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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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