Four Things You Can Do When You Feel Overwhelmed


I signed my kids up for basketball this week.  Here’s a snapshot of how it went:

1. Daily emails from the school reminding me of the signups.  
2. Creating an account online.
3. Confirming my account via email.
4. Paying for the two kids to play basketball.
5. Capturing my password and login credentials in 1Password.
6. Marking on the calendar the key meetings and events that go with signing two kids up for basketball.
7. Creating a project in OmniFocus so I can “park” all of my basketball-related items in one place.

If this was the only thing in my life, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  Two kids playing basketball… sounds great right?

Except that it’s only one slice of the pie.  Life as a forty-something dad with four kids has become exceedingly complex.  The basketball signup process is just one thing that I’m managing.  

Other (similar) projects include my daughter’s Fall Drama rehearsal schedule and what role parents need to play.  There’s winterizing the house before the first frost.  Then there’s the committee that I should never have signed up for but did out of guilt.  The conference calls for that commitment add another layer of stress.  

I could keep going… but I won’t because you probably have similar things on your project list.  We all add more complexity than we’d like to our lives.

Noise is our accumulated list of projects, tasks and todo’s that need to be managed.  It’s life really.

And complexity equals one thing and that is noise.  

Noise is our accumulated list of projects, tasks and todo’s that need to be managed.  It’s life really.  Nothing more, nothing less.  

The key is this- do we have a system that is capable of helping us manage all of these projects?  Does a person really need to use a productivity app to manage basketball signups?  Can’t life be simpler than this?

Sadly, no it can’t.  Sure, when you’re about 10 years old life is simple.  You wake up and do whatever comes to you during the day.  But once you hit middle school and beyond, you’ve graduated to Project Manager status.  

Your system needs to keep up.  

The “problem” I have (and maybe you do too?) is that I get tired.  On some days, I just don’t want to have to manage projects in my personal life.  I don’t mind it at all in my “work life”- we use Nozbe for that.  

But it’s the Saturday morning kind of thing that bothers me.  It’s a tension to manage- having projects for my kids’ commitments and my non-work activities.  It just gets overwhelming at times.

You could just say, “the heck with it” and toss up your hands and hit delete.  This might be effective for a short while but is probably irresponsible or reckless for the long haul.

Instead, here are four creative strategies for when you feel overwhelmed by your system:

  1. Visit with a spiritual director on a regular basis.  Visiting with my spiritual director, a Catholic priest, has been the most impactful decision of my adult life.  Without someone to talk to about deep things, most of us are left to wrestle with our internal world on our own.  Overwhelm is definitely one of the things that a spiritual director can help with.
  2. Take an intentional hiatus from social media.   More and more studies show that the more time you spend on social media, the unhappier you are.  By hitting the pause button on your Facebook and Twitter usage, you’re making more time for simpler things that matter much more.
  3. Reclaim your Sabbath.  When do you take “sabbath”?  When do you stop picking up socks around the house and sticks in the yard?  When do you enjoy doing something that truly makes you smile?  By reclaiming your Sabbath, you’re not escaping your overwhelming list of projects and todos.  Rather, you’re giving them a context of the rest of your life.  I recommend Terry Hershey's Sabbath Moments as a place to start if you want to reclaim your Sabbath.
  4. Cut it out.  At a certain point, you just need to do less.  Which project can you cancel or delete? Which committee can you gracefully bow out of?  Which event can you skip?

We all get overwhelmed.  The real key is to respond with patience and calm.  Be compassionate with yourself and realize that you have much more agency than you think.  

You’ll get through it!