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Sometimes, there are a lot of things that you are expected to do and you just don't know where to begin.

You feel like you are being overwhelmed with a lot of tasks and deadlines.

How should one prevent this feeling?

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I don't actually have this problem, but posted this as a reference for others. – Tom Wijsman Nov 6 '12 at 1:36

10 Answers 10

Standard time management:

  1. Prioritize what you want/need to get done that day.
  2. Delegate what you can.
  3. Split up tasks so can work on them at best times.
  4. Learn to say no. Sometimes tasks just don't need to be done.
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This site is devoted to practical, tangible steps and systems that can increase personal productivity, but perhaps the most important insight is that all systems have their limits and that it's important to be able to realize if and when you've reached a point where your commitments exceed your ability to meet them.

Only then can you make the transition from trying to figure out how to frantically manage an impossible set of tasks and change your focus to the larger negotiation with yourself about what's really important and deserves your time and attention, and what are the little lies you keep saying you're going to get to, but never will.

Luckily, just like tasks can spiral out of control--as busyness leads to swirl and lack of focus--so can they quickly become manageable again. A mind that has re-negotiated it's deals and consciously decided what is no longer on the table is a stress free mind that will be all that more effective at the remaining tasks.

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I deal with this issue a lot and I have taken a more "bottom-up" posture on it. The following is not from any system, but is provided as a real-world, functioning answer to this issue:

  1. Target Positivity - Ultimately, being "overwhelmed" happens the moment you decide you are. It's a completely subjective viewpoint in which you are saying that you should have been able to accomplish a larger list of items. At that point, you are analogizing your approach to problem solving with an image of a wave washing over you or something similar. A more positive view is to start from the assumption that you are constantly achieving exactly the amount that is appropriate to your context (capabilities, maturity, etc.)
  2. Be Scientific - Before you can make any presumptions of your capabilities, you must fight off your own bias and do some experimentation. Keep counts of productive vs. unproductive hours, number of tasks (of varying sizes) completed, etc. Give yourself something concrete to go at. There are some great materials around about the value of statistics in this. For example, as soon as you have a count higher than 12 you can begin to get legitimate statistical averaging. Everything you call a task has your biases built right in. Try to be consistent and collect a good average, then it doesn't matter if your 12 tasks include a 2-hour task and an 8-hour task. Getting them both done will work out to completing 2 5-hour tasks.
  3. Work in Whatever Sizing Makes You Most Comfortable - Personally, I adapted a procrastination-fighting tool for my purposes, but there are many things that can work for this. The tool I'm referring to is one in which you divide an hour into 5 sets of 10 minutes of productive time followed by a 2-minute break. I call these "TMTs" (ten minute tasks) and after a couple of years of using them, I now have PhraseExpress scripts which expand "0tmt" into the format I like to list them in Evernote and various other very personal tricks in place to make it fun and comfortable for me to produce.

Above all else, work to keep your emotional fear of the consequences of being overwhelmed separate from an objective assessment of what you can do. That will help you to keep from experiencing a snowball effect resulting from the feeling.

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Take a look at David Allen's Getting Things Done. It's a well-known book/system that approaches this exactly, and it does work.

The gist of it is:

  1. Write down everything in your head. Everything you want to do. Whether it's urgent or something you want to do in the long run. Just jot it down and deal with it in the next step.
  2. Process that stuff. Throw away what you don't intend to follow up with. Archive it if you won't do it yet.
  3. Break difficult tasks into smaller parts, until you know exactly what you want to do about it. Even if it's "do research on _". Part of that feeling of being overwhelmed comes from not knowing what to do.
  4. If you have to do it on a certain time, schedule a time for it. If you're waiting for someone else's response on something, put it on a "waiting list". Put everything else you intend to do on a large "to do list".
  5. If you can do it within 2 minutes, do it. This can be small things like sharpening a pencil, or replying a yes/no email.
  6. Review this every week. This is important because it keeps the list manageable, and gives you trust in it.

You should allocate about a weekend to sorting things out and put about an hour a week to maintaining it. I'd recommend reading the book itself as it goes into a lot of detail and gives examples of what works and what doesn't.

Try to keep it loose and informal. One problem I had with setting up my own system was that I'd schedule everything for the day. A soft "things I have to do" list will be much easier to stick to.

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When you say "preventing the feeling" I will assume you mean, how to remove the feeling that decreases your level of productivity. That feeling usually being panic or anxiety about having too much to do.

My methods are:

  • Use someone as a sounding board or simply write everything down. This should be very high level list of things that need to get done. Such as titles of projects or a major task and when each needs to be completed.
  • Decide which item cause you the most stress and then decide if this stress is justified. For example: this task is critical to a system uptime or alternatively this task makes you nervous because you don't know how to do it but you don't really need to get it done any time soon. If the latter, remove it from list.
  • Once you have narrowed down the list, decide if you can accomplish the tasks in time that you have. If not, communicate to others about concerns, roadblocks or expectations. Change timing expectations if possible or at least give warning that you may not be able to complete tasks at the exact time expected, so others can be ready and you are not nervous about delivering the bad news last minute.
  • Once timing has been negotiated or concerns communicated, begin tasks and hopefully the feeling is gone.
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Over years I discovered that the best way to handle lots of tasks is to split them into several groups such as:

  • tasks to be done today or this week
  • tasks to be completed this month
  • tasks to complete in the future etc.

This simple system helps you to a) not get overwhelm with so many tasks and b) postpone unimportant tasks for the future. When you return to work on future tasks you discover some of them don't need to be completed any more or lost they relevance.

Keep the first group of tasks fairly small and if it keeps growing, just move less important tasks into other groups.

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Find out what productivity tools have a proven success rate with others. While this does not guarantee it will be the right fit for you, it at least narrows down the search. Here are some great productivity tools that seemed to streamline business productivity for myself and my team. Two great ones to start with:

Employee (and Personal) Time Tracking Tool (TSheets)

Taking, Distributing, and Following Up with Meeting Minutes (

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I feel like this quite often. And this leads to situation when you are just stuck and do nothing. Here is a technique that always helps me:

Take a 2-minutes rush

  1. Think about the task that first comes to your mind.
  2. Devote 2 minutes to it. Do anything you can do in two minutes: make a quick plan, start writing an email, write 10 lines of code etc.
  3. Switch to the next task that comes to your mind.

Using the technique, in 1 hour you can virtually touch 30 different tasks. Of course, you can switch back to a task you already did (e.g. switching back and forth among 5 tasks). After doing this you will be feeling more in control than before, because you will be closer to finishing every task you have.

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Just don't think negative thoughts about your tasks! Do other activities as well; something that makes you happy! Find a person you can count on, perhaps if you have a sister, a brother, or maybe a best friend that will help you organize your tasks!

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an awesome book about this topic is : Dale Carnegies "Stop Worrying and start living" ...

he gives a ton of techniques and tricks how to stay calm and solve your problems systematically, with a clear mind and no worries.

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