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How To Organize Your Life When You Are Overwhelmed

By August 28, 2022May 29th, 202416 Comments

It’s hard to imagine that you can EVER organize your life when you are feeling overwhelmed by all that you need to do. Everything in your life may feel equally important. Many things and people may be virtually (and actually) shouting for your attention. You may have lots of thoughts running around in your head that you keep telling yourself are important. Some of these may involve multi-step projects to complete, errands to run, chores, emails, etc. It’s probably exhausting you to keep remembering to remember.

 As a professional organizer I am here to tell you it’s possible to organize your life when you are overwhelmed. The good news is that when you do these things that horrible overwhelming feeling will most likely subside.

Here are 6 things to do to organize your life

1. Do a brain dump

Get a spiral bound notebook and write down every little thing that is on your mind. Do not pay attention to the order. This is a brain dump. The purpose is to take the things you are working to remember off your mind and to capture them on paper.

Write down great ideas you have as well as single-step tasks, multi-step projects, errands, future travel plans and anything else that occurs to you.

Putting these ideas on paper (or in an electronic document) takes them off your mind giving you space to think about what you CAN do now.

2. Identify what you want to do first

Once you have written everything down go back and review the brain dump list. Select one thing as your number 1 priority for today.

Be kind to yourself and pick something you are confident you can do today. You want to give yourself success. This is particularly important when you are overwhelmed. Make it easy. If you are decluttering focus on tossing trash.

Now is not the time to be environmentally conscious and observant. Once you feel less overwhelmed it is easier to pay attention to recycling. If there is so much clutter that there is chaos, the first objective is to reduce the amount of clutter and to give yourself success.

Success breeds success.

Starting and finishing a task will encourage you to tackle another item on your list. Slowly but surely, you will work your way through this brain dump list.

This is how you begin to organize your life.

3. One situation at a time

Focus on only one situation at a time. Give that situation your full attention. For example, if the dishes are spilling out of the sink, the children are arguing, the phone is ringing, and the timer on the oven is going off employ a triage mindset.

You are not going to be able to deal with everything at the same time.

First take the item out of the oven and turn it and the buzzing timer off.

Press the auto-message on your phone to let the caller know you’ll call back later.

Settle the children’s argument – it could be they are just hungry. So, either give them a snack or engage them by having them help you get the meal ready.

Lastly, everyone can help with the dishes and pots and pans to clear the overloaded sink.

When you have a minute, look at your phone, and decide when you will return that call.

4. Learn to say no

Some people become overwhelmed because they have a hard time saying ‘no’. They think to themselves, ‘I can do that, it won’t take too much time.’

When you keep adding the small tasks for other people onto what you need to do for yourself you end up giving away your flex or free time which leads to overwhelm.

If saying ‘no’ to someone is hard for you substitute it with ‘let me check my calendar’. If it fits into your schedule and is a realistic task, then go ahead and say ‘yes’. But if it is going to be hard for you to accommodate because of an already full schedule feel free to say ‘no’.

5. Organize your life and set realistic expectations

I always advise my clients to use the SMART acronym when they are setting expectations. SMART stands for Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic and Timely.

The idea is to be realistic in what you expect of yourself. What can you do? Is it better, easier, and more realistic to delegate some things to other people?

Break projects down into the smallest measurable steps so that they are achievable. This also makes them realistic.

Look at your day and the time you have available. Then schedule time to work on that one task. Remember focus on one thing at a time.

6. Take care of yourself

As you set out to organize your life remember to take care of you.

It’s easier to become overwhelmed when you are sleep deprived, dehydrated, and hungry.

Get a good night’s sleep, drink plenty of water during the day, and eat healthily.  Interestingly, there is a connection between your stomach and your brain.

Work for short periods of time. You will be amazed by what you can accomplish when you focus on one task for just 10, 15, or 20 minutes.

Review your brain dump list daily or weekly. Remember that life isn’t static. You will be adding things to the brain dump list. The difference is that now you know where to put all these thoughts, ideas, and to-dos so that they get done by you or delegated.

If you would like to have an accountability partner, consider joining the Clear Space for You virtual support group I run with Jonda Beattie. New groups start at the beginning of every month.

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer® ,a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release●Repurpose●Reorganize, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia.


  • Great article! You nailed it.

  • Learn to say NO! Such a useful skill, and a real kindness to yourself. Accepting everything that comes your way is eventually going to overwhelm you. Great advice!

  • Julie+Bestry says:

    This post is a truth bomb! When I’m feeling overwhelmed (often when multiple projects come together right before I’m supposed to travel), I feel like I’m chasing my tail. Just the act of doing a brain dump helps me feel like, “OK, now I don’t have to keep this in my head, which means I can start looking at everything in context.” And I love that you included self-care, because when you’re thirsty, hungry, or sleepy, you may experience emotions that are related to physical issues, but your brain labels them as symptoms of intellectual or emotional occurrences. Taking care of the body yields so much clarity for the brain!

    Thank you for this excellent guidance.

  • Seana+Turner says:

    #3 is where many of us get into trouble. It’s hard to focus, and I often feel the urgency to be tackling bunches of things at the same time. However, doing as you suggest and having a top priority, and then sticking with that one, can be incredibly powerful. So often we step away when the “going gets rough,” but then we just end up with a bunch of half-completed tasks. Better to focus on one until a predetermined stopping time, and then move on to the next thing.

  • I am a big fan of the brain dump process. It works well for me.

  • These are great tips, Diane!

    I wonder what it says about me that I get excited when I read “spiral-bound notebook.”

  • Jana says:

    I love your suggestion of doing a brain dump and picking just one task. Picking just one thing and focusing on that fully really helps me to settle into the moment and not feel as anxious or overwhelmed. Love this article, and can’t wait to share it with my peeps! Thank you.

  • Laura says:

    I love the idea of a brain dump. A lot of my overwhelm comes from trying hold too much, remember too much in my brain. Just getting it out on paper makes me feel a little less overwhelmed – and keeps me more organized. Thanks for all the tips!!

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