When tasks pile up, don't psych yourself out. Use these steps to put to-do lists in their place — and put blame behind you, where it belongs.
by Stacey Turis
We’ve all been in that funky place of mental paralysis and feeling overwhelmed, with months of to-do items piling up inside our ADD brains like Lego Gone Wild. Most of the items were probably not written on a list, and if there is a list (or two or four), it’s nowhere to be found.
I am an ADDer who likes to torture myself by trying to remember everything I have going on instead of writing it down. The torture theory is the only thing I can think of, because why else would I not pick up a darn pen and scribble on some paper to make room in this crowded brain? I can’t answer that yet — it’s something I’m trying to figure out. But when I get to the funky place, it doesn’t matter, because at that point, a pen and a piece of paper are powerless.
In that space, my to-do items are no longer floating in and out of my mind as little pieces. They change direction and come together into one big ball of muck that hangs out in my brain and calls me a loser for not having my crap together.
When I get sick of the brain bullying and try to break the muck ball apart, instead of forming a nice little linear and prioritized line of to-do items, they spread out and bounce around with no method to their madness. They mock me. Because of my paralyzed state, I have no defenses, so I sit in a corner waiting for the muck ball to give up and go away, which it never does.
How can you turn the nasty muck ball into a harmless puddle?
> Ask a friend, partner, or family member to walk you through your feelings of being overwhelmed. If you’re too paralyzed to spit things out, have them ask you questions. Make sure they have a pen and paper handy to write things down. When you’ve emptied your brain of everything that’s overwhelming you, ask your partner to walk you through the items and help you prioritize your action list. Again, they may need to ask you questions to get you going.
> When you wake up in the morning, set your intention on accomplishing one thing that is overwhelming you. Don’t work on anything that requires steps, because that turns one to-do item into four. Today I woke up and said, “If there is nothing else that gets accomplished today, I will clean up the floor of my closet.”
Accomplishing one thing gives you a nice cocktail of feel-good chemicals that motivates you to accomplish something else. Done picking up your closet floor? Get some fresh air and put gas in your car, so you aren’t rushing around in the morning on the way to work. Don’t forget to roll down the windows and blast your favorite music on the way there!
> Don’t beat yourself up. When you find yourself in that state, which is usually accompanied by depression and anxiety, the last thing you need to do is engage in negative self-talk. You’re in that state for a reason, and respecting and accepting it will get you out of it a lot sooner than fighting a battle that you’ll never win.
With our beautiful, active brains, it is hard to keep from getting overwhelmed by the world. As painful as it feels, feeling overwhelmed is a space you are residing in at that moment. You’ll soon move away from it. First and foremost, ask for help. Just as an accountant may ask their creative friend for decorating advice, we can ask our friends for processing advice. Heck, Yoda dispensed it all the time! Now go kick some to-do-list butt, and may the force be with you.