer your stress, and get down to business.
Author, Profit First
January 07, 2013

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Maybe you’re having a panic attack, or a sudden desire to curl up under your desk in a fetal position and cry. Now what? First, recognize it's okay ... overwhelm happens. There are millions of people across America right now crying in the restroom or screaming behind their closed office doors.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. It's time to lose that overwhelmed feeling. It just takes a pad of paper and a pen. Let’s take action to get your overwhelm fixed.

1. Create a list. Write down (on paper) everything you need to do. This is critical, because a big part of overwhelm is the mental energy of constantly thinking of all the things you need to do. Once you’ve written it all down, it will release the need to remember, and the fear of forgetting, and a huge chunk of the stress will go away.

2. Next, look for “combo packs.” Are there any tasks that can be done simultaneously or more efficiently if they are grouped together? Maybe you can write all your emails and make all your phone calls at the same time. What about filing and mail? Make the first group by putting the number 1 next to each item that can be grouped together. Then make the next group and put a number 2 next to each item in that group. Keep repeating until the entire grouping is down. Now put a number next to each remaining items. This will tell you how many real actions you need to take. This often gives you even more relief since there is less to do then when you first wrote everything down.

3. Put a dollar sign next to anything that will result in income. Use the next 30 days as a timeframe for money coming in, not next year. You can prioritize by date, amount of money, the likelihood a client will fire you, time it will take to complete the task or whatever other criteria will ensure you tackle the right project first.

4. Put a smiley face next to anything that is for a client or prospect. Note some things will have both a dollar sign and a smiley face.

5. Put a star next to anything that is due today. Some things will have a smiley face, a dollar sign and a star—like a Vegas slot machine, only without the bells and quarter slots. Start here ... do these tasks or jobs first. I guarantee crossing them off the list will ease your overwhelm levels immediately.

Now that that's sorted, let's get to work.

1. Start tackling the tasks that have the smiley, dollar, and star—all three together. These are most important to check off first, if there are other things in that group, do those too.

2. Next, do the dollar sign and star combo items. These tasks will bring you money and keep your business alive—and keep you in an office that you can scream in from time to time.

3. Next, check off the smiley and star tasks. Client stuff is always a priority.

4. Next, postpone the star tasks. That's right. I don't want you to complete the starred items just yet, believe it or not. This is urgent stuff but not important (it doesn’t affect your income or your clients), so your job now is to delay these items. Make the call or email to get you more time—do whatever you can to delay them.

5. Now, do the tasks with dollar signs, followed by those with smiley faces, and finally the ones with stars. Then feel free to tackle the rest of the list.

See? Your overwhelm levels have just dropped significantly and you’re back on track. You may not feel like you can kick back and relax just yet, but you’re getting closer. It's all about getting the mess-o-stress in your mind, on paper and in control.

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Mike Michalowicz is the CEO of Provendus Group, a consulting group that helps companies whose growth has plateaued to grow again. Michalowicz is the author of The Pumpkin Plan and The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, as well as one of the most popular entrepreneur blogs. 

Photo: Getty Images

Author, Profit First