My Life in Transition # 4 – Overwhelmed and Overloaded

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”

Mark Twain



One of the first emotions that I felt in the hours after my husband left me was panic. My mind was in complete turmoil as I battled despair and hurt from the betrayal, sadness at my lost past, and fear for my future. Feeling completely overwhelmed I compartmentalized my pain and deferred major decisions. I put those into metaphorical boxes and shut the lid tight. Two years later I was having to open those boxes. The difficulty in facing those decisions had not subsided, not one little bit. I was feeling overwhelmed again.
Overwhelmed is when you think you cannot cope and you spend much time in worrying about not coping and the fact that you are feeling overwhelmed.
Overloaded is when you genuinely do have a lot to do and cannot physically do it all.
I was suffering from both.
As I descended further down into another well of despair, the message I was receiving from loved ones was ‘stop worrying, it will all work out’. Then one day the sage advice given to me by my mother was different. ‘You have to face whatever it is that needs doing and get it done’.
In a state of near implosion one day I found a place of quiet and realised that my mother was correct. I took a moment to learn how to breathe again (instead of panic) and then wrote down all that needed to be done. The list shocked me. I was definitely overloaded. I was in this transition state. I was still battling emotions of losing my past. I was forming my vision for my future. In my present, I was connecting with my loved ones scattered around the globe. I was trying to do something for myself to make me feel good about myself. I had a lot of responsibility in my current work that I could not delegate. Then suddenly – all at once – there were several ‘big’ issues that arose regarding the property settlement that only I could do. I felt I simply could not do it all. I felt so alone.
Nevertheless, I had taken the first step by writing it all down.
The next step – as hard as it was – was deferring my future to the future. I had to get stuck in and deal with the here and now. I took comfort from the fact that in the early days after my crisis I feared the future. Now I was looking forward to my future. To cope, I re-framed my property settlement tasks as steps towards my future.
Next, taking Mark Twain’s advice above, I started to break each of those overwhelming tasks on my list into incremental steps. Then I started on the first step and I finished it. That first step, which was writing a quick email, only took me two minutes. It was not a major step but it meant that I had started. All I had to do was keep moving through each of those incremental steps and I could finish every item on the list. I felt invigorated
I then went back to some of my business management strategies and prioritised tasks. I made sure that I started moving on the top priority tasks. Too often I became distracted with urgent less important tasks, and neglected the important non-urgent ones.

For those tasks on my list that still felt overwhelming to me, I have enlisted some help. Over the three weeks since that first advice from my mother I have moved ahead and I have calmed down.

My advice for anyone who is feeling both overwhelmed and overloaded is to start addressing being ‘overloaded’ first and write everything down. Writing down my list gave me back a sense of control and lessened my feeling of being overwhelmed. As for starting on that first step? That was empowering as it meant I had started on that first step towards the future I crave.
You may want to read or try:
Getting Things Done. David Allen
Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People. Steven Covey.
Toodledoo: electronic To-Do list with priorities, goals, tasks, and sub-tasks.
ImageCourtesy[Stuart Miles]/

26 thoughts on “My Life in Transition # 4 – Overwhelmed and Overloaded

  1. I need so e of this heh, I made a list some months ago, and after really struggling with the urgent ones, I took a bit of a break and highlighted the smallest things first, slowly getting to work on the larger ones… Your mums right, worrying about them won’t get them done… I still get pulled into the worry often and I have to give myself a kick in the pants, but getting there… I think we tend to want it all to go away, and it’s hard to know where to start, but starting is often indeed the hardest part!

    • I am SO glad that I am not the only one here (who slides backwards). I write this post and nearly deleted it because I had written one very similar about a year ago and wondered why I had not simply taken my own advice.
      Sometimes we just need to start again 🙂

      • I’m like you, a lot of the things that need doing start with a phone call or an email or filling in of a form… I don’t know why I avoid doing some of them… Worrying too much about the outcome I guess… but then I realised, the actual outcome will be that I can get from here, where it sucks, to there, I don’t know where there is, but I hope it’s where it’s getting better lol.

        I’m pretty sure I’m just worried that because there seems to be so much, that I’ll start on all these things and they will snowball into something else…

        Someone said to me today, I should go back into business for myself instead of looking for work… And my answer, was honestly? I just want someone else to tell me what to do right now lol. I’m only just learning to get a grip on my life, never mind running a business! You know where people actually want me to do stuff on their time and I’m the only one responsible lol.

        I wish someone would tell me what I should do with my life, but almost everything everyone tells me is wrong !

      • I have two main problems of procrastination; one is avoiding the little things, the other is avoiding the big things.
        Getting started on the little things is just a start, but at least it is a start. I have the same battles with you regarding whether to go into business again or have a quieter life and am in a dilemma as to which way to go. I have shelved that decision again until after I have cleared all this mud away.
        Procrastination lives on! it is a great protector from the pain of decision-making. 🙂

  2. What great advice and knowing you followed it yourself and it is working, empowers us to follow. In times of acute panic and crisis, I have learned to ask, to look for just the next step and to focus on doing just that one step. Somehow that leads to the next step and returns me to a place of empowerment instead of panic.

  3. Yes! It’s everything from cleaning a closet on a day you feel you can’t take action of any kind, to revising your will during a week when you feel strong. Good for you–and glad you have such a wise mother:).

  4. After all this time, Elizabeth, I’d say your thoughts and plans after divorce are clearer than mine. I guess I’m still Swimming in the Mud. (I guess I picked the right blog name.) Perhaps I should’ve studied business management! You know, sometimes I really have to wonder if I am undiagnosed ADHD. I think how our brains are wired has something to do with our ability to follow a simple plan for our own futures. We can read books, get advice from professionals, get advice from our very own selves, and still flounder. I continue to be ungraceful in my efforts, but I have the sense that generally I am moving forward. There’s significant pull from the current, though, and not enough effective self steering.

    • You must not feel so hard on yourself. I have received great comfort from your comments. I support you writing your memoirs as you indicated in a recent post. This will be of great benefit to others. Writing that book is a great plan.
      Do not be disheartened by my supposed ‘graceful efforts’. All my posts are pep talks to myself and in reality there is still a lot of mud I am swimming in.
      Thanks for your continued cyber-friendship. It means a lot to me 🙂

      • You are kind, Elizabeth. Thanks for your cyber-friendship as well. Here’s my reality, though. So far, I’m the minister in my own little church (my blog), but hardly anyone is in the pews. I’m not convinced at this point that there’s an audience for what I have to say (as evidenced by readership; numbers don’t lie). When it comes down to it, I wonder if there’s much point in writing a book if nobody (or very few) will read it. (I don’t have children, so there’s nobody to guilt into reading it. lol) Maybe what I really need to do is just journal the heck out of what I’ve experienced, just to get it out of me. It may be what’s holding me back. I’ve done that to some extent on my blog, but maybe I need to get into the dirty nitty gritty in a private journal. Otherwise, I’m just like Indiana Jones, jumping over boulders and slipping through the bottom of closing trap doors, hopeful but barely scraping through as I chase the Holy Grail . . . Like Indie, I’m moving forward but it sure is taking a lot of time and effort to get there! Don’t worry. I’m smiling (more than half the time) as I keep pressing forward.

      • You have been through a lot, although it has come out more in comments to me rather than your blog (ie some parts of your story). That story would be worth telling, although maybe out of respect for others you do not feel that you could write it all. I feel the same way. There are parts of my story that I have not included on my blog. You do not have to write in order to publish. You could write it for yourself. Write it, then close the book and begin another one.

  5. You are a wonder, Elizabeth – at the moment I am totally overwhelmed so your post has saved me from despair. Thank you so much for your blog, friendship and wisdom – much love Julie xx

    • I remember the first three habits but not habits 4-7.
      The first three have guided me and are taking responsibility, values, and priorities (although he words them differently).

  6. Pingback: My life in transition # 6 – anxiety | Almost Spring

  7. Pingback: Not quite at the crossroads | Almost Spring

  8. Pingback: Feeling my feelings | Spring into Summer

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