Laurel Anne Stark

Overcome overwhelm - quickly! - in 5 easy steps.

Laurel Stark

It is the season to feel overwhelmed!

Between getting things done before the holidays start, and the added pressure of holiday-related activities like parties and get togethers, overwhelm can creep in and ruin even the most festive activities.

Before you climb under your covers, check out these 5 tips for overcoming overwhelm, quickly!

What to do when you feel overwhelmed:

1. Brain dump.

The first thing I do when I feel overwhelmed is write out a comprehensive list of all the things I am thinking about that I need to do.

I call it a brain dump.

This first step reduces stress almost immediately.

Instead of thinking about all the things you need to do, you can see them in front you. Now you do something about them.

2. Prioritize


Now that I have my list, I start numbering all my to-dos in order of priority and time sensitivity.

This step is also phenomenal at reducing stress as it shows me exactly what I need to be working on today and what can wait until a later date.

3. Delegate

Once I have my list prioritized I can look for items I can delegate.

If you’ve ever worked with me, you know that I am a huge fan of delegating anything you’re not excellent at.

4 pointers for effective delegation:

Delegating can be tricky unless you incorporate these 4 elements into each ask:

  • What you need done, including any and all details, resources, passwords or context that would be needed to complete the task.

  • When you need it done by- specifically- so, clarify by end of day or in the morning.

  • What the person you're delegating to can use their judgement on, and what elements you would like done exactly as you ask.

  • Communication expectations: how and when they can contact you if they have questions and if you need them to confirm they've received your note.


4.  Defer:

I notice I think about to-dos that are a lower priority or not as time sensitive just as much as lower priority items.

Making a decision to move things into the next week or "someday" also reduced my feeling of overwhelm.

I’ve also noticed that sometimes things just take care of themselves if you don’t do them for a long enough period. Or, it may be a sign that the items you aren’t completing are things you don’t actually need to do.

5 .Schedule

Once I have my brain dump list, my to-do’s listed by priority and items I can delegate or defer organized,  I start blocking off times in my calendar for specific tasks, based on priority level.

I find grouping similar tasks together speeds up efficiency, such as doing errands all in the same area in one trip, or making a bunch of phone calls in a row.

I take into account when I am most often high or low energy and other factors that contribute to how quickly I can accomplish tasks.

For me, I find it's best to perform more difficult tasks first thing in the morning, for example.

It’s thought that the times between 10am-2pm are the most energetic for most people.

Feeling overwhelmed is normal.


Small business owners wear a lot of hats and work hard.

As a society, we seem to worship at the altar of always-connected and busy, busy, busy.

It would be impossible not to feel overwhelmed at least some of the time.

In fact, in a recent survey of my community and clients, feeling overwhelmed was the #1 most commonly experienced challenge small business owners reported. (see chart above)

The key to not letting overwhelm negatively impact your performance, is to deal with it quickly, before it becomes paralysis.

Causes of Overwhelm:

Sometimes we’re overwhelmed because of how we feel, as opposed to the state of external affairs. Not enough sleep, water or adequate nutrition can contribute to feeling less than competent staring at a giant list.

That being said other times, behaviors that don’t serve us contribute to overwhelm:

People pleasing:

Saying yes when you really mean no equals more items on your to-do list than you need. Practice the art of saying “no thank-you”.


Perfectionism / Indecisiveness:

Delivering something imperfect is better than never delivering at all. Imperfect action trumps perfect paralysis every-time.


Lack of clear goals/focus:

If you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re trying to accomplish, it can be easy to become scattered, with multiple competing priorities pulling you in different directions.

This is why a plan, whether for your business or your week, can be incredibly effective in helping you determine what makes it on your to-do list and what doesn’t.


Inaccurate understanding of capacity:

It’s taken me a long time to realize that the output I imagine myself capable is entirely inaccurate. Having a realistic view of how long things will take, and leaving gaps in your calendar for things to go wrong or fires to pop up, will help keep you on schedule.



The enemies of productivity: distraction and multitasking are harder than ever to avoid. To get things done without interruption, close all the tabs on your browser, close your door, pop in some headphones, turn off your phone and set a timer - focusing for even just 30 minutes at a time is a powerful tool to help you destroy your to-do list.

"To transcend duality is the kingly view. To conquer distractions is a royal practice.”- Osho, The Book of Tantra

How do you deal with being overwhelmed? Are there any tips I missed? Please share!