Sons of Sceva overwhelmed by a possessed man, or has this ever happened to you?

How to deal with being overwhelmed

Let me tell you what my next four weeks will look like. I’m getting ready for my book signing event on Saturday. And I’m doing taxes for everyone in my family because I was a bookkeeper and volunteer tax preparer in a past life. And I’m judging a book contest. And I have a busy schedule with multiple deadlines at work. And I have dental and doctor appointments. And I have all the odds and ends and errands and assorted things to do. But I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not. Because I’ve learned how to deal with multiple competing pressures that can overwhelm a person.

One of the most practical classes I took as a teenager was a College Success course before I went to UCLA. It taught me skills in time management and planning that I’ve used ever since. I passed along some of these skills to intermediate school students in 2006.

Here are some tips that can help you when you feel overwhelmed.

Make checklists

One of the most important apps I use is Microsoft OneNote. There I keep all of my checklists and notes. When I feel overwhelmed, I create a checklist of all the tasks I need to do and break them down into sub-steps. Then, I check them off as I go along or add notes if there is information I need. If I have to wait to complete tasks, I can take care of some other tasks in the meantime.

Creating a checklist makes a large amount of work seem less daunting. It removes the anxiety that I might be missing some steps. I also get satisfaction as I check off completed tasks.

What I like about OneNote is that it works with all my devices, including my Windows system at work. I don’t worry about losing paper lists or having a list on my phone that isn’t on my computer. I can update my checklists wherever I am.

Block out time

My computer and bedroom in Reseda, 1985

One thing I depended on in college was my weekly schedule. You’ll see it attached to the adhesive corkboard on the left, just behind my joystick. There, I blocked out all the things I needed to do for the week. It had my class and work schedules. I allocated time for studying, housework, and taking care of my mom because of her stroke. It also included time for relaxation and—most importantly—sleep.

With a schedule, you can make sure you have enough time to accomplish the tasks you need to do. It also enables you to defend your time. Others will pile on demands or interrupt you to take on their tasks. You can respond by saying, “I’m sorry, but I have this hour set aside to work on this project. I can get back to you when I’m free at 2:00.”

Delegate and defer

We’re given tasks because we’re the only one who can do them, and we benefit from doing the work. But other tasks can be delegated or deferred. No time to cook? Get healthy take out or prepackaged meals. Hire a gardener or a pool maintenance person for the month you’ll be busy. Put off that big shopping trip or reorganizing your cabinets. See what items can be done later or done by someone else. This frees you to focus on your most important tasks.

Take care of yourself

One thing you should not put off is self-care. When we are overwhelmed with tasks, we stop exercising, gobble down junk food, and cut down on sleep. Don’t do that. You need energy to carry out the tasks you need to do. If you sacrifice your health, you also cut down on your effectiveness. Try doing a complex task like completing a tax return on five hours of sleep and three energy drinks. You can’t, or at least you can’t do it well.

Self-care has become more important the older I get. When I was in my twenties, I scheduled sleep and downtime last. Today in my sixties, I schedule them first. I want to make sure I have sufficient rest so I have all the energy to carry out my tasks. I also know the consequences when you cut corners on your health. Eighty-hour work weeks grind away at body and mind. I look at the example of my mom who sacrificed her own well-being to meet the demands of home and work to the point she couldn’t do anything at all.

Planning and perspective

When you find yourself overwhelmed, planning and perspective are the keys. Create checklists that break down your work into tasks. Block out time to perform your work and minimize interruptions. Find tasks you can delegate and defer. And most importantly, take care of yourself and don’t cut down on exercise, healthy eating, and sleep.

You’ve been given work because you’re valued, and others have confidence that you can do the job. With organization and planning, you can fulfill your commitments and do them well. But as you do them, protect your schedule and your health. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to help anyone else.