How to stop feeling overwhelmed


You might even be reading this in procrastination, facing that sliding mountain of work without the energy to scale it.

6 Steps to Stop Feeling So Overwhelmed – Samantha Cole, Fast Company (28 October 2014)

That quote from Cole comes at the end of her introduction to the piece and while that one sentence is what made me want to show you – and also admit she’s caught me out – I think the rest of her intro says it better than I would:

Becoming overwhelmed is a slow avalanche.

At first, agreeing to an extra project or starting a new class feels exciting. Sure, one more deadline is doable. Then you end up with three more meetings a week on your calendar. Before long, the moments that used to be reprieve become stressful, too–your friend’s in town and wants to catch up over drinks, but you’ve got that yoga class you already paid for, so you’ll have to leave work by 6 p.m. even though you haven’t started what’s due in the morning, and your emails aren’t going to reply to themselves. Work quality slips. Sleep, what’s that?

You might even be reading this in procrastination, facing that sliding mountain of work without the energy to scale it. Here’s your six-step climbing plan.

Go read her six steps, would you? I’m on her page, ahead of you. Or will be after I’ve made this tea.

So you haven’t done what I told you, so what?

This has come up a couple of times recently. I have a natter with someone – because they asked, come on, I don’t accost people in the street with productivity advice – and it seems to go well.

I think they get a good idea of what’s really on their plate and which of it matters to them. There’s usually a new project that they want to do and after a hour or so with me, they tend to have a plan. And most importantly, I think, that new project has turned from a nebulous, unwieldy thing that’s overwhelming them into something they can do. And will do. Talking it through invariably leaves you physically no further forward yet in every other way extremely far down the line. The intangible is at least well on its way to tanging.


What’s happened these couple of times is that armed with their own new plan and, I believe, fully enthused at what they’re going to do, they haven’t done it.

They tell me this with something approaching guilt and I feel terrible. I like people thinking of me as someone to account to if that is what helps them, I loathe it when they think I’m judging them, damning them.

So here’s the thing.

Bollocks to me and what you think I think of you. What I actually think has not changed at all: I think you had this great idea and it wasn’t working out but now you have a plan, now you know you can do it. Whether you do or not almost doesn’t matter.

I want you to do this thing: it is exciting and it’s you, only you can do this and I want to see how it turns out. But what I needed, if we’re to get all personal about this, was to help you go from this stage of it being a mountain ahead of you to your seeing the path you need to take.

I promise you that I will never think badly of you for not having started on your path yet. I’m struggling to think of a situation where I would think badly of you. Come on, it’s you. How could I think badly of you?

And here’s another thing.

That plan you came up with, that simple set of steps to get this project of yours started, it’s still there. You may have changed: your interest in it may vary, your ability to fit it in with everything else you’re doing may very well have varied, but the plan is true and you can start it any time.

And let’s have a mug of tea sometime.