Feeling Overwhelmed With Too Much To Do? Start Emptying Your Plate

AAAAAAAAAA! SO much to do! I can’t finish all of this!

We’ve all been there. So much on your plate that it gets overwhelming and you don’t know what to do. Maybe you become paralyzed—frozen in place with too many thoughts and too many choices.

If there is too much on your plate, I suggest looking at it literally as a plate of too much food. We’ve all been there too. Portion sizes in America are HUGE, and there has to be at least one time where you thought “I can’t finish all of this!”

Well, when there is too much going on in your life, you can’t go to your boss and simply say “I can’t finish all of this!” It would be like going to meet your significant other’s parents for the first time, having his or her Mom or Dad prepare you a meal of way too much food and saying “I can’t finish all of this!” How rude is that?

So, what do you do?

Step One—Step Away From The Table.

Sometimes there is just so much to do, that the best thing you can do, for your mind’s sake is step away from it for a moment. If your mind is whirling with all of the tasks you have to complete, you will go into overload mode if you don’t just step away.  You need to take a break—for yourself and for your work. If you are high strung and stressed out it does not help your health. It can also mean turning in work that’s not of your caliber.

Think of it as a quick “Excuse me, I need to powder my nose:” Take a walk if the weather permits. Close your office door if you have one.

Or perhaps it’s Small Talk Time. Call someone or speak to a co-worker and don’t talk about work. Just literally turn your mind off of it for a moment.

 Step Two—Assess the Plate

You’re back from your powder break, and/or exhausted your small talk choices. Your mind has relaxed a bit. Now you need to assess the situation. Start with the “can.” What can you take on and when can you take it on?

Make a list. An outline of sorts. An “I can do this by this date” list. Be as detailed as possible. The more detailed you are and the more small items there are on your task list, instead of big items, the more your list looks like something you can tackle.

For example if your list originally included:

  1. Gather data on 100 people.
  2. Participate in 21 required trainings.
  3. Lead 10 required trainings

And you looked at your calendar; your mind may go bonkers.

However, if you know you can gather data on 25 people by the end of the week, and that you have three months to participate in the required trainings, and that when you practice one of the trainings you need to lead, it takes one hour, your list may look more like this:

  1. Gather data on 25 people by Friday.
  2. Participate in 2 trainings by Friday.
  3. Lead 10 required trainings
    1. a. Five on Monday (approximately 5-6 hours)
    2. b. Five on Tuesday (approximately 5-6 hours)

Your mind looks at that list, and even though it knows your Monday and Tuesday will be spent primarily leading trainings, it also knows that you have Wednesday through Friday to do the other tasks.

You can look at that list and realize that you perhaps need to gather data on only 20 people by Friday and up the count to 30 for next Friday. Or perhaps you participate in only 1 training by Friday and make up that missed training another week.

Of course, there may be times when your numbers still do not work out. Then you have

Step 3—Pass Some Around the Table

Is there someone to share some of this with? Most people do not work alone; most people have someone they can ask to assist. Some people supervise others. Get those people to help you if you need it. (Important— be willing to help someone when they need it too.)

Perhaps you have a team member who can lead 5 of the trainings. Now you only have to lead 5.

There are, of course, times when everyone is too busy or only you can do certain tasks. That leads to

Step 4—Oh, I am Full.

AKA “I can’t finish all of this!”


Hear me out. At the table, you have done what you can, you have eaten what you can. They can see the empty space on your plate.

Remember I told you to make that list. Take that list to your boss. Tell him or her everything you can do, tell him or her about who is helping you do something else.  Show the initiative you have taken first. Then explain why you cannot finish everything, and ask them for extensions where needed and where feasible. And have those dates ready too. “Can I have one extra day/week to get you the data on all 100 people?”

Be prepared for the fact that sometimes, the answer will be “no.” Sometimes your significant other’s Mom and/or Dad will give you a glare that says “I cooked all of this for you and you have the nerve to be full?!” So you suck it up, and finish it.

You may need to come to work on an off-day for example.  But if you have done Steps 1 through 4, on that day you need to come in, you won’t spend precious time AAAAAAAAAAA!-ing. You will already have a plan, you will have already have done everything you could have done up to that point.

So you can roll up your sleeves, and finish what you need to do.

And, hopefully, it won’t give you indigestion.

One Response to “Feeling Overwhelmed With Too Much To Do? Start Emptying Your Plate”

  1. Great article! I just did some personal writing about this very thing. I get so overwhelmed with all I need to do on a daily basis that I just give up and take a nap. I am an expert in avoidance! LOL! Just writing down all the stuff I have to do actually freed my mind enough that I could take care of a few things on my list. How refreshing to accomplish something.

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Shandrika Combs
I've worn a few hats in my life; some of them which I still juggle to this day. I'm a daughter. I'm a person of color. I'm a good friend. I'm a feminist. I believe our government should help take care of those who are struggling. I'm a GenXer. I'm a Cal Bear. I'm a former advisor who still likes to give advice. I'm a former teacher, who sometimes still tries to teach people. I grew up in California. I lived in Japan for awhile. I now live in the Mid-West. I'm me.