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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Break tasks down and build boundaries.

Updated: May 1, 2023

An electronic calendar with tasks highlighted with different colors

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Do you experience these feelings more often than you would like?

When we experience overwhelm, it can lead to feeling paralyzed. We don’t know what to do first or how to tackle the load, so we don’t do anything or we keep putting it off.

However, inaction is not the answer and procrastination inevitably leads to greater feelings of overwhelm.

Overcome overwhelm by following A-B-C

In the first post in this 3-part series, we stated that there are many things we can do to both prevent and overcome overwhelm. The suggestions in the first post began with A – ask for and accept help, the ones in this post begin with B, and the suggestions in the third post will begin with C.

Recall that alphabetical order does not reflect the order in which to initiate each step – do them all and in any order to be successful. Each suggestion can be implemented to either prevent or overcome overwhelm.

When overwhelm is the result of too much on our to-do lists, we need two Bs: break and build. When we break down tasks and build up boundaries, we take back control.

Implementing these two Bs utilizes our calendars or planners to schedule when to tackle each component of a larger task and prevents work from taking over our life. We achieve balance.

Let’s look at each B separately…

Feeling overwhelmed? Break tasks down.

One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes can be found at the end of this post. It reminds us to break down overwhelming tasks into smaller more manageable tasks. Make the first task simple and start it right away. This approach makes anything we do easier and more effective.

Use this strategy for both one-of-a-kind and routine tasks. For those tasks that occur on a regular basis, create systems for breaking them down into parts and scheduling each one. For example, writing these weekly blog posts is rarely done in one sitting. By creating and polishing writing drafts over multiple days, the task is not only less intimidating it is greatly improved.

When undertaking the writing of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, a multi-year project, I created timelines with each part of the larger task broken into multiple steps. This plan kept us on track even though it was adjusted many times.

Implement this strategy of breaking down larger tasks in all areas of your life and work. This includes household management tasks, work tasks, and even obligations within our volunteer or professional organizations.

Combine this strategy with asking for or accepting help; especially with tasks that others can do as well or even better than you.

Check out this post featuring 5 tips for tackling big projects. By breaking tasks down and putting each smaller step in your calendar, you can stop worrying about whether or not a big job will get done. Allow for delays and interruptions by creating space before deadlines.

Stop now. What big task is looming? How can you break it down? Do it. Schedule and start.

Feeling overwhelmed? Build boundaries.

At the same time we are breaking down we need to build up. What do we need to build?

We need to build boundaries around our time commitments. If we don’t, our calendars will fill up and we will sacrifice needed time for sleep, recreation, relationships, and self-care.

When we say “yes” to one thing on our calendar, we are saying “no” to something else. Make those trade-offs with intention. It’s one thing for an occasional deadline to prevent us from making it to an event with friends or family, it’s another when we consistently miss everything.

Boundaries can be created by scheduling non-work time as well as work time. Be firm about when you leave the office, even if your office is at home. Establish boundaries around when you will check email or respond to a phone call or text. If we are always “working” we are much more likely to experience feelings of overwhelm.

There’s time to do many things. Don’t feel like you must do everything at once. Build in margin around your time for rest, relaxation, and daily routines. You will be more productive when you are at work.

Stop now. Where do you need to build boundaries? Protect your time. Do it. Prioritize what matters.

Achieve balance and overcome overwhelm.

This is all about taking charge of your calendar. Plan. Break down tasks and schedule each one. Prioritize. Build boundaries and put them in your calendar. Schedule non-work life alongside work life. Achieve balance and overcome overwhelm.

~ Mark Twain

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