Solutions to managing overwhelm

In my last post, I listed some of the major factors contributing to the pervasive sense of overwhelm most of us are struggling with. To review, some of the major factors were:

  • Looking for things
  • Your email
  • Interruptions
  • Meetings
  • Poorly defined processes

All of which was sucking up more than 100% of our time! And creating an unwinnable game in an unworkable environment.

So pick your head up off the desk. Below are some proven strategies to allow you to wrangle that overwhelm into a more manageable state.

What can we do?

So, what can we do? I am going to give you some simple solutions to address each of these areas. While they are simple, they are not necessarily easy to implement – but any one of them will produce a measurable result immediately!

Get organized

What can you do to reduce the time you spend looking for what you need (the document, the file, the phone number)? Get organized. Set up your physical space to work. Close your eyes and picture your primary work space. Got it? Good. Now, let me know – is it set up in such a way that it invites you in and allows you to get real work done? Or is it set up in such a way that it compels you to run screaming from the building? Or somewhere in between? The easiest way to do this is to work with someone else. Let’s face it – if you knew what to do to get organized, you would have already done it. And, I want to clear up one thing here – having a neat office does not necessarily mean you have an organized office. Some of the most organized people I know have untidy offices – but everything has a logic to it, and they can find what they need exactly when they need it.

Establish a process for dealing with your email

Set a specific time each day when you check your email. Turn off the function that pushes email to your computer or smart phone. When it is time to check, pull all the messages into the inbox.

Go through and sort everything in one pass. Don’t try to sort some and work on some – for now just sort. Some quick sort criteria –

  • read and delete (you don’t have to do anything else)
  • read and respond (simple acknowledgement or one line response)
  • read and schedule for future action (including delegating)
  • divert – create a rule to automatically sort it into a separate folder (newsletters, etc) that you can access as you have time

Shifting from checking your email every 3-7 minutes throughout the day to checking 2-3 times a day alone will free up two hours of time, on average, immediately!

Stop treating email as if it were a form of instant message!

Managing interruptions

Dan Kennedy says ‘if they can’t find you, they can’t interrupt you.’ Consider tackling your most important task of the day before you check your email, and your voicemail. Don’t be afraid to close your door (and put a sign on it if you need to) so you can focus on your work. The world won’t end if you let your phone calls go to voicemail. You can manage people’s expectations by recording a clear message letting callers know when you may be returning calls, or setting up an email auto-response that lets people know how often you will be reviewing messages – so you won’t get 6 messages asking why you haven’t responded to the first.

If you may only have 45 minutes of productive time in the day, why not get that 45 minutes in and your most important actions done first thing – before anyone has a chance to interrupt?


What is the intended outcome of the meeting? Can it be accomplished with a phone call? If so, then do that and save yourself a lot of time. If you must have a meeting be certain there is a clearly stated outcome, an agenda and a firm starting and ending time. And create clear action items coming out of the meeting. A meeting that doesn’t produce action items was probably not necessary.

Ineffective processes

Don’t be afraid to ask ‘why’ when you find yourself wondering if the way something is being done makes sense. Why are we doing it this way? Is there a better, simpler way to get the same result? Are we using our technology to the fullest? Often, we are too involved in what we are doing to step back to see if there might be a better way. If you find yourself operating over top of a sense of frustration and anxiety, you may want to take a step back and look at what is being done and how it is being done to see if you can tell where it has fallen apart. An outside pair of eyes is great here, too.

In summary, the keys to managing overwhelm are taking back control in those areas that you actually can control. You can set boundaries. You can schedule your time. You can plan your work. You can establish processes and protocols for how things get done. And you can recognize that we have created an environment where it is just not possible for one person to get it all done. So, choose what you will focus on (and choose what’s most important to you), and move forward.

To your success!

Terry Monaghan

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  1. Lisa Manyon says:


    I might need you to come peek over my shoulder for a while to ensure I actually do all of these things. 🙂

    I must admit that I have systems in place and don’t always follow them. You might say “so, you have a system and don’t follow it — what’s the point?”. 😉

    Write on!~


    • ofyl says:

      LOL. Don’t try all the solutions at once. Try one. Use one. I also have systems that are not being followed. That means that I haven’t set it up to naturally work – or to naturally invite me to use it.

  2. I can’t read too many articles of this kind Terry! I seem to no sooner get a system in place when things in business do a change-up and I have to devise another system because the first one is no longer effective. Could your next a article be one that helps us handle constant change?

    • ofyl says:

      Of course Lynn!
      Sounds like the systems aren’t scalable – won’t grow with you. That is a great topic for an article.

  3. I’m guilty of taking too much time with email and checking too often. I have to remind myself it’s not urgent stuff! Thanks for the good ideas.

  4. Pinky Mckay says:

    I LOve “if they cant find you, they cant interrupt you”.
    These are great strategies especially the email management.

  5. Great suggestions, as always, Terry! My strategy for “if they can’t find you…” is to work outside under my tree with my laptop DISCONNECTED <> from the internet! It works like MAGIC! I get so much creative work done there. XO, Katherine.
    Life Blossoming Systems

  6. You can never have too many techniques or strategies to stop from being overwhelmed. The looking for things is a serious problem for me. My desk space is one step above “compelled to run screaming from my office”. I never realized that was my issue until today. I need to sit down and find some logic to my space. 🙂

    Thanks for the excellent tips, as always.

  7. Phil Dyer says:

    I have been waiting for this one! Great tips and techniques to make things happen…love the Dan Kennedy quote!

    As someone who firmly believes in the Power of Unplugging, this is right on!


  8. Mitch Tublin says:

    Great post. The email checking and responding has become one of the most challenging time wasters I find with many of my clients. All of your tips are spot on target. Thanks, Mitch