November 10, 2015

A Painless way to get through Overwhelm & an Endless To-Do List.

clutter stress overwhelm

Some people struggle with ideation. I struggle with organization.

And not just organization, but prioritization. I’m generally juggling multiple projects in multiple fields, along with the standard banal concerns about organizing my finances and keeping my house clean.

Some days I honestly just don’t know where the hell to start. When things get especially hectic, I can get almost completely lost in the morass. There are so many things to do, and they are all important. It can be paralyzing.

The other day, I remembered a trick I use when I’m overwhelmed by a large, multifaceted writing project: I use 30 minute sprints. I bought an hourglass specifically for this purpose. Flip the hourglass and just do something, anything, for 30 minutes. I decided to attempt this with my life.

30 minutes of organizing:

My key ingredients: Music. Hourglass/timer. (I like the visceral tangibility of the hour gals over the timer.)

The inside of my mind usually looks like a random list of relatively unrelated things that all need to be done immediately. Pile of laundry. Pile of article ideas on notecards. To do list of way more things than I could possibly do, in no particular order. Emails. New project ideas. New skills to learn. Learn the new skill or make enough extra money to pay someone to do it? Which is faster? Which is smarter? Where the f*ck are my keys? Actually, my keys are always in my purse. That one’s easy.

When I tried the 30 minute sprint trick, what I found is that there’s something about the urgency of “just do anything” that actually kicks my prioritizing mind into high gear.

I wanted to organize a pile of note cards with writing ideas. I thought I might put them on the floor, but quickly discovered that I needed to sweep my floor. So I ended up mostly cleaning and organizing my physical space in a focused and committed way. I actually got so into it that I flipped the hourglass over at the end to complete the overall task. I put my dishes away, organized my desk, and organized by bathroom shelves, all in an hour. I didn’t notice any emails or texts for the first hour, and then at the end I sat down and handled everything that had come during that time.

The manageable chunk of time also cuts overwhelm. The combination of urgency and a piece of time that I can digest is the key. I’m sure I’m not the first person that this has ever occurred to, but hell if it isn’t effective. It also feels like a little shortcut or kick-start to flow.

The urgency immediately directs me to where the energy is, and it keeps perfectionism at bay. If I only have 30 minutes, I can’t drown in angst about the outcome. I just do what’s most important and effective first, and then get onto the next thing. Once I’ve done something, I have a much clearer view of what to do next.

Give it a whirl. You definitely won’t be any worse off for doing 30 minutes of organizing—and it just might be a tool that sticks with you enough to change your life for the better.



Relephant Read:

Lha, Nyen & Lu: an Enlightened way to Organize your Life.


Author: Erin McMorrow

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Holly Lay/Flickr


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