What to Do When You Have Too Much to Do

5 ways to stay productive when overloaded

Shira Miller
In Fitness And In Health
6 min readSep 17, 2021


Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

I am busy. Okay, let’s rephrase that — right now I’m right in the midst of the overloaded, “when is the heck is this all going to stop” kind of busy that can be downright overwhelming. There’s my challenging full-time corporate job. I’m working through a major rewrite of my book project under a tight deadline, most of which is taking place during weekends, early mornings, and assorted lunch breaks. My husband and I recently moved into a new place, an older home that is going to require a lot of renovation.

Bottom-line, it’s a lot. I’ve been coping by daydreaming about prospective vacations and streaming quirky television comedies. Sometimes I’ve wanted to just lie in bed under the covers and hide from it all. But that last tactic didn’t work when I was in elementary school and sure isn’t going to do me any favors now as a grown-up.

So over the past few weeks, I’ve figured out what to do when I have too much to do. I started paying attention to when everything was clicking and when it wasn’t. It became clear that common factors could shift a day from blah to great instead. Honoring those behaviors and practices has been working, allowing me to keep up the necessary momentum to get things done while minimizing moments of freak-out.

Hopefully some of these insights can help you thrive when your to-do list has gotten out of hand. Here are 5 ways to stay productive when feeling overwhelmed:

1) Prioritize.

There’s nothing worse than seeing a to-do list on steroids, with 27 tasks that need to be completed before signing off your laptop for dinner. That scenario just sets you up to fail. With multiple items competing for your attention, nothing gets done particularly well.

What has helped me is to start by listing everything out that I have to do for the week ahead on Sunday afternoons. Once all of those items, big and small, are downloaded from my brain into a document, I figure out deadlines, process steps and whatever else needs to take place. As you can imagine, there’s a whole lot of words on those pages. That’s why it is important for me to step away from that big list and come back to the light.

With the clutter out of my mind, I take a fresh look at each day and identify top priorities and tasks that can be delegated or wait until another time. Daily to-do lists are capped at five items, where I organize everything in descending order of priority. This practice helps me accomplish what’s most important and most urgent.

In case you were wondering, my brain doesn’t naturally go in that kind of direction. I’d be delighted to wander about paying attention to what intrigues me most in the moment. But getting into the details for a bit and planning ahead ultimately frees me to be more productive. So it is definitely worth the investment of time.

2) Get physical.

Decades ago, pop star Olivia Newton John had a hit called “Let’s Get Physical” that was a huge ear worm. Even if you didn’t like the song, once you heard the tune it, and her massive fashion sweat band, was hard to forget. Though she was talking about the kind of physical that usually involved intimate connections with another person, the point remains that movement of all kinds yields numerous benefits.

Being physical helps balance all of the mental output you are pumping out. I’m talking about a quick walk around the neighborhood, an intense sweat session at the gym, riding your bike at lunch instead of shoving a meal down while staring at your screen and more. Movement reduces stress and gives you a dose of feel-good endorphins. The days that I’ve been the most productive with my work and writing schedules usually involves a great exercise session in the morning that revs up my body and my mind.

3) Take mental breaks.

After bursts of an hour or two of activity, I need a quick mental break. It could be five minutes to surf celebrity news or see the latest videos of baby goats frolicking while wearing pajamas. Maybe to step away from screens altogether and just let myself be.

Global Executive Leadership Coach Brenda Bence, author of The Forgotten Choice: Shift Your Inner Mindset, Shape Your Outer World, is an advocate of regular mental rest breaks. She says that even one minute per hour can make a difference in your well-being. “I ask the executives I work with to take one minute, 60 seconds every hour, to sit back, relax, calm your mind, bring down your shoulders and breathe deeply,” Bence explained. “If you do that one minute for every waking hour, then you’ll get about 16 minutes or so a day of mental rest. That is just one example of how you can easily find time for taking care of yourself.”

4) Get enough sleep.

Catching enough shut-eye makes you smarter. You think more clearly and retain knowledge better. As illustrated in this story on the American Heart Association’s website, sleep is necessary to help you process information, concentrate, learn new things and consolidate memories.

Unfortunately, all of those times you might have pulled an all-nighter to write a term paper or finish an important sales presentation may have been counter-productive. Hey, I’ve been guilty of that behavior. Am not much of a night owl, but in the past I’ve woken up after four hours of sleep or less to write copy for an annual report or prepare an important presentation. I may have met the deadline at hand, but it was a miserable process that did not yield my best work.

I have found that sleeping somewhere between 7 and 7 ½ hours is my sweet spot. That range tends to be when I wake up refreshed, ready to start the day before my alarm starts blaring. In that sleep range I can and do handle the overload well. Conversely when I sleep on that, let’s say too many nights in a row of five to six hours of slumber, I can function okay for a while but then get scatter-brained. Creative thoughts that pop in easily when rested actively start playing hide-and-seek. It’s just not good for me or most people for that matter.

5) Avoid heavy meals and excessive snacking.

Ever eat a huge meal and lapse into a food coma? Find yourself dealing with stress by snacking on crackers, chips or candy all afternoon, only to feel sluggish and unfocused afterwards? Overeating can fatigue your body and your mind, causing concentration levels to waver just when you need it the most. As dietitian Melissa Prest notes in this Prevention magazine article, “insulin — a hormone made by your pancreas that controls your blood sugar — has a major impact on your energy levels after you eat. When you chow down, your insulin levels spike to make sure your blood sugar levels are where they should be. “When that job is done, insulin levels decline, which can make people feel tired.” Sure, that process is normal. But when you have too much to do, overeating is only going to slow you down and make things worse.

Even with more people working remotely than ever before, our schedules tend to be over-subscribed. Some individuals have blurred the lines when it comes to work-life balance to the point they don’t get much of the latter. The key is knowing what to do when you are overloaded to regain your sense of well-being.

What strategies help you when there is too much to do?

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Shira Miller
In Fitness And In Health

2x TEDx Speaker, Executive Coach, Chief Communications Officer and Writer with a strong passion for well-being and self-improvement www.shiramiller.com