Ask the Experts

Q: “I’m Overwhelmed by Starting the Project That Will Reduce My Overwhelm!”

Your family’s clutter and stuff is overwhelming, but so is the daunting task of organizing it all. How can you overcome paralysis to get started planning a big clean-up project? Start with these steps.

Overwhelmed concept: illustration of a woman clutching her head

Q: “We live in a small, three-bedroom cottage with no storage. I try to keep things organized, but this is exhausting and never finished. We would like to be able to plan an addition, but organizing that process is daunting. Ultimately, the addition will make our lives better, give space for the kids and provide organized areas for paperwork, staples, and pets and lessen the smell of cooking on coats — something that drives my sensibilities to distraction! What steps should I follow to get this project planned and started? And what measures needed to be built in to stop fatigue and overwhelm, so that we can actually finish the project?” – ADHDMumUK


Project planning is daunting — especially for those with ADHD. There are endless steps to organize and plan, details that need remembering, decisions to be made, and loads of activation required. So take a deep breath and I’m going to share a few of the strategies that I use with my coaching clients.

1. Start with a brain dump. I want you to identify all the things that are needed to complete this project and get them out of your head and onto either paper or your computer. Sounds obvious, I know. But obvious doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Getting all those to-dos and details out of your brain will allow you to more effectively and efficiently create a plan to actually do them. I find that what truly overwhelms my clients is not necessarily doing what needs to be done but creating the plan. And the first step is to free up space in your brain, alleviating the stress of trying to remember. And by putting to-dos on paper, you can visualize them, which makes ordering, prioritizing, and planning that much easier.

[Q: Where Do I Start?!? How to Organize and Initiate a Big Project]

2. Make your to-dos actionable. The key here is to create some movement. It’s a simple trick I use to get the mundane to literally jump off the page. So instead of writing “painter,” try “call painter.” Instead of “backsplash,” write “visit tile store.”

3. Schedule “office time.” Try to think of this project as a job. That said, you need to schedule a few uninterrupted hours a week to work on it. This step is critical. If you don’t plan the time, the likelihood of making progress is slim. So perhaps Monday mornings or Thursday afternoons work for you. Add this time slot to your planner or calendar like you would a doctor’s appointment. If you give this project the same importance as your other appointments (or as I like to call it, “bubble wrapping your time”), you’re more likely to honor it the same way.

4. Group like with like. I want to avoid you having an overloaded to-do list meltdown and save you time. Here’s how: Your tasks need to match. When deciding what you are going to do during your “office time,” plan all your errands for one morning, your phone calls for another. You get the idea. My clients say this trick really helps them manage their time and overwhelm effectively.

5. Limit choices. I know that too many choices can make us go down the analysis paralysis route. So limit your choices. Decide you will visit only two kitchen stores, get two contractor quotes, look at four paint colors. By limiting your choices, the decision-making process becomes less exhausting.

[Read: The Power of a Well-Crafted To-Do List]

6. Phone a friend. If visiting a kitchen store to pick out new appliances fills you with dread, invite a friend who has an eye for design. Or send paint swatches to your sister if choosing colors is not your forte. Having someone to share the decision-making load just might be the perfect antidote to moving your project along.

Good Luck!

Overwhelmed: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

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