There will frequently be times in your business when you feel overwhelmed. There will be days or weeks when setbacks pile upon themselves, when everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and all at once. And you’ll fall behind.

The danger in being overwhelmed is that it can lead to two disastrous pathways: one in which you’re paralyzed into inaction by the seemingly insurmountable mountain of tasks before you, or one where you fall prey to the temptation of “multitasking” and fall to pieces trying to do too much at once.

Fortunately, procrastination and busyness are really two sides of the same evil coin. Today we’re going to discuss how to catch up on what you need to do, even when the sky is falling.

Let’s examine the Who, When, Where, and How of working when overwhelmed.


This seems obvious enough. You, right? Well, if you have employees, there might be some tasks you can delegate. The trick is to assign appropriate tasks in a manner which does not eat up your time or create more work for you. If an employee is already capable and available to take something off your to-do list, that’s great. If you are going to have to expend time and energy in explaining the assignment, it is better, while you are behind, to go ahead and do the task quickly yourself. Training can come later when more time is available.

Also, asking an employee to assume additional or different duties is not a time for the two of you to hold a vent session on how busy and behind you are. It’s nice to have someone in the business with whom to commiserate, but that will have to come after you’re finally caught up.

Work EnvironmentWhen

Now! If you are behind on work, start with the first thing on your to-do list and get to it. Don’t go make coffee, don’t check Facebook “real quick”, and don’t cultivate your Pandora station. Give yourself little breaks to do those things as rewards for tasks completed. But if you’re waiting until everything is “just perfect” to start, you’ll never get ahead of the work.


As mentioned before, don’t spend too much time getting your environment ideal before you address your to-do list. However, it is imperative that your area be relatively distraction-free. Put your phone on silent; close your office door if you have one. Even if you’re in a co-working space, you can put in headphones, or something else that sends the message that you’re not available for small talk. Do not have social media tabs open in your browser.

HowTo-Do List

Start with taking a quick inventory of everything you need to get done. (No, don’t make a complicated, color-coded Excel spreadsheet of your task list. That’s just procrastinating with the illusion of working.) Personally, I love the Wunderlist app for keeping to-do lists, as it allows you to make categories and re-order your lists. See what assignments you need to complete first, and what can be put off. (Maybe have a to-do list for today, this week, etc.)

Block off time on your calendar for these tasks. Not only does it help you get in the mindset of, “I am scheduled to work on this, now”, it sends a clear message to anyone you work with that you are busy. It particularly helps if you have the sort of business that includes frequent meetings, as it serves as a visual reminder to leave some time for solo work.

Get the first item on your list done as quickly as you can, with no breaks unless absolutely necessary. Check it off your list. Once you have made that first bit of progress, you’ll be amazed at how much it motivates you to knock out the next item. Getting a few things out of the way can help you build momentum and feel accomplished. After that, you can battle that “overwhelmed” feeling and start to see that, though you are very busy right now, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and, when you get this backload of work completed, things will calm down for a while.

If work has piled up on you and you’re feeling like you’ll never be out from under it, try these steps. And stay tuned for our upcoming article on how to get organized and avoid becoming overwhelmed in the first place.