How to Stay Motivated When Feeling Overwhelmed

We’ve all had days where it feels like there are a million things to do but no clear place to start. In most cases, all we need is a few deep breaths and some serious prioritization.

Unfortunately, burnout makes it hard to focus and make smart decisions about how to spend your time.

Instead of feeling motivated to push forward, burnout amplifies your feelings of being overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion. It’s frustrating. But you don’t have to feel powerless.

By learning to recognize when you’re overwhelmed, you can start to take back control of your time and rebuild your focus, energy, and motivation.

No matter how successful or how productive you are, there will be days when you feel totally overwhelmed. When this happens, it can be hard to stay motivated.

Although it’s good to step outside your comfort zone once in a while and try something new, sometimes it’s unbearable to handle so many different tasks for long.

If you also happen to be stressed or struggling mentally that day, even the simplest of things, like returning an email or scheduling an appointment, can feel downright impossible.

The lack of boundaries around communication and sky-high expectations (yet with fewer resources, time, and support), make it easier than ever to let work take over your life. Feeling truly overwhelmed causes a number of serious issues:

· Intense emotional responses such as anxiety, anger or irritability.

· Negative thought processes such as worrying, self-doubt, feeling out of control, or even helplessness.

· Physical reactions such as a fast heartbeat, sweating, tingling, chest pain, or shortness of breath.

When you start to notice these signs, it’s time to make a change. Fortunately, there are little things and hacks you can do to feel more on top of your tasks, even when you’re not at a peak mental state.

Next time you’re having trouble getting through your to-do list or daily responsibilities at work or home, try one of these techniques to get motivated again.

Check in with yourself and be honest

Practice self-compassion. Okay, I know this sounds challenging when you’re in the middle of freaking out about all the things you have to get done, but it’s critical to your success.

Having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness… You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us.

Accepting your humanity and being compassionate with yourself is an important piece to recovering from your overwhelm cycle and moving forward.

Are you feeling burnt out, hungry, or thirsty? Maybe you’re stressed about something at home or coming down with a cold. These uncomfortable states can make tasks feel much harder to accomplish. During those times, an individual needs to identify what is getting in their way. Only then can they move ahead.

While treating a legitimate case of burnout requires longer, more thought out changes, others like hunger can be quickly taken care of. Don’t be afraid to really analyze how you’re feeling and what can be done to help.

Give Yourself a Break

The simplest and the hardest thing to do when you feel overwhelmed is to walk away.

When you are feeling overwhelmed, your body or mind is telling you that you can’t handle it anymore and you need to take a break. If you love yourself enough, you would listen.

Take a deep breath. And another. Relax. Get connected to yourself for a few minutes. Remember that everything you’re feeling is normal and you can handle everything on your plate.

When you start to feel overwhelmed, the quickest and easiest way to stay motivated is simply to breathe in and out deeply, focusing on your breath.

Even if it’s just a short 5-15 minutes break for you to breathe deeply, go for a walk or take a power nap. You need to break away from that vicious cycle of feeling overwhelmed.

Working harder will not produce better results or keep you motivated. Your brain can’t stay focused all the time. Do something else that doesn’t need much attention instead. You will feel rejuvenated and more focused after your break.

Hit pause on your workday and take stock of what really needs to be done

Now that you’ve slowed your racing mind, it’s time to take stock of what got you there in the first place. Stop what you’re doing and write down everything that feels like you have to do it:

· What urgent issues do you have to address?

· What specific projects are you responsible for and currently working on?

· Are there things you feel like you should be doing but you’ve been putting off?

· What tasks are particularly stressing you out?

This is called your master list. This list should cover everything from unanswered emails to specific tasks and projects. It’s most likely too much for any one person to do. So it’s time to prioritize and get rid of what shouldn’t be there in the first place.

One of the most common prioritization techniques is the Urgent/Important matrix (aka the Eisenhower Box)—a 2X2 box that helps you categorize your tasks.

Yet while this is a good approach, it doesn’t always help when you’re burnt out. Burnout makes it hard to honestly say whether a task is urgent or not. You lose perspective and feel as if everything needs to be done now. Instead, rather than list tasks as Urgent and Important, break up your box by motivation and accountability.

Procrastination, stress, and motivation aren’t logical; they’re driven by emotional responses. You can feel overwhelmed and stressed even without an overloaded to-do list. By prioritizing your work this way, you start to understand which ones are emotionally draining and need to be deleted or delegated.

Focus on doing one task at a time

You feel overwhelmed because you are focusing on too many tasks at a time. Multi-tasking doesn’t allow you to be more productive. Instead, it produces stress. Your mind simply can’t handle so many tasks at the same time. To stay motivated, try focusing on one task at a time.

Look at your list of prioritized tasks and pick just one thing to work on today.

This won’t be easy. Your natural inclination will be to make a big list of your most important tasks to complete today. But that’s just a shortcut back to feeling overwhelmed. Instead, choose just one.

Look at your list and find the one thing that will either:

1. Reduce your stress levels (i.e. a task you’ve been putting off for ages but that can be completed quickly.)

2. Make clear progress on a meaningful task (tip: make sure you can cross this off at the end of the day. If needed, break a large task down into more manageable “mini-milestones”.)

For everything else, follow the 3 Ds: Delegate, delete, or delay.

Complete one project before starting another

Doing one thing at a time isn’t good enough. Ideally, you should focus on completing one project before moving to the next.

If you have two important projects you want to do, starting them both at the same time dilutes your energy, your resources and your time.

People get demoralized when they don’t see results. Imagine having two to ten open projects that are incomplete and going nowhere. How un-motivating that would be!

Plus, you waste unnecessary time switching from task to task. Every time, you stop your current task and start a new one. You need to warm up and gain momentum for the new task again. Not all tasks give you the same outcome. So choose one task or project that produces the most result and work on it first.

Don’t just do your best, do what you do best

The key is to pick the task that you are the best at doing and delegate the rest.

Understanding your strength is important. Not only does it help you in business, your self-worth also increases when you allow yourself to do something you are good at.

Write down your GOALS

Understand why you are doing what you are doing, Those who have a compelling future, something important and meaningful to work towards, generally don’t experience feelings of being overwhelmed. Overwhelmed is a short term emotion. If you have a long term vision, a compelling vision for your future you are working towards, short term issues and setbacks will not derail you. Write down your 1, 3, and 5 year goals. Make them meaningful and write under each goal “WHY I MUST ACHIEVE THIS GOAL”

Managing distractions isn’t the hardest part when it comes to focusing. Deciding what is most important to you is. If you are uncertain about what is important to you, it’s easy to fall into the pattern of doing things that don’t produce the results you desire.

You also get distracted easily by incoming opportunities. Instead of being overwhelmed with your long to-do-list, ask yourself why each task is important to you and how does it contribute to your overarching goal. Having a clear purpose gives you the direction and motivation to move forward. It helps you eliminate unnecessary tasks that don’t serve you.

Write ideas down and let them incubate

Sometimes, when you try to focus on your task on hand, your mind keeps coming out with new ideas and things for you to do. In that case, what should you do?

Execution always takes more time than generating new ideas. When you have ideas while working, remember to jot them down first. Not only will you capture the ideas, but it also helps you get your ideas out of your system fast so that you can redirect your focus back to your current task quicker.

Never give immediate attention to your new ideas. Don’t allow them to distract you. Instead, train yourself to focus by delaying the execution of your ideas. Keep them in your journal until it’s time to revisit them later. It’s more productive this way. Plus, incubating your ideas lets you see if your idea is still worth pursuing even after some time.

Organize your environment

One of the best things to do when you get overwhelmed is to organize your environment. It’s difficult to organize your mind when it gets messy. Writing your thoughts down and organize on something tangible like a piece of paper helps.

But organizing your desk or closet is also effective when your mind gets messy. Your physical environment is a reflection of your internal state.

Getting yourself in the act of organizing things outside your work helps you organize things in your work. You practice organizing and making decisions on things that are less risky. Once you get the hang of organizing something outside your work, go back to your work and you will discover a fresh perspective on your business.

Plan out your entire day

When tasks are staring you down without any structure to them, it can feel overwhelming and only add to your struggle. Time management is key in these situations.

Take an hour, a day, whatever your job allows, and write out a daily routine. An example could be exercise during the early morning, respond to emails for 10 minutes, make follow-up calls to clients later that morning, take a walk around your building to get a change of scenery, etc.

Creating a guide for your day makes the tasks feel much more manageable. You can plan it out using the calendar on your phone, with alerts to remind you when you stop and move on to a new task, or use a special app for organizing.

Make lists — and stick to them

When it comes to lists, just the simple act of writing down what you need to do can spark motivation and make you feel better and more productive.

If you’re feeling stressed or down, just getting some of those thoughts swirling around in your head onto paper can make them seem a lot less overwhelming.

Creating lists that encourage productivity or reducing distractions can help you to focus even when your mind doesn’t feel like it. Start with the tasks that you enjoy or are good at to help you stay motivated and maximize the use of your time.

Break everything into small steps

When making lists, divide each task into small, seemingly more doable tasks.

As you cross each one off the list, you’ll get a dopamine boost every time. A series of short bursts of it will get you through a series of short tasks. This effect won’t last very long, but it’s enough of a boost to get you through when you’re unmotivated.”

When you have quick, little things you can accomplish, it’s easier to motivate, no matter how little you may think you’re able to.

Do a review of your progress

When you are feeling overwhelmed by how much you have to do, a great strategy is to perform a weekly review. By making time to sit down, audit outstanding tasks, and acknowledge completion of other tasks, you gain a sense of accomplishment for what you have achieved and clarity about what you still need to do. This is a great way to reduce the sense of overwhelm we can often feel.

It’s easy to overlook how much you’ve accomplished. Taking the time to go over all the things you’ve already finished that day or week can give you a big sense of relief and even motivation. Knowing how capable you are provides a sense that you can take on things that may have appeared daunting or impossible before.

Cut Out Everything That Is Taking You Further Away From Where You Must Be.

Motivation definitely doesn’t come from drinking, drugs, poor diet choices, or negative people. If you want long term motivation, if you want to feel more ALIVE, less stressed, and overwhelmed, start by cutting out the energy killers: Drinking, drugs, poor diet, and poor friend choices. After a little while, you will begin to feel more awake, more alive, and less stressed and overwhelmed.

Exercise… More

The first thing you should do when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed is exercise. Just about everyone knows the science behind this, yet not many people live it. Daily exercise is a perfect remedy to eliminate stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Kill your stress with SWEAT!


“Meditation is not for weirdos – it’s for winners!”

Do some homework – google the science behind meditation and success, and “famous people who meditate” you will soon begin to see a huge link between success and meditation. Why? Meditation clears the mind of stress and guess what… feelings of being overwhelmed. If you can start your day with as little as 10 minutes of meditation, your entire day will change. If you do this every day, your entire life will change. Yes, on a level of success and results, but more importantly on a level of feeling peace and happiness more in your life.

Acknowledge your courage for stepping out of your comfort zone.

As painful as it is, depression can become comfortable in a "devil you know" kind of way. You know what to expect, for the most part. You know the pain, you're in the pain, you can predict that tomorrow will be more of the same. The idea of stepping out of this comfort zone can be quite anxiety-provoking. If you keep doing what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always gotten.

So, if you find you're able to do something (even very slightly) different, congratulate yourself. There's a good chance whatever you're experiencing will come with anxiety because anxiety accompanies uncertainty. Anxiety may be telling you you're stepping out of the familiar routine of depression, so acknowledge your courage and try to bring such experiences forward in your journey.

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