When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Workload

I often write and speak on workload management. But even I occasionally get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of requests and assignments. I’m in such a state right now.

Man Buried in Paperwork - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/VallarieE, Image #9744255

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/VallarieE

In the last week I’ve attended board meetings for three different companies. Two were out of town. In addition, I have spoken publicly five times and am right in the middle of reviewing the copy-edited manuscript for my new book.

That doesn’t even count the 669 e-mails I have received in the last week. (Yes, that’s the exact count as of 10 minutes ago. It only represents the ones that have come through to my private account.) No wonder I feel overwhelmed!

But I’ll bet your life is no different. The reality is all of us have more work than we can possibly do. When you add to this the demands of regular exercise, family, church, civic duties, and some semblance of a social life, it becomes impossible.

Here are six things you can do to cope. Trust me, I am preaching to myself!

  1. Acknowledge you can’t do it all. The idea that you will eventually get caught up is a myth. It’s impossible. You have more work than you can reasonably expect to get done. And unfortunately, your workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this post, your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.
  2. Accept the fact some things won’t get done at all. This flows from the first item. You have to make peace with the fact that you must leave some things undone—for the sake of your own sanity.
  3. Practice workload triage. On the battlefield, medics have to decide where to apply their limited resources. They can’t help everyone. According to Dictionary.com, triage is

    the process of sorting victims, as of a battle or disaster, to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors.”

    Some patients will survive without medical care. Some won’t survive even if they have medical care. Triage means ignoring these two groups and focusing on those that will only survive with medical care.

    You must know which things you can safely ignore and which things demand your intervention.

  4. Categorize your tasks by priority. In my view, this is the one thing missing from David Allen’s system. It assumes all tasks are equal. Or to say it another way, you can only decide a task’s relative priority in the moment.This doesn’t work for me. I end up with scores of tasks I must review every day. My eyes glaze over, and I fall prey to what Charles Ummel calls the Tyranny of the Urgent.

    Instead, I like the Franklin-Covey method of assigning a priority tag to each task:

    A—urgent and important
    B—important but not urgent
    C—urgent but not important
    D—not urgent or important

    I personally categorize each task with one of these tags. At the beginning of each day, I focus on my A’s first. If I get those done, I move to the B’s, then the C’s.

  5. Practice intentional neglect.Many people practice the opposite—unintentional neglect. They forget to do something or they are late in meeting their deadlines. They don’t like this behavior and neither do those who are counting on them.But this inevitably happens if you don’t practice intentional neglect. You must decide in advance you will not do category D tasks. They are neither urgent nor important. They are simply not worthy of your time or attention.

    “But,” you may ask, “what about tasks I don’t think are important but someone else does?” Great question. Let me give you an example.

    When I was a CEO, my Board sometimes asked me to do something I thought was a waste of time. I didn’t regard it as important. But, because I served at their pleasure—and wanted to keep my job!—I re-categorized it in my mind as important. Sometimes, it is a simple matter of re-framing the task.

    On the other hand, I recently received a lunch request from a man who is an acquaintance. He is looking for a job and wanted to discuss career possibilities in the publishing industry. This is no doubt important to him and possibly urgent. For me it is neither, so I declined.

    The bottom line is you must learn to say “no” to the unimportant tasks, so you can say “yes” to the important tasks and actually get them done.

  6. Do the next most important thing next. Multi-tasking is a myth. You really can’t do more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention. So get your list of priorities, do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

For today, I have six things I’d like to accomplish: one of them is an A, four are Bs, and one is a C. I’m starting at the top and working down the list.

Question: How about you? How do you cope with feeling overwhelmed? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.warriorshepherd.com/blog Dave Hearn

    I often find myself hyper-multi-tasking.  It’s nuts.  But it’s also the nature of the beast when you are starting and growing something new.

    How do I cope with feeling overwhelmed?  I simply close my laptop, put away my cell phone, and go outside.  I allow my mind to think about non-work-related subjects (playing with the kids helps!)

    [I learned this ability when I used to work in Intelligence in the military.  There really wasn’t a way to “bring my work home with me” when it was all classified information … !]

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      Getting away when feeling overwhelmed is great advice. All too often I just cause myself to stress more and keep working 2 or 3 tasks instead of slowing down. Thanks!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Dave.  I completely agree.  I often do the same.  I shut down everything and walk on top of our office parking garage.  Peaceful. No noise.  

      • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

        Same here Tim.  The top of the parking deck (for those with access to one) is a very peaceful place.

        Second practice: Quiet Time.  I just brought a pair of earplugs to work this week and have started doing a daily 10 minute “stay-cation”…I’m glad no one can see this, but I cover my eyes, plug the ears, practice some deep breathing and just clear my head.It does wonders…then back to the top priorities…

    • Chris Mcarthur

      Dave, I have found that prioritizing & mixing it up is a good way to beat the grind. I am taking a walk at lunch in a forest preserve today(Chicag0!). Others: changing work time(early morning one day), having lunch with a friend who encourages me. Some times I take everything off my desk, put it elsewhere, and work with a clear desk on the moment’s one project. Then later I reorganize the “junk” back into my desk/files/ drawers–gives me hope.  And of course there is surgery–finding a way to kill or delegate a weekly or monthly task –to lighten the load.

      • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

        Your point about mixing it up is a good one, Chris. Simply changing your scenery can enhance focus and productivity.

      • http://www.warriorshepherd.com/blog Dave Hearn

        Chris, I am also a “reorganizer”… but I’m not sure if I do it more to de-clutter or to escape real work.  

        Probably a little of both. :^)

    • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

      Thanks for the military tip Dave!

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    I have no job right now, no family of my own, no social life to speak of, and I don’t think I’ve gotten 669 personal emails in my whole life. Yet even I feel constantly overwhelmed with everything I want to do, and the days zip by so fast, it’s ridiculous. To me, folks with regular jobs AND families AND social lives AND hobbies seem like supernatural creatures from a different planet. I’d simply melt down. 

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      I know the feeling. Life is hectic and stressful.

      That’s the best reason to have priorities and setting out a plan for your day and/or your life. You can help set the pace of your day. Do the things that matter and, if you have time and want to, get to the other items.

    • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

      …and you’ll be living in a VAN down by the RIVER! ;)

      • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

        A stolen van, most likely.

  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com/ Patricia Zell

    I allow myself down-time to process information and to let my brain do its work. I also have to intentionally neglect a number of things that “need” to be done because I have so much responsibility right now. I have general priorities that I follow rather than trying to classify my individual tasks because so much of teaching is spur of the moment (I’m dealing with teenagers). As far as my book is concerned, since time is a huge issue, I am least surrounding my few marketing activities with a lot of prayer and have been working on just what my vision is (thanks to your recent post). I am trusting God to point me in the right direction and to open doors that I have not yet “seen.”

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      Keeping your focus on God and talking with Him through this process is key! 

  • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

    I am a big list person.  When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I write down the things that need to be (or I want to be) accomplished.  This allows me to create a “To Do List” where I can see everything in one place.  I can prioritize.  And I can check off the things that I complete.  It helps to see that things are being accomplished.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      I agree.  I attempted to do my To Do List online with apps.  No good.  I have to write them down in my journal.  Love crossing off task.  

      • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

        I’m a list person too. Nothing like drawing a big Œole line through my to-dos!

        • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

          I’m turning into a list person.  Between Nozbe and a pad of paper/mousepad on my desk, I live in lists.

          • Arnaud Henrard

            I agree that crossing off tasks are a must have.  Yet I needed a mobile way to do so.  I finally found a way to do both; Each day I enter the tasks I absolutely must complete in a simple web+iphone application called Do It Tomorrow (www.tomorrow.do).  It only contains two simple and yet beautiful pages:  Today and Tomorrow.
            One simple click on a task will actually cross it off the page.  Anything you don’t achieve that day will automatically be moved to “Tomorrow”.  Frankly, this application keeps me focused and fits my mobile life.

          • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

            I looked at that a few months ago.  It didn’t really seem to fit my needs.  But I may have to go take another look…

    • Bob

      A  not-to-do list is probably same as triage or just say no.
      But it is a visual reminder that probably has huge benefits.
      i say probably because i hardly ever do it !

  • http://twitter.com/croyseniles Christine Niles

    Timely message…my natural response is to mentally check out for a short period of time (i’ve even caught myself walking around my office in circles like a lost dog), and then clean.  A natural consequence of the overwhelm for me is that my desk gets messy.  Cleaning it (and prioritizing the task list as I go) gives me the sense of control that helps overcome the overwhelm.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Good thought, Christine.  

  • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

    Mike, I think this is great advice.  I think the biggest “Aha!” for me was when I learned triage.  Learning that I could eliminate the two groups you described was freeing for me.  Being able to focus on those in the middle became a lot easier.

    Next to that, and maybe equal, was learning to say, “No.”  As you said, there is likely no catching up…ever.  But this is especially true if you keep saying”Yes” to more tasks!

    So, if there is anyone out there saying this post is too overwhelming…too much to do, then I’d say boil it down again:

    1. Triage
    2.Say no!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Chris, I like how you boiled it down to those key points. Good summary. 

  • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

    Michael, this is another time when a LIFE plan comes in handy.  

    When we are buried in our work and do not see a way out, it is helpful to refer back to our plan and use it as a guide for the triage.  It also shows us where we are getting off-track.  This should be determined in our weekly review, but if feeling overwhelmed for an extended period of time, that weekly review may have been left undone by some.

    I know you have your own ebook on life plans, but I am also doing a series right now on my own LIFE (Living Intentionally For Eternity) plan process.  Here is the shameless plug…http://christianfaithatwork.com/category/life-plan/

  • http://www.timemanagementninja.com Craig Jarrow

    Michael, good tips!

    For me, it is about concentrating on the few most important tasks. 

    I focus on *finishing* the highest priorities. 

    Otherwise, you end up with 57 things started and nothing done. :P

    Best wishes!

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      I have learned not to do that the hard way.

    • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

      as a musician, I know regularly what it’s like to have started 57 things and not completed one of them for a few months!!

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      Craig! So great seeing you over here on Michael’s site. You two seem like you would be friends ;)

  • http://www.ryanhanley.com/2012/01/02/how-my-experiment-in-seo-will-change-the-game-on-small-business-blogging/ Ryan Hanley


    I feel like I perform work Triage all day long.  I was particulary frustrated two days when I meant to leave the office 200pm to get some prospecting done… At 315pm I’m still taking phone calls and emails trying to get loose ends tied.

    I know it’s only an hour or so but that hour was planned and important to me.

    My Boss walks in and asks me why I hadn’t left yet.  I told him and his exact words were:

    “Sometimes you just have stop what you’re doing, stand up and leave or you’ll never get your prospecting done.” (these particular type of clients respond to in person meetings)

    I will applying this method today.

    Thanks for the timely article!

    Ryan H.

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      Ryan … My wife says the same thing to me. Often :) It’s good to know there are people out there who care about you!

  • http://www.mattandjesskelley.blogspot.com/ Jessica Miller Kelley

    I run into trouble putting Cs before Bs. Urgent and Important obviously come first, but after that, I tend to do other urgent things rather than stepping back and focusing on the long-term important tasks. I will try to keep that in mind today!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      I am in the same boat, Jessica.  Not easy!

  • http://www.justinhayslett.com/ Justin

    That’s great advice. 

    I tend to go in a vicious cycle. For a few weeks, I will be very diligent at prioritizing my task list and going by it. Soon I start slipping. Before I know it, I’ve gone weeks without touching my task list. Productivity begins to wane. Then I rededicate myself to prioritizing once again!

    I like what Dave Hearn said too.

    I have found this effective. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed I don’t know where to start. This was the case yesterday. I was in a computer fog from staring at the screen for far too long. 

    I shut off my computer, grabbed my bible, and refocused my heart and life. After this, priorities are much clearer. 

  • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TCAvey

    Love number 5, I think its a great point!

    As a nurse, I have learned the art of triage and multitasking, however that doesn’t always work in my everyday life.  I think I will put number 5 into operation and see how that helps.  Thanks for the tip!

    Oh, I also get by with a lot of prayers and coffee!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Maybe Michael needs to add in Prayer and Coffee as a key point.

  • Holger Kühn

    Thanks for these practical advises.
    I just would like to point out with regard to point 5 (‘or they are late in meeting their deadlines.’) there is good chance for positive  effects of procrastination.
    In a very intersting study (The Journal of Social Psychology, 2005, 145(3), 245–264) the authors investigated positive effects on procrastination.
    Their conclusion:
    ‘We should acknowledge the possibility that some forms of procrastination may actually enhance the well-being and performance of individuals. Active procrastination may be particularly beneficial, or even necessary, for individuals who work in highly demanding, unpredictable, and fast changing environments.’

  • Success2day

    Wow, Mike, you have this uncanny way of writing posts that pertain to my exact situation. I’ve been struggling with overwhelm for months now. We have had to move my mother in law out of her house and in to assisted living. Trying to coordinate all the pieces has been very time consuming and stressful. In our case her old and new locations are both over 70 miles from home. I feel like we live on the freeway some days.

    I have learned some valuable lessons…

    1. Just because it makes sense on paper doesn’t mean it will work in real life. Emotions, fear, and disagreements all come to play and the final outcome is usually very different than my best laid plans. I’ve had to learn to be flexible and patient.
    2. Things always take longer than expected. I now take my time estimates and multiply them by a factor of 2 or sometimes 3. (3x is especially true if the government or red tape is involved)
    3. There is no training for life. You learn as you go along. I’ve been lucky to have some very wise mentors (yourself included) whose wisdom has been invaluable in the tough times.

    Over the past few days I’ve found myself in a daze. I finally decided to make an overarching complete to-do list of all the things that I want to do or have to do over the next few months. I’m usually pretty good at making lists, but they are usually compartmentalized… work, home, blog etc. I just started writing and tried to put everything that came to mind on the list. I was amazed how long it took and how hard it was to get everything on paper. It is a very long list.

    As David Allen says if it’s rattling around in your head and not written down, it is consuming mental energy. Just the act of making a COMPLETE list has helped immensely. I put this list in Evernote and add or subtract as things come up. Using this big list, it’s now easier to prioritize using my top 6 daily planner.

    My next step is to take this list and put time and resource requirements in with each item. Your list above will help me prune this list into something manageable. Can you recommend a good project or priority tool that isn’t too complicated, that can help with an overall plan? Years ago I used David Allen’s plugin for Outlook, but I’m sure there are better tools now.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I use Nozbe, John. Gail loves it, too.

      Thanks for your great comment!

      • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

        Can you use the A, B, C, D method with Nozbe?

    • http://www.cheriblogs.info Cheri Gregory

      John —

      I’ve struggled with, and (I think!) made peace with your #2. Took me decades, tho!

      I, too, make a comprehensive “To Do” list. While it has the risk of being overwhelming, I do a better job of immediate prioritizing when I see the long-term picture. 

    • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

      I would also suggest you look at Toodledo.com for something similar to Nozbe.  I have used this for almost a year now and love it.  I moved from Outlook with a plugin and would not go back.

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    This is a great help! I have heard of listing priorities like you showed above. When I have done that in the past it has helped. It is going on a sticky note so I don’t forget again!

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      What are some of your top priorities, Brandon?

      • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

        God, myself, my wife, my son, and work are my top ones

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      Sticky notes!

      • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

        I use them all of the time!

  • Kay Camenisch

    When there is something on my list that I dread doing, I sometimes need to do it first. Even if it is not a first priority, if I leave it until last, it weighs on me and distracts until I tackle it and overcome it. Often that dreaded thing is something that I don’t know how to do, that I fear I won’t be successful at, or maybe that I just don’t like to do. Whatever my issue is with the task, until I check it off the list, it drains my energy and my productivity. Once it is done, I’m energized and my productivity soars.

  • http://www.transformingleader.org/ Wayne Hedlund

    Thanks. Great post. I’ve developed and used a myriad of time and project management systems over the years and am always trying to find one that works the way I really want it to. I’m still searching. But these principles transcend your system . . . or perhaps are foundational to it.

    I really appreciate the reminder and know this advice will serve many!

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      Which management tools have you tried?

      • http://www.transformingleader.org/ Wayne Hedlund

        Thanks for asking. I’ve used a myriad of tools over the years. Outlook Tasks, OneNote, Evernote, ManyMoon, Paper, and a few systems that I created myself. Right now I’m using a hodgepodge of several. OneNote handles some of my projects while Evernote others. My tasks are being tracked using ToodleDo.

  • Jacqueline Armstorng

    I’m a 1st semester doctoral student, mom, wife, and sometimes substitute teacher and I can’t seem to balance it all. I try prioritizing, but I have to be a mom first, and I am consistently falling behind with my studies. 

    For the week, I plan out the readings and assignments that I will accomplish for each class, but the readings usually take more days than I had allotted for so the downward spiral begins with late discussion posts and assignments.  Sometimes I catch up, only to fall behind again. Going for walks to clear my head, temporarily changing work environment for a few hours, reflecting, and re-prioritizing all help, but I don’t really have an effective plan to keep me on course and I need to develop one.


    • http://www.cheriblogs.info Cheri Gregory

      Jacqueline —

      I’m just wrapping up my MA and moving into a PhD program. I’ve found that I can not be the same kind of student I was in high school and college, when my books glowed in the dark from highlighting and my grades were well padded with extra credit.

      It’s been hard for me to learn to be a “good enough” student. But when I take extra time for schoolwork, I rob myself of sleep, marriage time, parenting time, exercise, etc. 

      My concern for my GPA — which nobody sees or cares about! — has been replaced by my drive to get some capital letters after my name, at long last!

  • http://www.facebook.com/debra.hanlon Debra Laskonis Hanlon

    When I feel overwhelmed, it’s usually a sign that I need silence.  Silence helps me weight my priorities, focus on what’s important, and get centered.  I blogged about this here 

  • Michael Blyth

    Interesting place to be. Since 
    Christmas the business has been very flat, have  had to arrange an overdratft for the first time in a while. Overwhelmed by the concept of ‘If I’m doing what God sent me to do, why has it never really bought in enough for our needs, I continually ask the Lord if I’m doing the right job and never hear a no’, so I carry on bumping along the bottom.
    Then I discovered the John Covey book, and this article of yours which show the way forward if only I can survive long enough to put theory into action……..Overwhelmed by the theory as well as the practical!

    But blessings to you for a good article.

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

    Glad you mentioned the weakness of the GTD system. I love the approach, but the lack of prioritization has bothered me. I like Charles Hobbs’s prioritization system: (A) Vital, (B) Important, (C) Some Value, (D) Worthless.

  • John Havercroft

    Loved you in Ontario.  Good management ideas on workload, somewhat ego-centred.  Must be sure of expectations of others.  How have they ranked the tasks?

  • http://twitter.com/MDManagement Mike DeVries

    Great listing and reminder, Michael!  Working from a task list helps keep things in perspective on a day to day basis.  And one bullet for slaying the “stress dragon” that  I think you may have overlooked – Delegate! For those of us who are constantly finding another item on our “to-do” list should be helping others find joy in using their gifts to help us get things done.  Not only do I think I have to get everything done on the list, but I think I’m the only one that can get it done – I’m just not that indispensable.  

    Thanks again for the timely post.

  • http://dominiquegoh.com/ Dominiquegoh

    When I feel overwhelmed by the task that I am facing I just click “read all” or switch off/put to silent all electronic devices..take the kids and go and have fun in the park.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      There are certainly times when re-energizing through fun and family can be both urgent and important.

  • Frank Cat

    First by yelling ‘Arghhhhhhhhh!’  lol, sort of…
    Sometimes life is like that. In our house it is. Two busy, working full time parents and four elementary school children, one with special needs. The usual demands of keeping house and home leer at me from the corners and halls where they lie inert,  eyes hooded, awaiting my response. 

    What to do? Proverbs 2 spoke this morning about seeking wisdom as one would seek silver. 
    I lift my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.

    I eat my egg and turn to my email and find this post.  Yeah!

    Thank you for the reminder.  I may assign making beds as being not urgent and not important on my list today. We’ll see.  

    Some things that help are,  be up earlier than the rest of the troops.  Ground myself in God’s word and commit the day to Him.
    Do something creative. I love to read a poem (Robert Siegel) or play my guitar.
    Get to work before everyone else and ground myself by making a plan for the day.

    Need to make exercise a priority.

    I like what Justin said about “shut off the computer and grab the Bible.” Sometimes that screen can be a black whole  consuming valuable time we could be giving to important things.

    Thank you for being in my inbox right when I needed to hear this.  God bless you.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Yelling ‘Arghhhhhh!’ can help. Just be careful if you’re in an office environment. Your coworkers may look at you weird.

  • Casey Gee

    Disagree with Michael Hyatt’s comment about multitasking.  I am a lawyer and I regularly have to give strong and focused attention to multiple matters, cases, issues, client needs.  Most business is not spaced into one event-at-a-time, although that would be wonderful.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      The real issue with multi-tasking is that the matters involved in never get the full attention they deserve. Your brain is constantly switching back and forth from one activity to the other. Over time our brains become taxed and tired.

      If you want to read a bit more about it, NPR did a great article a few years ago. You can find it at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95256794

      • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

        Great article, Joe. Thanks. William Deresiewicz, in a presentation on Solitude & Leadership, said this: “Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it … You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted …” The rest of his presentation is here: http://theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      I feel that multi-tasking is one of the greatest banes to successful accomplishment of anything.  We’re losing the ability to concentrate on any given task, and instead excused our ADHD lack of focus and called it multi-tasking.

      I find myself much more productive when I focus on one task only.  I set time limits and deadlines, and remove distractions.  My work is better work, also.

  • Heidi

    I’ve also been puzzled by the lack (and actual seeming disdain) for task prioritization in GTD. I’ve retained the the daily A, B, C priority system of the original Franklin planning system – really helps me focus in on the day.

    • Rolandgreco

      I am at my best when I put A,B,C before my tasks each day and then further down A1, A2, etc.
      I don’t do it consistently- will now.

  • http://peter.prwdot.org/ Peter R. Wood

    I have trouble with the concept of something that is urgent but not important. I went through my list of tasks and nothing came out categorized as a C, but I had several A’s, B’s, and D’s. I guess that when I think of things on my plate that are urgent, they’re also important by virtue of their urgent need. Any suggestions on this?

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Peter.  Not sure I have any suggestions.  But I think your train of thought is accurate. I am the same way.  I do not have C’s but a lot of A’s and B’s.  

    • Eileen Janeke

      I would also like to see suggestions on this point that you have raised!

  • Anonymous

    Feeling overwhelmed is not a good feeling.  Feeling productive is a better feeling.  I have buckle down and DO SOMETHING (to quote Andy Andrews).  Once you begin checking items of that list you feel more productive and feel better.  
    Quickly make that list and get to it!
    That’s my comment…..gotta move on……..

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Douglas.  That is great.  Seriously great point.  Do SOMETHING.  

  • http://www.cheriblogs.info Cheri Gregory

    #5 speaks to me because I’ve just set some new boundaries with my college-aged daughter. While I don’t intend to neglect her or our relationship, I am studiously ignoring her self-induced drama (which I’ve spent the last 2 years dropping everything and diving head-long into.) 

    Otherwise, my primary strategy for un-overwhelming myself is to break large projects down into smaller components and do SOMEthing. When I have numerous “must do” tasks, I aim to at least nudge each one forward. Even a little progress creates momentum, both physical and mental.

    If part of my overwhelmedness is that I’m stuck, I seek guidance from a mentor or coach. Just yesterday, I had a coaching call in which we went through the messages I’ll be giving at a retreat in early March. I knew they needed major changes, but I couldn’t figure out where, what, how. My coach was able to affirm the core, point out the extraneous, and clarify my next steps. 

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      I agree with viewing projects in smaller components with the intent of chipping away at work a little bit each day.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      I agree Cheri.  Point #5 was huge for me as well.  Glad it was helpful and thanks for the great comment.  

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    i definitely need to categorize things into ABC and D. Thanks for the practical tip

  • Agatha Nolen

    Clear instructions on pioritization and not falling victim to someone else’s URGENT!
    I’ve taken a step back and realized that God never asks us to do two things at the same time. He knows our limitations. When I gave my life closer examination, I found I was involved in things that God wanted me to do and things I wanted to do, and they weren’t always the same things! When I agreed to eliminate those that were to feed my pride, for me to get attention, or to try to mpress someone, I started feeling less overwhelmed. God gives us all the time and resources we need as long as we are doing what He asks us to do.
    Thanks again for a great way to start the day: your blog.
    Agatha Nolen

  • Anonymous

    This is a great article.  Maybe we could meet over lunch to discuss it furth…ah, never mind.

    In all seriousness, I needed this today.  Thanks.

  • Mike4vol

    When performing work triage, is there a particular app that you use to keep your priority list? I would love to know what works for you. Thanks! (I’m sure your reply to me will be on the A List!! :) )

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Check out – Nozbe

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    UGH. I can so relate.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      That is exactly my reaction.  UGH.  Think my was actually a double UGH.

  • Pingback: Managing priorities | Tim Abbott()

  • Andy Mason

    Thanks Michael – perfect timing for me to read this. It was most helpful for me to ‘accept some things won’t get done at all’ and ‘practice intentional neglect.’
    I love to hear your thoughts on how to say ‘no’ well.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Andy, glad the post was helpful.  

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    You have to priortize.  If not, someone else will set  your schedule and  your agenda.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Larry.  That is exactly right.  If everything is a priority, you have no priorities.  

  • Lynn

    Excellent advice. Much of it I’ve heard before but obviously had not heeded. So I appreciate the reminders!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Glad the post was a good reminder.  What point was most effective for you? 

  • Rob Sorbo

    I wish this was my situation. I love the adventure/stress of having more on my to do list than I can handle…unfortunately I have a job that I could probably do in 15 hours a week and no real way to add to my work load (and I’m paid hourly, so I can’t just take off either).

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      That’s an unfortunate situation Rob. Is there any way you could take on more responsibility at your work? Maybe request new assignments, ask coworkers if there are things you could assist them with, or find opportunities in areas that others are not?

      • Rob Sorbo

        I’ve done that a few times, no luck so far.

        My annual review comes up in a few weeks, so that is something I definitely plan on bringing up.

        • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

          Sorry to hear that Rob. Hopefully you can get some forward motion from the review.

  • Benita Teems

    I needed to read this today! Perfect timing! Thanks a ton for sharing. 

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Glad it touched you today Benita. What is the first step you’re going to take with the information provided?

  • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

    I like the triage analogy. Many injuries are disguised. It’s important to make both a quick and accurate assessment.

    • Rachel Lance

      Good point about disguised injuries. There’s an art and a skill to effective triage, I think. 

      • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

        Do you think that it’s something you develop over time?

        • Rachel Lance

          Definitely – over time and only with intentionality. Whether it’s the ABCD tagging or some other system of proactively reviewing and naming each task – a person actually has to do the work, build the muscle and commit to making triage a part of daily life.

        • coachbillhart

          Doing research for a presentation on “Overwhelm” Mike, and I often tell people, Check Out Hyatt, there will be great material there on the topic:

          1) Google
          2) YouTube
          3) http://www.michaelhyatt.com

          Great wisdom, especially on the triage approach.

          Recently conducted a 30 minute call on what I call The “By Noon” Effect, that I observe in top performers: http://tinyurl.com/88o4ffs

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    I know the feeling Michael! I get overwhelmed because, at times, I lack the willpower to say “No.” I’ll agree to engagements that do no benefit me and they wear me out. I then “forget” the things I’ve committed to and disappoint others.

    At times like that, I start to pull back and re-build my “No” response. If something doesn’t sound appealing, it gets a No. If it is too much with too little return, it gets a No. It can be hard to those that I say no to but it is much needed.

  • http://twitter.com/burlw Burl Walker

    Here I thought when you stepped down from the CEO position that your life might be slightly less busy…seems like you are attempting to be superman! I of course don’t know the scope of the 5 speaking engagements and board meetings in different cities, but it might be important & urgent to learn to say “No”.  I understand busy! My day yesterday started at 4:15am and ended about 12:45am. ( I  don’t schedule like that every day!) Make sure to take time for yourself Michael. I have loved your blog for years…so I have a selfish personal interest in not seeing you burn out!

  • Anonymous

    Recently, Ive dealt with the “it’s urgent to someone else, but not for me” scenario. Knowing my prior history of saying yes- I’ve had to really be present in my proprieties. The first no I said felt horrible, but after the third, I felt much better :) Try it!

    • Jim Martin

      Your comment brought back memories.  I remember when I first started saying “no.”  I would sometimes see the look of disapproval and then later wonder if I had made the right decision.  I have rarely regretted saying “no.”  There have been more times when I wish I had not said “yes.”

  • http://www.chrisbranscome.com Chris Branscome

    How perfectly timely this post is.  I work for a church, where we have just started a huge building campaign.  I am on the video team for the campaign, and we have at least 7 videos to film and edit in the next couple of months.  This is in addition to my usual workload here at the church, and so I am feeling positively overwhelmed (of course, here I am posting a comment on a blog – I’m waiting for something else to finish, and using this as a mental break, since the headline caught my eye!). 

    This post makes me wonder: What do you do when the organization for which you work doesn’t practice these six guidelines? 

    • Rachel Lance

      Such a great question, Chris. I wish I had an answer. I do know that ministry will take all you give and then some so it’s incredibly important for you to protect time for your soul, family, etc. Is there space in the culture of your workplace to start a conversation re: bringing some of what Michael talks about into your daily practices as a team? Sometimes it takes a squeaky wheel to create change. 

  • William

    Michael, I liked your ABCD way of thinking and it reminds me of a pile of dirt that needs to be spread and you look at in in such a way that how is this going to get done. ONE SHOVEL at a time the first is so important it is in the A class and the last shovel full is in the C class not that important but needs to be done. Thanks

  • http://www.mikebechtle.com/ Mike Bechtle

    Just another spin on A-B-C-D:

    A = Fighting fires
    B = Preventing fires
    C = Fighting other people’s fires
    D = Setting fires

    • http://profiles.google.com/snow.ffairy Amy Helmericks

      Ha! That’s great.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Yes, totally stealing this! :)

  • http://www.nosuperheroes.com Chris Lautsbaugh

    I’m confident you will get a lot of Amens on this one.
    One thing that helps me.
    Rather than diving in and just crossing off items on my to do list, if I take 10-30 minutes and strategize or make a plan it helps massively. This alone makes my life feel manageable. I still have not done any tasks, but I have a plan to begin walking into the chaos. 
    Thanks for being real too – have to admit…I’ve wondered how you manage your massive workload before. This makes you seem human :)

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill


  • CynthiaKayWade

    My boss told me in my most recent review that “if I wasn’t so busy that I constantly felt overwhelmed, I wasn’t busy enough.”   Comments?

    • Jim Martin

      Cynthia, that almost sounds as if the goal is to be busy instead of productive and effective.  Constantly overwhelmed?  I don’t know that I should desire that the people I work with feel this way.  That sounds like a path to high turnover.

    • Rachel Lance

       I agree with Jim. Sounds like there’s an opportunity for you to lead up and demonstrate a balanced way to work. Nobody should strive to be overwhelmed. 

    • http://www.cheriblogs.info Cheri Gregory

      Cynthia — 

      I’d want to know what your boss means by “overwhelmed.”  (Perhaps for him/her, it’s a feeling of exhilaration and eagerness to take action?)

      But I’d still be worried by the word “constantly.” It’s not healthy for any human to be “constantly” in a single state of mind. Healthy organizations — and bosses — recognize the need for ebbs and flows, intensity and rest.

  • Karin_b_warren

    Trying to connect.  I think you were Pastor at Hilltop Lakes.  Karin and Wayne Warren

  • http://www.thadthoughts.com/ Thad Puckett

    Wow, what a timely post.  I usually read your posts before heading in to work, but only got to it after arriving at the office.  I was talking with a workmate about our office workload, and he was saying how all tasks aren’t created equal (our office is incredibly task list driven…not in a bad sense, but just structured).

    I even used the phrase “triage the task list” before I read your post!

    We all are hounded by the tyranny of the urgent, but all things aren’t.  Personally I have struggled in some of my work roles because I want don’t want to not do something (and do it well).  I can lose perspective on what matters most (the “big rocks”).  

    I have had to learn to say no (and not feel guilty) as well as how to de-stress (exercise).  I did not realize how much pleasing people drives me, but it is very difficult to please everyone all the time.

    Thanks again for contributing so much to my thinking on workload and how to handle it!

    • Jim Martin

      Thad, I appreciate what you mention in your comment regarding how to “de-stress” with exercise.  I have found that exercise is huge for helping with this.  I can sure tell the difference when I miss a few days.  

      • http://www.thadthoughts.com/ Thad Puckett

        I can too Jim.  About 48 hours after I last exercised I feel the drop off in terms of attitude.  

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      As a recovering people-pleaser I am 100% with you! However, I would disagree that it is “very difficult to please everyone all the time.” —it is impossible!

      Learning to say “no” does get easier but it is a muscle that needs exercise… in my opinion anyway. Thad, thanks for the great comment!

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

    How do I cope with being overwhelmed? Cry like a baby. ;) When I’m completely overwhelmed, I can become almost paralyzed. When that happens, I need to stop, breathe, and regroup. I go for a run, read a couple chapters in a book, etc. Taking 30 minutes to an hour to regroup usually makes me much more productive for the rest of the day.

    • Jim Martin

      Michele, thanks for the final sentence in your comment.  How valuable!  You are right.  “Taking 30 minutes to an hour to regroup usually makes me much more produce for the rest of the day.”  I have experienced this as well.  Yet, I needed to hear the reminder.

      • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

        Thanks, Jim. :)

  • http://blog.ashleypichea.com Ashley Pichea

    LOTS of prayer! I’m feeling extremely overwhelmed this week {lots of deadlines before the month ends}, and last night I was struggling to sleep due to the to-do list in my head. I just had to keep praying, repeating to myself to “let tomorrow worry about itself because today has enough worries of its own” as I tried to fall asleep. And you know what? The world didn’t fall apart while I was sleeping, and my to-do list is slowly, but surely, shrinking!

    • Jim Martin

      Ashley, glad to hear that your to-list is shrinking today.  I suspect many of us have had similar nights.  I certainly have.

  • http://colebradburn.com/ Cole Bradburn

    “The reality is all of us have more work than we can possibly do. When you add to this the demands of regular exercise, family, church, civic duties, and some semblance of a social life, it becomes impossible.”  I completely agree.  Add to that trying to make an impact on a world that has the shortest attention span in history and it is easy to feel consumed rather than productive.

    • Rachel Lance

      We do live in such an overwhelming time. Do you have strategies that help you pursue health, happiness and adventure in a balanced way?

      • http://colebradburn.com/ Cole Bradburn

        I do.  My wife and I spent a week writing our vision, purpose, and strategy for 12 different categories of our life, and then prioritized what was most important to our life vision.  It is always a work in progress, but it provides a road map and is our key to balance.

        • Rachel Lance

          What a blessing to be able to dedicate a week to working on your vision together. Vision is definitely key.

          • http://colebradburn.com/ Cole Bradburn

            It was transformational for us.  While it was hard finding a week to go and really engage at that level, it was one of the best decisions we have made.

  • Jeff Keady

    Thanks Mike. You might have just saved my sanity today!

    • Jim Martin

      Jeff, I find that even reading such a post is a stress reliever!  This is a good day for me to read this as well.

  • http://www.silverbackincentives.com/ Ed Going

    Michael…..Love your writing and your insight into life.  But not helping a fellow human being who is struggling to make a life change and seeking your advise-not cool!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I respectfully disagree. Think of it like money. You can’t help everyone who asks, because your resources are finite. Instead, you have to prioritize, making sure that you take care of your family first and then doing what you can for others. But at some point, all of your money is allocated. You don’t have anything else to give.
      The same is true of time.


  • http://twitter.com/HelpMeSelfPub Mary & Andrea

    As usual, your article was both timely and helpful. Thank you for sharing your challenges and solutions. ~ Andrea Bandle http://www.helpmeselfpublish.com

  • http://www.liveandlovework.com Chrysta Bairre

    As someone who does, indeed, feel overwhelmed at times, I recently wrote a blog post about knowing when to quit when I finally accepted I needed to quit 2 of my volunteer positions.

    When I can’t say no in advance (and saying no is okay!), I still have the option to reconsider and decline later. Knowing when to quit is one way I deal with feeling overwhelmed.

    Other ways to cope include asking for help and making sure self-care remains a priority! I can’t give more than I have, and if I’m tired, hungry, frustrated or drained, chances are I won’t be giving my best to anyone.

    Great post!


    • Jim Martin

      Chrysata, I really like your comments regarding your effort to say “no” and how you chose to quit two of your volunteer jobs.

      I went to your blog and read the post you mentioned.  It is very good!

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Knowing when to quit is important. I’m usually a bulldog, hanging on long after when I should let go. Now I’m trying hard to learn to wait for a few days before I say “yes” to anything. Too often I’ve agreed to do something in the impulse of the moment. If I wait and allow time to process, usually I can determine how to proceed.

  • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

    I create a master list and choose items off that list each day to accomplish. I also have certain things I commit to doing every day no matter what – Bible study, prayer, write & connect with my family. I am very good at saying “no” to that which does not fit within what I know I need to do. I also am very good at giving myself a lot to do and overwhelming myself. I don’t need anyone else’s help for that.

    • Jim Martin

      Kari, you said it well!  “I also am very good at giving myself a lot to do and overwhelming myself.  I don’t need anyone else’s help for that.”

      I suspect a lot of us can relate to that statement.  I certainly can!

      • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

        Actually, I think I could write a blog post about it. We’re supposed to write about what we’re experts on, right?

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Establishing the non-negotiables for each day is important. I find if I don’t do those at the beginning of the day, they get squeezed out by the non-essentials. Unlike you, I’m not yet good at saying “no.”

      • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

        Learning to say “no” when necessary is a painful process, but it opens the door to be able to say “yes” to what’s really important. BUT, I still often feel guilty for saying “no.” My husband is a great for helping me curb that guilt though, because he understands what’s really important for me.

        • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

          My husband is a great resource for that, too. He knows when I’m saying “yes” too much and need to reevaluate how I spend my time/energy.

  • Karen

    All very beneficial ideas presented here, however, I’m struggling to reconcile the example of the acquaintance in #5.  I’m a firm believer, along with Zig Ziglar, that when we help enough people get what they want, we will get what we want, too.  How does one minimize another’s important and urgent concern?  Or is it delegated to someone else to address?   

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I struggle with this too, Karen. My heart wants to help anyone who has a need! But recently I’ve learned (the hard way) I have limits, limits that I must respect or I pay significant consequences. The number of needs will always outweigh my ability to meet them. That’s why I’m not the Savior. If it’s possible for me to meet a need, I will. But sometimes my limitations are an opportunity for someone else to have the chance to experience the blessing of meeting it. The weight of the world does not rest on my weak shoulders — Thank heavens!

  • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

    I believe time-blocking is another CRITICAL practice.  Working from the top of the list to the bottom feels productive, but it is not always the most EFFECTIVE.

    A’s must get done soon, but not always *today*
    B’s are where we make the biggest impact
    C’s are sometimes where we need to invest in other people’s priorities
    D’s…totally agree, dump ‘em.

    Working top down we’ll spend most of our time on A’s at the expense of high-impact B’s (also known as Quadrant II), and C’s will almost never surface.  By time-blocking, or scheduling a block of intentional time on the calendar for B’s, you continue to move the big rocks forward.

    I keep a to-do list for the A’s and C’s…but the only thing I actually schedule and track every week (and score myself on) is the B’s.  We MUST make time for high impact, important, non-urgent activities every week if we want to grow and achieve our potential.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      This is Great! I use blocking a lot for big projects and little tasks that fit in one category. I am also guilty of not giving enough time to high impact low urgency tasks—good stuff. thanks for the input!

  • http://untanglingtales.com/ Amy Jane Helmericks

    How do I deal with overwhelm?  Well, first I have to get THROUGH whatever is giving me the feeling in the first place.  Music helps.  The steadiness of the rhythm, the security of one key, roots me.

    It’s a very short-term solution, most songs only last 2-4 minutes, but it’s enough my language that I hardly notice the shift to the next one.  (I know I’m *really* stressed when a song seems to be in the wrong key b/c it doesn’t match the one that came before it.)

    My question: how do you sub-prioritize after you’ve gotten down to AB&C?

    As a homeschooling mom with writing and fiber rabbits (I spin and knit their wool) not very far to the side, 75% or more of my tasks fall into the B category.  Teaching, brushing, outlining, Butt-in-chair (and exercise!) all bump up to As when there are Deadlines, but otherwise I have to light the fire.

    Are there triage systems within categories?

  • Chris Mcarthur

    This priority making is HUge right now. I am in the slow season of my business, managing low cash flow, doing a career change, and managing emotions. I am working the hardest in a longtime TO PRIORITIZE, EXECUTE, AND TRUST at a time where resting or medicating sounds so good. Thanks for reinforcing priorities! It feels god to be in control and not a victim. The slow times will not DICTATE MY WORTH or my enjoyment of life! “Bears fruit in all seasons” is not easy, but is a wonderful promise.

  • http://henryfiallo.wordpress.com/ Enrique Fiallo

    Great summary Michael. This has been a recurring problem in my career, and I am determined THIS TIME, to do something about it. I refuse to leave this earth not having achieved mastery of this, so I appreciate you offering what has worked for you. I think the point you make about multitasking is right on. It is definitely a myth. In fact, a study showed how IQ dropped an average of 10 points when people multitasked. http://www.teamworkandleadership.com/2010/03/how-many-iq-points-do-you-drop-when-mulitasking-time-management.html. I didn’t participate in the study :-) but I can still feel it intuitively for myself!

  • http://www.betterhealthtoday.co Kay Wilson

    Thanks Michael, this is really good, I find I have a feeling of overwhelm when I realize my daily to do list, so this is really helpful.  posting to my friends on FB, list makers, too.

  • http://www.whitneycapps.com/ Whitney Capps

    As a stay-at-home Mom, I find sorting tasks and commitments in this way to be a little difficult. Besides wiping a bottom or feeding an infant a bottle, few of my responsibilities or commitments fall into the “urgent” category. And as a chronic over-committer, I’ve been prayerfully considering how to re-orient my time and tasks. My struggle is that my roles all seem to be valuable, “good, ” even Kingdom-minded. (That’s probably the motto for Over-committers Anonymous!) Sorting through the good to find God’s best for me has been really difficult. Guilt looms around every declension.  After literally weeks of prayer leading to little clarity, I came to the conclusion that I needed objectivity and leadership. During a staff meeting with my husband, I handed him my list of to-do’s and commitments and asked him to tell me how he’d like me to spend my time. He knows me, my unique gifts and my proclivity for saying “yes” because I can, but not because I should. While I felt pretty guilty about “dumping” this responsibility on him, he had a totally different reaction. He was honored and encouraged that I trusted his leadership. I am so relieved and optimistic that where God leads him will be best for me and for our family. Perhaps we could add this to the list of strategies. While perhaps not practical in the dailiness of life, it may be helpful when looking at major goals and commitments to rely on others to help us prioritize. Their intimate knowledge of our gifts, passions and short-comings can be a game-changer. 

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Whitney, I love your comment about “Over-committers Anonymous”!  I can see OA groups popping up everywhere :).

      Enrolling your spouse in the prioritization of daily activities is critical, when you serve on the same team (i.e. stay-at-home mom).  It’s definitely good to submit to his leadership, but be careful not to check out of the equation all together.  It sounds like he’s a great leader and the kind of guy that understands that working through the issues together is really important for your family, so he probably wouldn’t let that happen anyway.

      When your whole team (i.e. family) is headed in the same direction, it makes life really, really good!  That will certainly happen as you work at it together.  Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Baryinspired

    love the pic! lol.  so true, so true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jane-Babich/100002993676826 Jane Babich

    I also like and use the Franklin Covey concept. Something that I use that helps reduce the “madness”  or “disorder” on “new”  incoming to my life.  Each week during my weekly review process (thanks to the life plan, Michael), I look at one of my “incoming” streams of communication. Do I still need that communication? Can I redirect that communication? Can I receive that communication in a more consolidated format? 
    This process has helped me to reduce the growing “new” inbound and helps to save me time. 
     The old saying, “If you want to get something done, give it to someone busy!” is true and the more you are known as a “get it done” person, the more “inbounds” you receive.  Stop or at least slow down the “madness” of “incoming”.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Jane, those are very effective questions!

  • http://twitter.com/kucole Kristin Cole

    This post could not have come at a better time for me. Since 2012 has started, I’ve been constantly running and stretching myself. I feel as if today, it has all caught up. I’m exhausted and on the brink of breakdown. Your post reminded me I need to step back, breathe, get organized and remember not everything can be done at once. Thank you.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      I hope that your day gets better, and that the rest of your week looks less overwhelming. I am reminded, when I have those types of days, that I am only human and the things that I THINK absolutely need my attention, and get me all wound up—don’t always. That’s why it is really important to prioritize… if you don’t prioritize everything has the same urgency and the pressure becomes untenable.

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    I think a lot of it has to do with expectations that we place on ourselves. We’re our own harshest taskmasters. Finding my peace in Christ has been essential for me as I deal with workload. It keeps me from chasing the approval of others and allows me to accept my own faults.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Loren… as a recovering people pleaser I with you!

  • Kyle Dowden

    Thanks for the post, Michael. I’m actually in the process of developing a system to handle a greatly increasing work load. I will work to adopt the A, B, C, D method. I think that can work for me.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Thanks for the comment Kyle. I agree with Michael that a prioritizing system is need, and is one of the few holes in GTD.

  • http://talesofwork.com kimanzi constable

    You must be reading my blog, I just wrote about this yesterday: http://talesofwork.com/blog/2012/01/the-best-moment-to-deal-with-stress-at-work-or-in-life/ I totally agree with what you’re saying.

  • Susan

    AMEN! This is essential in the practice of giving the best you have to give. Do I want well focused work that contributes something of value or do I want to be a part of a mindless system that churns out a large quantity of mediocre products? You shared a great plan for raising the standard in life. I needed this reminder. Thank you!!

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      I think this is a really great comment. One of the byproducts of taking the time to manage workflow is the call to excellence! This is a great reminder— my work will be better if I remember to prioritize and come to terms with my limitations.

      Thanks Susan!

  • http://twitter.com/asasdk Asbjørn Asmussen

    I also use the ABCD priorty method. But not only as a way to sort my tasks, but rather a way to determine the nature of my tasks and actions. My goal is to do minimum an A, a B and a C task every day. All though a have many A tasks, the B tasks a more necessary in the long row. And C tasks often becomes A tasks sooner or later. Focusing on B tasks minimize the number of A tasks.

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  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    I have had so much going on the past week! Thanks for sharing this! It really helped me get a lot done today.

  • Brad

    This is great!!! Perfect visual (as usual). In addition to what you are saying here I read this article earlier today about simplifying the complexities: goo.gl/rQVnF 

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Nice link, Brad.  It compliments this post well.  

      It reminds of John Maxwell’s thoughts on that subject … Maxwell says that he considers himself a communicator, not an educator.  He says that “a communicator makes the complex simple, and the educator makes the simple complex.”

  • http://www.joyjoyg.com/ Joy Groblebe

    It’s almost like we work for the same company….oh wait.  :)  Lots of exciting projects are happening and all are important.  I love the Franklin Covey system…been prioritizing things like that for years.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Good point, Joy!  When we get to a place in life where we really enjoy our work, all of our projects are important.  The challenge for me is determining the unimportant tasks related to the important projects and being willing to let go of the unimportant tasks.

  • http://www.communicationartistry.ca/ Marnie Hughes

    Great methodical thinking, Michael. I confess to having days where the list is so long my brain short-circuits.  Enter ‘the list’. When committed to paper (top 3 are the ‘must dos’) somehow things come into focus.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Exactly, Marnie!  Top X (sometimes 3, sometimes 5 or 6) lists of must-do tasks are critical for me to prioritize my day, too.  They would always make the “A” list using the Franklin-Covey system that Michael references.   

  • Vika

    thank you very much sir for your advice. that’s really helpfull. I was in overwhelmed feeling when I read it.  Now, I’ve found the solution..:)

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  • http://www.hope101.net Lori Tracy Boruff

    Daily reading of Michael Hyett’s blog:    A

  • http://bentheredothat.com Ben Patterson

    Timely. The ABCD method is brilliant.

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  • Sandy

    Great Post! I really needed to hear it. The only thing I would add is that when you have more A’s than you would like and need to know where to start “Eat that Frog!” first. Read a great book by Bryan Tracey years ago. He said if the worst thing you have to do all day long is eat a frog, do that first and get it over with. I find that there is always at least one A that is a frog, and if I eat it first, the rest of the day has to get better!

  • http://www.facebook.com/reyshawn.bobo Reyshawn Bobo

     Thanks Micheal this post was timely.By the time I got home today I had felt the weight of being overwhelmed. I began to ask myself the question, “What should be my response to me being overwhelmed?” I immediately thought about a few points you have here, in particular I was thinking about What things should I say “yes” to and things I need to say “no.” These are usually my first responses to being overwhelmed.

    However,for the hope of turning to Christ, the second question I asked was, “What about the gospel have I not grasped that makes me feel more of the weightiness of all the tasks I have to do? What am I forgetting about the gospel that would enable me to live free from such emotional and mental draining that comes in being overwhelmed?

    I realized that a part of being overwhelmed has to do with the value and significance and acceptance we receive from the things that are overwhelming us. We put more on our plate, sometimes, because our acceptance and appreciation and love come from the things that we put on our plate, thus the reason why it is a lot.If we can do more to win acceptance and approval of we will do it, but not even know it.But Jesus says to us, in light of this insecurity ” “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall
    not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Come to Christ for everything! This my conclusion to your already great post!

    • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

      Great additional thoughts! I think you have hit on something that we all need to remember.

      I also like the way you went to the question, “What about the gospel have I not grasped…?”

      Great question!

  • http://ellansstudio.wordpress.com/ Lexie N.

    How come it hurts to say “You are right.”

  • Annkilter

    I work for three paralegals and an attorney (part time for him). I have to rearrange my priorities on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. It’s chaotic.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    So relevant to my life right now.  I’m so overwhelmed by my family life and my ministry that  I have days that border on depression.  Thanks for some great encouragement!

  • http://twitter.com/nano_pillao Fernando Escobar

    I just applied the ABCD method to my work tasks, and it result in having 9 A’s, 6 B’s, 1 C and 1 D… This maybe means that I need to delegate

  • Trugliaf

    I’m amazed, every day a little bit more, by the way you make things so easy to understand, to focus on and to action about. Many books talk about time management and ways to coap with workload, but at the end they present so complex methods which are quite difficult to action every day. I’ll start practicing with the six things you mentioned, especially with the ABCD approach. I’m sure It will work.

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  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I try to de-stress myself by taking some lone quiet time and reflect upon myself. I keep reminding myself that heaven is not going to fall if I am not able to finish evrything that is at stake in front of me.

    At times, I read to myself the wise words of ‘Henri Nouwen’ —

    “We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people. But each of us has our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world. We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live out that call with trust. Then we will discover that our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illness of our time.”

  • Matt Chauvin

      Your example reminds me of the Good Samaritan.  I find myself disconnected from God when I’m real busy- too busy for relationships, too busy God, too busy to enjoy life- I don’t remedy but I know that a hectic life is not living.
    Slowing down, taking the time for solitude, for exercise and other life giving activities is key to having a life worth living.

  • http://www.shortcutblogging.com/ Dave Young

    As such a long-time and prolific blogger, do you categorize your writing as A or B? Or, does it sometimes fluctuate between the two as other tasks float up and down? 

  • http://www.jackscouponcodes.com/ Jackie

    I love this post. I often find myself trying to multi task and it just doesn’t work very well. I will have to give the covey system a try. I like the idea of tagging my to do list in this way as I often find myself overwhelmed and trying to get everything done and just end up stressed at the end of the day.

  • DG

    This is such a timely post for my colleagues and me, as we are all buried under back breaking caseloads! Do you have any tips for ‘lower’ level employees who are expected to do everything (i.e. e-mails, physical inbox, to-do list, etc.) according to unrealistic service level agreements that our management has made with clients? (assuming that overtime is not an option?) What can we at the ‘bottom’ do to manage our management’s and/or clients’ expectations?

  • http://www.churchformen.com David Murrow

    I get tired just reading this blog…

  • http://www.revivallifestyle.com/ Daniel Vogler

    That’s a great list and was totally what I needed. Thanks for putting this together!

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  • http://twitter.com/DanneHotchkiss D’Anne Hotchkiss

    Thank you for the Covey-system reminder. I cross the D’s right off the list, which is great way of feeling like you’ve accomplished a great deal before you ever start! And when I start to slow down and am feeling overwhelmed and under-productive, I switch to one or two quickly accomplished items labeled C to give me another boost.

  • http://twitter.com/jballard54 Jason Ballard

    I was so needing to read this….thanks for the great post!   I plan on sharing this with all of my co-workers.

  • Rachyaimee

    This was refreshing…thank you!

  • Earlie Pasion

    Thanks for the tips. Sometimes I found myself multi-tasking or maybe multi-thinking. But for me, if I do not multi-task, I won’t accomplish anything at the end of the day. I work from home so I have to do things simulteanously sometimes, like cooking while working on an article… But you’re right, the prioritizing categories work; and post-its help me a lot!

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    When I feel overwhelmed, I try as much as possible to separate myself from the chaos for a bit. Going for a walk or sitting in a library for a while helps me gain perspective of the whole situation. Usually it’s only a short season for me.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Great ideas. Both of those usually help me as well, Daren.

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  • http://twitter.com/MusicPowerStrat MusicPoweredStrategy

    Great ideas Michael.

    One other suggestion I would add is to “turn off” social media, auto notices on e-mail, etc.  for a period of time so you can focus on the task at hand.

     I’ve found I lose time when I take “short” breaks to respond, read a new note or update, etc.


    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree with this advice. I use a program called Anti-Social that helps a great deal.

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  • Carla Reilly

    This is something that many of us struggle with.  This was a very popular share for me. Thanks so much for the great content. 

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  • http://twitter.com/BrentTrickett BrentTrickett

    Intentional Neglect- For 1 yr I made my default answer to any requests that were not directly part of my job a “no”. If I really wanted to do it I would ask for 3 days to decide, ask my wife, pray about it and then decide. By doing that I realized I had many more requests than I had capacity or desire to be a part of.
    I started using lazymeter as well to keep track of daily tasks and I don’t feel bad if things get done today. I just put them on a different day.

  • Steve Currey

    I like the ABCD triage list…  good stuff.  one thing i’ve been doing lately, instead of engaging long and drawn out email strings is to simply call for a conference call (usually with Skype) with all included parties.  Usually, i can delete the entire email string as a result.  And, we are better overall for having related at a deeper (voice to voice) level.  bottom line, while email is safe (i.e. you stay in charge of your time) nothing replaces relating with one another.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Steve, you bring up a good point. We must be conscious of our ability managing the tension between productivity and relationships.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    I really like this approach. While I hope my inbox never reaches 650+ there are times when it gets a little out of control and I have trouble prioritizing.

    The challenge I face is that every single email that comes into my work inbox MUST be at least responded to within 2 hours regardless of priority level as part of my groups customer service policy. It’s a good idea in theory, but when you’re the sole individual responsible for a global function it gets a little daunting.

  • Amelia Cabealotu

    Very true indeed!Prioritising will surely help kick start your plans for the day.

  • Anonymous

    When I was going through a health crisis some years ago, my mind was racing about all the possibilities and questions and tests. I kept asking my doctor, “What if…” Her reply has stuck with me to this day and I use it in every area of my life – “We don’t have to decide that now”. When I feel myself drifting into overwhelm, I look at each question that comes up and ask, Do I have to decide now? If the answer is no – which it most often is – I move on to the next most pressing issue.

    This helps me triage the stuff I don’t have to think about and deal with the important issues in the moment.

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  • Chic Hottie

    I have to agree with you because it has already happen to me. Thank you for this advise it will help me alot.

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  • Richard Head

    Eliminate the obligations to ‘church’ and free up a bit of time and a bit of mind while you’re at it… 

  • Donna Jones

    Michael – your tips for how you accomplish an impossible workload will be applied today.  I have a run-away freight train kind of workload that will mow me over if I don’t get some kind of control.  It seems like your method may be a workable solution.  Since I have a tremendous workload of time-sensitive items – I have to find a solution.  Also I need to find a way to communicate the unfinished items so that my supervisor can have an understanding of the backlog.  At some point – getting help may be the right solution.

  • Diana G

    I feel totally overwhelmed to the extent that I cannot focus on A, B, C or D. And then I start to panic because I ignore everything that is important and attend to the things that require less of my intelligence,

  • Brad Marsh000

    I been working for the same company for 8yrs. I’ve always done more that has been expected of me. I’m always on time ,don’t miss work my place of employment has grew substancially since I have started there in 2005. My position there is a position that requires to be self motivated and mutitasking is a must !!!! The company decided to run a 750,000 sq feet warehouse with two yard jockeys instead of 3. And have us work 4-10 hr days. Well let me tell u. I’m busy from the time I get to work until the time I leave. I cant stop to take my breaks after the set time of being there I don’t break until 5-7 hours of constantly suppling for the warehouse. And I’m getting tired. My boss doesn’t think I shld be complaining. He says and I quote. ” it is what it is” boss of the year. And becuz of bringing issues up Im on thin ice and its not rite . I just recently got written up for my job functions and it really hurt cuz I’m doing the best that I can do there and I do care about my job otherwise I wldnt be writting this.

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  • http://www.chicktech.com/ Chick Tech

    Great post. No matter how smart you are, how great you are at your job, getting overwhelmed is inevitable. I’m a huge GTD fan, but I find myself running into the same issue.

    Sharing this right now! A must read whether you work for yourself or someone else.

  • Frannie Berkowitz

    oh bless you! I have the same problem with David Allen’s GTD methodology. I agree with a little of David and a little of Stephen make like doable. Thank you so much for this. Best to you, Feeling A Little Better

  • Jo Frosch

    I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I cry a lot at work. Maybe 10 – 15 outbreaks per day. As a 47 year old man, I know this can be uncomfortable for my colleagues. But, when I get stressed, I get emotional. After 20 years in my position (air traffic control) I’ve come to realize that stress enters the body emotionally, but it CAN leave the body physically! That’s why I employ a technique called Stoop N Poop. When I feel that heavy load on my shoulders, I simply release that heavy load out my butt. BANG! Stress is released. Doesn’t matter where I am, Stoop N Poop IMMEDIATELY; worry about cleanup afterwards.

  • Person in need

    I have a problem, I’m currently a mentor for three stores, 2 without management whatsoever. And the other has 2 bitchy staff. To me the priority is the 2 branches without staff I have to be there for support as they cannot function well without a manager. Recently one of these girls have complained to my superior about not being able to get on with another member of staff. I recently had two weeks holiday and the girl in question has had the two weeks off after plus with my overwhelming workload (opening new branches too and working away) I have not been able to deal with these two girls in question, my area manager came down on me like ten tonne of bricks for not sorting it sooner but how could I possibly. I’d love some advice right now, am I in the wrong?

  • GaryKas

    Love this. I think the challenge of figuring out how to work ON
    your business and not IN it is one that most of us face constantly.
    Saying “no” can be a really scary thing, especially when “you eat what
    you kill,” so to speak.

    Setting boundaries and expectations with new clients is one of the
    most important things we can do. It’s like that old saying…give people
    an inch, and they’ll take a foot. I recently had a client who clearly is
    one of those people that likes to bulldoze his way through life,
    talking down to “the help.” The second he insulted me in a meeting, I
    put him in his place…and we’ve been making some progress ever since.
    Granted, there are still some red flags we missed at the outset, for
    sniffing out problem clients, but it’s an ongoing battle.
    The points you make at the end of the video are right on target…I
    know and practice this stuff as much as I can, but it’s always nice to
    have that reinforcement.

  • Nikhil

    Nice Article! Changed few things for me today.

  • Isko Kuha

    Hi. Here in the Finnish industry we have the same phenomenon. I couln’t agree more. Recently I re-joined an industrial corporate after working 4 years in a very efficient and tight shipyard team. This new job is a revelation. I know (after 25 y) what can be done in the trade in a given time, and still find it puzzling how this “new” corporate allows people to waste time in ERP processes that will never get seen in the ship’s actual wake. Large companie accept substandard time management for as long as they have the profit.