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How to Organize When You Feel Overwhelmed by a Task

a woman wondering how to start decluttering if you're overwhelmed

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, feels overwhelmed from time to time when they think about how to organize and complete certain tasks. Personally, when I feel overwhelmed, I avoid doing the task.

Avoidance doesn’t complete the task

Of course, I rationalize my avoidance by working on and completing everything except for the one thing I’m supposed to be doing. I tell myself I have been super productive (which I have been) BUT that one task remains undone.

I am also good focusing my thoughts. The task that’s creating this overwhelming feeling gets put on my back burner. It stays on my mind, but it doesn’t haunt me until the end of the day when I admit to myself that this task is outstanding. Recognizing this gives me a stomachache. I put the dreaded task on the top of my to-do list for the next day, say my prayers and hope for the best.

That never works.

The more I avoid the task the more onerous it becomes. Thinking about how to organize when I feel overwhelmed is almost self-defeating. My thoughts become cluttered with dire predictions of things that may (or may not) happen. The task grows more and more complicated in my mind until I become exhausted just contemplating it.

Books that may help

I review options in my head. That is overwhelming because there are always lots of options. In Kate Varness’ book: Who Am I Now? Realign Your Home and Life she talks about answering some questions.

She asks her readers to think about the problem at hand and to think about pain points. In Ms. Varness’ book, she reviews case studies, the problem facing the person, the pain of remaining the same, the pain of changing behaviors, and the benefits experienced from a change. The sections continue with visualizing success and action plans.

Visualizing success helped me because in my case, the task I needed to do recently could not be avoided forever. So, I switched books and took the advice I read in Dr. Alicia Clark’s book: Hack Your Anxiety. Her advice is to make the thing that is creating your anxious thoughts work for you. Put your nervous energy to work. Dr. Clark advocates paying attention to whatever the task or thought is that is creating the anxiety and dealing with it.  I put my nervous energy to work figuring out how to get myself organized to complete the task.

Cluttered thoughts

It turns out, the task that was making me feel overwhelmed was much more straight forward and easy to complete than I had anticipated. My cluttered thoughts had truly created a monster out of this task.

Once I decided I was going to do it, I did some investigating online and realized that with a few clicks on my computer I could put this task on the completed list.

It took only 10 minutes.

Imagine that! I spent days feeling overwhelmed at the thought of doing this task. What a waste of time and energy.

Instead of letting feeling overwhelmed derail you from getting organized and completing a task try following these simple steps. They worked for me and maybe they will for you, too.

Steps to take to organize yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed by a task

Take a deep breath and acknowledge to yourself that you are feeling overwhelmed.

Write down on a piece of paper the task or project that is creating this feeling.

Do you have a deadline by which time this task must be completed? If so, write that down.

Do you need to do research to learn how to do this task? If so, assign a day and time to do the research.

Based on your research how much time do you think you need to dedicate to this task? Based on my experience, it could be much less time than you anticipate.

When will you start this task? Write the day and time down and be accountable to yourself.

Personal Experience

I can tell you from personal experience that feeling overwhelmed because you are having difficulty motivating yourself to get organized and complete a task is debilitating. It doesn’t look debilitating to others because, in my case, I am always doing something and being productive. Maybe this is true for you, too.

The lack of progress in one particular area or another can lead to delaying other projects. Don’t let feeling overwhelmed prevent you from getting organized and completing the task. Try using the steps I’ve outlined for you to follow. If you want a little extra guidance please reach out to me for support. I’ve been there and am here for you. 

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people affected by ADD, Hoarding, and chronic disorganization


  • Seana Turner says:

    I love this idea of “hacking your anxiety.” I once heard a professional suggest you recast your anxiety about an upcoming task by telling yourself that you aren’t nervous, you are excited. I’ve tried that a few times and found it can help. The way I think about a task impacts that way I approach it, and often the measure of success I have in pursuing it. Terrific tips here!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Seana. Reframing thoughts is an important part of moving forward.

  • Thank you for shedding light on this topic. I found that anxiety motivates me to take action. Not every uncompleted task gives me anxiety. I think it is the way my body is telling me that I need to do this task. When anxiety happens, I usually do it right away. But, if I need to do research, I do that first, then take action later.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Dr. Clark points out that if you use your anxiety as a motivator then anxiety (moderate, of course) can be helpful. Thank you for joining the conversation, Sabrina!

  • I love how you didn’t give up and figured a way forward through your procrastination and anxiety. It’s amazing how what you were dreading took 10 minutes to complete. But it’s that overwhelm that, as you said, can make tasks and projects seem much more challenging than they are. For me, I also find that when I’m procrastinating or stuck, I sometimes need to step away entirely, get up and move, switch tasks, or get a good night’s sleep. Then I can approach it with a clearer mind. The significant thing is to figure out what works for you. And bravo, Diane. You did it!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Linda. It’s really difficult to tackle something when your other negative thoughts create a mountain out of a small hill. I like the way you combat procrastination by switching gears. As you said, you have to figure out what works for you.

  • You are so right. Everyone feels overwhelmed at some point. As I look at the image of the gal on the couch, I can relate. Honestly, that could be me right now, LOL.
    Lately, I’ve had more to take care of than is humanly possible for one person. And, I know all the tricks to getting it done. Nevertheless, I had to stop saying,” I have so much to do” because that was perpetuating the feeling of overwhelm. I had to just do what I know is best and that’s focus and take care of the tough stuff first especially things that had a deadline.
    I’m so glad you posted this now. As it came just at the right time!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Ronni! Those are the keys, aren’t they.. staying focused, doing the tough stuff first, and doing away with the repetitive negative self-talk. Good for you for powering through!