Are we crazy to feel so overwhelmed?

Anyone here ever feel overwhelmed? You are in the right place.

In today’s fast paced world of business and technology – everything that was supposed to be making life easier seems to be conspiring to swallow us whole! Between smart phones, email, instant messaging, social networking, running a business, running a family, running errands – it is hard to remember sometimes about having a life!

Everyone feels overwhelmed and stressed out from time to time, and our current way of working doesn’t help. Have you ever noticed that when you are feeling stressed it is just a short hop to feeling overwhelmed, and you seem to be unable to even think? Well, science is on your side (or against you, depending on how you want to look at it). We evolved with the ability to focus on one thing, while blocking out most of everything else. Women have a higher capacity for maintaining some awareness of everything else – and we call this multitasking. I think it is more multi-awareness, but back to the point.

When you are overwhelmed – you actually lose both your ability to focus and your ability to block out all other stimuli. So – everything is happening at once, and you are aware of it. Total overload. You can’t focus on even one thing to pull yourself out – have you ever noticed that? No wonder we feel like we are running in circles as fast as we can, getting absolutely nowhere!

In this presentation, I will bring to light some of the realities of our current situation. We are going to examine the biggest impediments to our productivity. I am going to give you some statistics about it, and show you exactly why we aren’t crazy to feel so overwhelmed and stressed out.

It’s not all bad news, though. I will also be touching on some innovative solutions that will make a real, measurable difference – today! Finally, I will leave everyone with a simple process guaranteed to free up around 2 hours a day. What would you do with an additional four months of productive time each year?

So, what are the biggest impediments?

Looking for things

Do you have any idea how much time you spend each day just looking for something you need? Could be a file, a phone number, a document – doesn’t matter. Studies indicate that we spend, on average 45 minutes every day (or 9% of your workday) – which adds up to about 6 weeks. Six weeks just looking for things.

How many of you found yourself thinking you would take a vacation if you just had the time? Well – here’s six weeks.

Trying to get through your email inbox

Another time/productivity impediment is going through your email inbox. How many of you have more than 100 messages in your inbox? More than 1000? More than 5000? Does it just make you tired to even think of it? Based on a series of surveys done in Fortune 500 companies, experts have estimated that the average businessperson is spending up to 3 hours per day just trying to sort through the incoming email. This doesn’t include doing any of the work – just trying to sort through it. So, if you do the math – 3 hours a day, 50 weeks a year – (let’s tell the truth, many of you check your email even on vacation) – so 52 weeks, adds up to 19 ½ weeks every year just trying to sort through your email.

So, we are already up to about 26 weeks of the year – used up looking for things, and checking our email, and we haven’t begun to do any work yet.

Allowing interruptions

Yet another behavior that will negatively impact your capacity to be productive is allowing interruptions. Statistics indicate that on average we can be interrupted at least once every six to eight minutes, and it can take us up to 15 minutes to bring our focus back to whatever we were working on when we were interrupted (if we can even remember what it was). Let’s look at that – we get interrupted every six minutes and it takes 15 minutes to bring our focus back. But before we can bring our focus back to the task at hand, we will be interrupted again. This doesn’t work, does it? The first interruption can derail your entire day. Has this happened to you?


And one final productivity killer for many people is meetings. How many meetings have you attended where you realized that the entire thing could have been handled with one or two emails or a short conference call? Or, you were in the meeting for 1-2 hours and absolutely nothing got done? Depending on where you are in your organization, it is entirely possible that 30-90% of your time could be spent in meetings.

Another study of Fortune 500 executives revealed that many of them felt lucky if they had between 28-45 minutes of productive time each day. Time they could use to focus on their most critical areas.


Where does that put us? So far we have accounted for over 100% of your time, and we haven’t gotten any work done. And, we haven’t even spoken about those processes that seem to take far more time and effort than needed to produce the result.

Unwinnable game

As far as I can see, we are playing an unwinnable game, in an unworkable environment, and we really do not have any time left! Given those circumstances, I believe we are already amazingly productive. The tragedy, of course, is it takes us 8 hours to manage to accomplish that 45 minutes of true productivity each day.

What can we do? Solutions in part two…

Terry Monaghan

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Consultant, coach, speaker, trainer and entrepreneur, Terry Monaghan, publishes Now What – a free weekly ezine for entrepreneurs and professionals who want to double their productivity, improve their performance, and have a life! If you’re ready to jump start your performance and your results then get your free tips now at


  1. Lisa Manyon says:


    I can relate to the occasional feeling of overwhelm and it’s so not fun. But, I must say since I limit client meetings (for the most part) to Tuesday and Thursday with time limits and set agendas, productivity has increased and I rarely have “in person” meetings any more.

    Write on!~


    • ofyl says:

      Lisa – you have already taken some of the steps that I cover in part two of the post. Makes a huge difference.

  2. Sue Painter says:

    Like the article on overwhelm. My opinion, thinking you are just makes it worse! thanks for your tips
    Sue Painter

  3. Just as I was warmed up and panting for solution….I LEARN I HAVE TO WAIT A WEEK! :0

    Seriously, these are sooooo true. And I think we are our own worst enemy (is that in part 2?)


  4. Anita G. Wheeler says:


    Way too much going on and easy to get caught up in the world of major overwhelm. Will be jumping on for Part 2! Can’t wait.


  5. Thanks for the explanation of why I feel like I work so hard and still don’t accomplish all I want to! Very interesting information. Can’t wait for
    Part 2!

  6. I have a saying that I would rather be overwhelmed than underwhelmed…but I look forward to reading your solutions in part 2 to help with the biggest impediments.

  7. Mitch Tublin says:

    I agree with everything you wrote. The other side of the coin is it is better to tread water than to sink.
    Everyone should learn the freestyle stroke and get moving sooner than later, eh?

  8. Phil Dyer says:

    Terry – Very good article. I have so many clients that feel this way today…

    Really looking forward to Part II and solutions!


  9. “Overwhelm” is no place to try to be productive. Thanks for all the light you shine on this topic. XOXO, Katherine
    Life Blossoming Systems

  10. interruptions serve 2 purposes:
    1. providing a needed break from something
    2. distract you from doing what you’re supposed to be doing

    the challenge for me is knowing when an interruption is a good one or a disruptive one.

    Thanks for making me think about this!

    • ofyl says:

      Laura – I agree about the need to have a break. The biggest problem with interruptions is they occur so often that if you haven’t paid attention you will get nothing done!