How to prioritize tasks when you're overwhelmed; Overwhelmed mom; where to start when you're overwhelmed

Ever had a day like this? You oversleep and jolt out of bed when your baby wakes you up, during the morning rush you discover your oldest forgot to do her homework last night, the dishes are still hanging out in the sink getting crusty and smelly, your big kids have a half day with an annoyingly timed dismissal right at nap time for your littles (consequently, as you miss the magic window, your baby doesn’t nap today), you’ve got a trip coming up in a few days that you haven’t even started prepping for, a big holiday is even closer and there is still a lot to do to get ready, oh, and one of your kids is sick!

Yikes, right? In addition to not getting done, your to-do list just grew exponentially from all the chaos going on. It’s enough to send even the strongest-minded mom into a state of panic. And, despite the best of plans, these days just happen sometimes. Even so, as you so consider the monstrosity of things you need to handle, you can feel the anxiety start to churn…

What do you do when you’re so overwhelmed that you don’t even know where to start?

Stop. Don’t Panic.

(and go ahead and grab your free master planning pack — it includes a productivity and time management workbook for busy moms that will help make days like this fewer and far between) Get it here: 

1. Take a step back and quickly sort out your priorities.

What is most important/urgent? There are a few ways to do this. First, you could jot down your list of tasks and then number them, one being the most important and urgent item. But what I really like to do on days like this is use this important/urgent matrix – formally known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. Blogger, Suzi Whitford has a great post explaining how she uses it to manage her workflow.

Basically, what you do is divide your tasks into four categories:

  • Quadrant 1 is for tasks that are both urgent and important (sometimes defined as crises)
  • Quadrant 2 is for tasks that are important, but not necessarily urgent (items like goals or planning)
  • Quadrant 3 is for tasks that are urgent, but not important (consider these interruptions)
  • Quadrant 4 is for tasks that are neither urgent nor important (think of these as distractions)

How to Prioritize When You're Overwhelmed - Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Once you have your tasks divided into these four categories, it’s much easier to identify what you can do about them. Suzi recommends all tasks in Quadrant 1are the to-dos you should focus your time and energy on. She calls Quadrant 2 things you should plan (if you need tips for how to efficiently plan your week, check out this post I wrote about it). The tasks in quadrant 3 should be delegated, and any tasks that fall into quadrant 4 should be easily eliminated.

2. What can you delegate or postpone for another day? What could your spouse or kids do?

Now that you have a manageable, focused list of tasks, think about what you can delegate.This should be pretty easy to identify if you used the matrix above. But even if not, or even if you didn’t initially distinguish between important/urgent (like a doctor appointment) and urgent/unimportant (like finishing the laundry), think hard about what you have to do and what you can rely on others to help you out with.

I know as moms it’s easy to feel like you have to take on everything yourself. For me, it’s almost habit. I mean, I was just used to being the one to get a snack, put clothes away and do all the things for my kids because at one point I had to, but once they’re passed the toddler stage, you’d be surprised what kids can do if you let them. And most of the time, I find that when I give them a “job” where they help me with something like putting away laundry or even sorting socks, they are happy to be important enough to help. 🙂

Your spouse might be able to take on a few things for you, or you might even have a friend or another family member who could jump in. Maybe Grandma can come and watch the kids for an hour so you can fly through your list. Don’t be too proud to ask for help when you really need it.

And, don’t get caught up in perfection. Sure, the laundry might not be folded and put away exactly the way I would do it when my kids help, but at least it’s done, and sometimes, done is better than perfect

3.  Don’t be a perfectionist. Simplify and take shortcuts where you can.

Days like today are why things like take-out and grocery delivery services exist. Use them to your advantage. If your budget allows, leave the cooking mess and time to the professionals and order take-out. Or skip the hour plus trip to the grocery store and schedule a delivery or curb-side pick-up if you have them in your area. The tip or pick-up fee is worth the time you can spend working on other urgent matters.

When you’re really in a pinch, invite Netflix or Disney to be your babysitter for a little while so you can knock a few things out while your kids are occupied. Make it a fun, bonus screen time moment. It will be special to them (and they will know not to expect it all the time) and you can get things done. Again, it’s not about perfection. And allowing your children some bonus screen time every once in a while does not make you a bad mom. It makes you a real mom, and a smart mom who knows how to make most of the tools she has available.

4. Get your head in the right place and just get started.

Stop focusing on and worrying about all the things you have to do and just start doing them. Pick a place to begin and just go. Minimize distractions. Put your phone in a different room. Set a timer and don’t stop until the timer rings. Then assess and move on if you can. Put on some motivating music or an audio book and get to work.

5. Prepare for next time and establish some go-to routines for yourself.

While you can’t plan when overwhelming days like this will happen, you can have some tricks up your sleeve ready for the next time one of them sneaks up on you. For example, I’ve got a quick, down and dirty 30-minute speed cleaning routine that is just a short list of things I can fly through. I always do them in the same order and use shortcuts, like using a basket to collect items that need to be put away (such as toys that have been left out in different rooms) and spot mopping vs. mopping the entire floor. I set a timer and go, and I always know that I can jump in, tackle this quick list and feel accomplished when time is up.

6. Finally, cut yourself some slack and give yourself some grace.

Just because you’re having a bad day, doesn’t mean you suck! Some days are like this. Do what you can to catch up but don’t beat yourself up about what you didn’t get done. Maybe it’s time to reassess your schedule or take a hard look at what is eating your time.

In most cases you’ll find that there are some simple tweaks you can make to your routines that would help you stay on your game. Maybe you need more help – remember everything isn’t always on you. Or maybe you need to declutter your calendar or your home. Chances are a few small changes will make a big difference. Don’t beat yourself up. These days are going to happen. It’s what you do about them that matters.

If you’re looking for even more help, I’ve created a free master planning pack that includes my productivity and time management workbook to help you budget your time more efficiently. Click that little button below to check it out!

You’ve got this. And remember, tomorrow is another day.

Cheering you on!