I remember the exact moment when I realized just how overwhelmed with life I was.
I sat at our kitchen island that Sunday evening with my laptop propped open, updating my bullet journal for the upcoming week. I went through my normal routine of checking my calendar and browsing through my long list of tasks in Todoist, neatly penning them into my weekly agenda.
Already, the stress of everything I had to do was weighing on me, especially after coming off a weekend full of social activities. (If you're an introvert like me, you totally understand how draining socializing can be!)
An email suddenly popped up on my screen, a simple invitation. An invitation I could easily say no to … but the fact that someone was asking me to commit to yet another activity proved too much.
I just broke.
I'm not normally a crier, but the pressure had built up so much that all it took was a little email to send me over the edge. And to the edge I went. Crying. Sobbing. Acting like a 7-year-old whose sister had just touched her favorite Barbie doll. Completely overwhelmed with life.
My sweet husband let me get it all out (after 10 years, he knows not to “fix” anything—at least not right away), then helped me put the pieces back together, including a politely written “no” to the email that sparked the meltdown.
I swore to myself I would never let my schedule get that bad again. So I began searching for practical ways to add more simplicity and margin to my life, and I've been practicing them religiously ever since.
If you find yourself over-committed, running without room to breathe, then consider these 7 simple strategies your saving grace!
1. Braindump Everything in Your Mind
The first defense against massive overwhelm is a brain dump. If you're not familiar with a brain dump, take a blank sheet of paper and spend just 5-10 minutes writing down every task and project that come to your mind.
Here's why this step is so important: When you're overwhelmed with life and too many to-do's float through your mind, they have a tendency to become bigger headaches than they actually are. There's something about a task being written down in black-and-white that helps you say, “Hey, I can totally tackle that.”
If you're interested in learning more about brain dumps, sign up for my FREE Priority Planning Mini Course. I'll guide you through a brain dump from start to finish, including how to organize all the information you write down, as well as set up every week for success going forward.
2. Don't Say YES Unless It's a No-Brainer
Once you've had a chance to clear your mind, be intentional about all the things you allow back in.
Do not say yes unless it's a “Oh-my-word-I-absolutely-have-to-do-this YES!” Putting every decision or commitment through this test of whether you can answer this way makes saying yes a whole lot easier. No more weighing all the pros and cons.
As a full-time blogger, I'm presented with new opportunities every day. But if I don't get overly excited about something, then I know my answer. No. That word has helped relieve many would-be responsibilities.
By the way, if you're a people pleaser who has a hard time saying no, one book that really helped me understand my limits was The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst. I took so many notes that I had to write an entire post about the 7 critical lessons I learned while reading it!
3. Scale Down Your Commitments
If you've said yes too many times, no wonder you feel overwhelmed because you've overcommitted yourself! Whether your calendar is full of PTA meetings, various church events, or any other activities where you've volunteered to help out, it might be time to reconsider everything you've signed up for.
I totally get that it's uncomfortable to back out of things.
I once had to explain multiple times to someone why I couldn't help out anymore because they just didn't get it. Even though I squirmed through the entire conversation, I felt incredible relief afterwards because I knew it was the right thing!
Remember this—YOU know yourself best, and that means you also know what you can and cannot handle right now. Trust that instinct.
4. Let Some Things Go for This Season
It's incredibly difficult to scale back and let things go, especially if they are really good things. But just because you have to let something go now doesn't mean you'll need to ignore it forever.
Think of it this way—your life will always migrate through various seasons, and I don't just mean Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Instead, I define life seasons by what is happening in your life right now.
- Some seasons allow for more activities;
- Others require you to scale back to just the essentials.
For the longest time, I didn't even think about decorating my house because I was in the throes of building an online business. Now, as I've hired out more online tasks, I've had more time to dedicate to how my home looks. I even took a course on how to best move forward with my vision, so I'm not stressed about all the decorating decisions.
Maybe you want to build a side business, but you have little ones at home right now who make finding a quiet hour to work almost impossible. Or maybe you have a full-time job outside the home, and you can only manage frozen pizzas (I love Digiorno!) and boxed mac-and-cheese for dinner most nights.
Remember, this is just a season. You will get through it!
5. Break Bigger Projects into Smaller Steps
Now that you've scaled back to the essentials, your to-do list should be a little less overwhelming. But even if you still feel anxious about how to get everything done, this easy trick makes all the difference in the world.
- Take just one of your to-do's
- Break it down into smaller steps
- Focus on finishing that one task. That's right, just that one!
Instead of a million little things to do, you have one.
Knowing that a long list stresses me out helps me be much more careful now about how many tasks I put on my daily to-do list. I used to keep lists that were 10-15 tasks long, and I would only get more and more discouraged when, by the end of the day, I had only crossed off three.
But now I purposefully fill my bullet journal daily pages with lists that are at max 7-8 tasks long. I'm much more focused, and I actually finish bigger projects now that I've taught myself to break them down into achievable steps and organize them in my schedule.
6. Time Block Your Schedule
After all, we often feel overwhelmed with life not because we have too much to do, but because we're not sure where to fit everything. Keeping a schedule that is fairly the same from day-to-day will help you learn what tasks you can manage in the 24 hours you have—and where you need to build margin into your life.
For myself, I have an Ideal Daily Schedule split up into six different time-blocks:
- Morning Block (includes breakfast)
- Tiger Time (my most productive work period of the day)
- Lunch Block
- Afternoon Block
- Home + Family Block (includes dinner)
- Evening Block
Within each block, I define the type of tasks that I could do so when I'm scheduling out my day. So I know where to plug various tasks. This is the difference between being intentional about your day and simply reacting to everything that comes your way.
Of course, not every day will go according to plan. In fact, few will! But at least you'll have an idea of what you're shooting for. Then when your schedule gets off track, you have a template to return to tomorrow!
7. Get Enough Sleep
There's only so much you can do to streamline your schedule, but if you're still tired? More often than not, lack of sleep is to blame. I'm the type of person who needs at least 8 hours every night to function. Believe me, I wish I could get away on only 5 or 6 hours, but my energy bank only lasts for two days before things get ugly!
Want to get more sleep? An evening routine can help you to wind down for the night. I went so far as to implement a Power-Down Hour, which is a technique I learned from the book The Power of When. Basically, you turn off all screens and phones an hour before bed, so you don't get distracted by one more show or one more link.
You then replace your binge-watching or scrolling habits with ones that get you in a sleep-induced mindset.
- a hot shower
- setting up your to-do list for the next day
- reading for 20 minutes
- diffusing a relaxing blend of essential oils.
By the time you're finished with your evening routine, sleep should come easier and faster. But even if it doesn't, don't give up just yet. Work your way through this list of 11 easy ways to sleep better tonight, and give it another shot.
I'm certainly not perfect at following all of these 7 tips, but when I make an effort, I see the difference.
I feel like I can tackle each day with excitement rather than dread, and I take the time to enjoy what's going on around me, rather than rushing right through to the next task or to-do.
I hope this list gave you some new ideas to help you commit to what you can, tackle it all without being overwhelmed with life, and create more margin for rest. Even more so, I hope you'll avoid repeating my tragic breakdown! 🙂
How do you manage being overwhelmed with life?
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