Two Habits for Feeling Less Overwhelmed

October 3, 2021

If you feel overwhelmed, that’s not because you have too much to do. It’s because of how you’re approaching what you want to do. You can be calm and feel in control even if you have many things on your plate. You just have to develop two key habits.

A very common cause of overwhelm is anxiety about whether you’re working on the right thing. This gets worse the more you want to do, because if you want to do lots of things, there are so many other things you could do at any given moment. How can you be sure you’re working on the right thing?

To be calmly productive, without feeling overwhelmed, you want to periodically take the time to decide what to work on. By periodically reviewing your situation and planning, you remove that anxiety of “am I working on the right thing?” And then you can give yourself permission to simply execute on your plan in between planning sessions.

The two habits that I want you to develop to feel less overwhelmed are both planning habits. Now, I know you might be thinking, “Peter, I already have so much to do—I don’t want to do even more work!” But hear me out, because while these habits take a little bit of time, they will have you feeling better and being more productive.

The first habit you’ll want to develop is the weekly review. In a weekly review, you sit down for half an hour or an hour, once a week, and you review your list of to-dos. You see what’s on your plate, you see what’s coming up, and you make a little plan of what you’ll be working on. That’s it! We can get much more detailed on it, of course—and you should check out my weekly review cheat sheet for the details—but that’s the gist of it. If you can sit down for half an hour or an hour once a week, that will make a huge difference.

A few tips for building the weekly review habit:

  • Make it a fun experience! Get a coffee at your favorite coffee place.
  • Any review is better than no review. If you don’t have an hour, just spend 15 minutes updating your to-do list.
  • Choose the right time for your weekly review. For many people, Sunday is a good time to do it. But really, the best time for your weekly review is when you are most likely to get to it. So, during which part of your week are you most likely to have half an hour or an hour to yourself?

The second habit you’ll want to develop is quarterly planning. We can think of the weekly review as tactical and quarterly planning as strategic. During a quarterly planning session—which you do once a quarter, of course—you update your list of goals, you identify action steps for each of your goals, and you decide which action steps you’ll work on in the coming three months. Pretty simple, right? To see how I this, take my free mini-course, The Essentials of Big-Picture Productivity.

Tips for quarterly planning:

  • Find a quiet place. You’ll be spending a few hours planning where to take your life next and you don’t want to be interrupted while you do that. Where can you go to have a few hours to yourself?
  • Don’t take it too seriously. If you’re not entirely sure what you want, just write your goals down as best you can. You will refine your list of goals over time—in fact, you’ll be back to this in three months!
  • Be honest with yourself. Write down what you really want, even if it isn’t convenient to want it. If you really want to travel for a few months, but you think you can’t because you have a young kid, still write down that goal. Even if you can’t make it happen right now, acknowledging what you want is the first step to making it happen eventually.

Again, I know you might feel that you have so much to do already and that this just sounds like extra work. But reviewing once a week and planning once a quarter will pay off. This is a situation where “more is less”—more stepping back means less overwhelm.

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