How Fearless Leaders resist overwhelm


And now for something completely practical:

“45 minutes that saved my sanity.”


It’s pretty ironic that the more we need to get done, the harder it is to feel productive. An endless list of tasks swirling in your head or taunting you from scattered lists can fracture your attention. All you feel is overwhelmed. When you’ve got too many to-dos, you’ve got to add one more to the list. Set aside a few minutes to do some to-do list cleanup.

Here we go. Grab your planner, to-do list, Post-its, notes-to-self—wherever you’ve jotted down something that needs to get done. And bring your brain along.


Start by writing down everything you have to do. List anything that requires your attention or action—whether it’s for work or home. No need to write in any order, just write. Get it out!

  1. Look at your enormous list. Set a timer for 15 seconds. Take those 15 seconds to be overwhelmed if you need to. Cry a little or pound the table. Ding! Done.
  2. Look through your list and circle every item that, if you don’t get it done, the world will actually end. Ah. Perspective.
  3. Mark every item that someone else (anyone else) could do with a D for Delegate. Of those, choose one you could hand off right now. Email that person and ask nicely. Let them know you’re overwhelmed and could really use their help. They said “sure!” didn’t they? How does that feel? Delegate another now, or add ‘Delegate tasks’ to your list.
  4. Mark all the items that will be okay if they don’t get done this week with an L for Later.
  5. Mark every item that you must get done within the week with a W for This Week.
  6. Of those marked W, mark the tasks that you want to complete in the next 24 hours (or by the end of the day if you still have time). T for Today will do.



“The shorter way to do many things is to only do one thing at a time.” 




Now here’s the genius part—don’t skip this! Make four new lists on four separate pages. Title them as follows:

–  Today
–  Next Up (Items from your This Week list that you’ll do in the next two days)
–  This Week
–  Later

Then! Put all the lists away except the Today list. Put them literally out of your sight—in a folder, a drawer, or the table behind you. Do it now.
All those other tasks? They’ll be there when it’s their turn. You’ve managed them, removed them from your sight, and queued them up for when you can tackle them.
I know it’s not quite that simple, but believe me, this method calms the overwhelmed feeling you’re experiencing.



“Every day’s to-do list:
1.) Listen
2.) Trust
3.) Do”





Now let’s do a reality check on that Today list.
How many hours do you have left today or tomorrow to work on these items? How much uninterrupted time does each one take? C’mon, is that realistic? If not, move the task to one of your other lists—Next Up, This Week, or Later.

Incessantly, new demands keep arriving, by phone, email, text, or Slack message. Your brain suddenly remembers to schedule your dog’s annual checkup. Handle each incoming task on the spot by evaluating it and putting it on the appropriate list.
Note that any new task you designate for the Today list probably means bumping another task to your Next Up list.

Remember, when you’re done writing your lists, put away all lists except your Today list. Keep them out of sight—this is very important. Looking at a To-Do list with two or three things on it is good for the mind.  I don’t want you ever to look at a to-do list as long as your arm again. That’s where the overwhelm comes from.


Images: Palais de Tokyo; Dia:Beacon; Seattle Art Museum.
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