The other day I was talking to Sandra, an HR executive in the midst of divesting several businesses she supports while juggling new and stressful family needs as one of her aging parents required more of her time and attention.  The call to help an aging and ailing parent rarely comes at a convenient time.  

“I just need help fitting it all in,” I heard her say.  

I have heard so many women say these same words.

We all have times in our lives where the struggle to meet all the demands in our lives tips us into overwhelm.  Nothing becomes less important because more is on our plates, it seems.  

And hard as it is to hear, it is critical to understand the answer to the question “How do I fit it all in?” is “You don’t”.  

Since your new personal responsibilities did not come to you delivered with additional hours in the day to get them done, you must prioritize, delegate, and ask for help.  There is no other way.  At least, no other way that is sustainable.  

Many of us know we should be doing these things…but overwhelm, or the shadow cast by previous failed attempts get in the way.  

If you find yourself struggling in overwhelm as you lead your teams through change, try out the following exercise to get clear on opportunities to shift tasks off your to-do list.  

Now Try This…

STEP ONE:  Make Three Lists

List 1) What are the things I am doing that, quite literally, only I can do?  

You have too much to do.  

Maybe these tasks have accumulated without much conscious thought, or maybe they have been thrust upon you, rather suddenly, in a big heap.  

Either way, you need to get clear on any opportunities to streamline your focus so you are spending time on what is most important.  

Identifying the things that only you can do is eye-opening.  Not only will it uncover opportunities for you to release some activities, it will also help you discover what is most important to you.  

Odds are, the things that are most important to you cannot be done by someone else.

List 2) What are the other things I am doing?  

Once you have made the first list, it’s time to write down all the other stuff.  

Get as granular as you can.  

Now, go back to the first list and check yourself: did you include things that really belong on this second list?  Make those adjustments.

List 3) How am I caring for myself?  

Self-care is not a “nice to have.”  It’s a “need to have” because without it, overwhelm and exhaustion will creep right back in. 

The good news is, self-care doesn’t have to take hours of your time.

During times of extreme overload, this may be as little as five minutes of your morning, though hopefully it becomes more as you start to feel the benefits of those minutes.  

The point is to put just a little bit of control back in your hands, and to send a message to yourself that you recognize you can’t do it without you.  

Note: If you find your list is short, or if you can’t think of anything, it’s time to start some new habits.  Pilar Gerasimo has some great tips for instituting a morning routine that allows for some self-care. 

During times of overwhelm, give yourself a little grace and allow your self-care routines to be small bursts throughout the day.  

STEP TWO: Tackle List 2

Next, take a look at list #2 and mark each item with a D (for Delegate), an H (for ask for Help) or an S (for Stop).

You now should have a clearer picture of what you can do to set your focus on the most important things while creating a starting point for what to do with the rest.  

And as part of that picture, you now also have a sense of how you are currently prioritizing self-care, and hopefully also some things you can try to make self-care more realistic in your day.   

Times like these call for a new mindset about what needs doing and how things get done.  

When overwhelm strikes, this small action can help you regain control of your most precious resource, your time.


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Wendy Hultmark, CPC, CLDS, ELI-MP, is an executive coach helping mid to senior-level corporate women lead organizational change and love the process.