Overwhelmed? Dump, Delegate & Deal

Life Balance

Maud Purcell

Do you feel as though your mind is headed in one direction, your heart in a second, and the rest of you in a third?  If so, you aren’t alone. As a practicing pyschotherapist, I regularly meet with women who are overwhelmed with responsibilities on the home front.  Whether you’re a single parent or are sharing your ever-growing “to do list” with a partner, I’ll make an educated guess that you rarely feel as though you make a dent in it.

Not long ago I met with Angelina.  She came in because she was feeling irritable, hopeless, and was yelling at her kids.  She wondered if she had developed a clinical depression.  As I listened to Angelina, however, the real diagnosis became clear: She was suffering from a serious case of Too Much To Do and Not Enough Time in Which to Do It!  I assured her that medication wasn’t necessary, and that if we addressed the real issues, i.e. the reasons that she was feeling overwhelmed, her life would feel manageable once again.

The great news is that there is a method for dealing with chaos on the home front, and I shared this approach with Angelina:

-- Do a data dump:  Tape two pieces of newsprint to the wall of your kitchen or office.  Label one your “ASAP List” and the other, “Longer Term Projects”.  Write down everything you have to do on the appropriate piece of newsprint.  You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel just by getting it all on paper.  Much of your stress is probably coming from trying to keep your “to dos” in your head, while knowing that there’s only so much “file space” up there!
-- Deal with your ASAP list: Determine whether or not each item you’ve listed is something to which you can/should personally attend.  If it is, schedule it into your calendar as you would any other meeting; this one just happens to be with yourself!
-- Delegate:  If an item on your list is better done by someone else, assign it to that person, e.g. to your partner, your kids (even little kids benefit from contributing to the betterment of their household) or a paid consultant or worker.  If money is an issue, see if you can barter services with a friend.  Angelina is petrified of balancing her checking account.  She asked her sister to do it for her, in exchange for offering to baby sit for her niece and nephew.

-- Determine the best time: Figure out what time of day you work most efficiently, and plug the tasks you dislike the most, or those that require the greatest concentration, into those time slots.  If necessary set a timer for how long you think each task should take.  Don’t step away from that task before the timer goes off, unless the house is on fire!
-- Deal with the long term:  After you’ve scheduled each of the ASAP items with yourself or with someone else, go to your “Longer Term” list.  Plug each item into dates on your calendar, even if some of those dates are six months out.  Doing so will assure you that these items won’t fall through the cracks, even if they’re scheduled for next Halloween!
-- Decide to just say no:  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, minimize additional stress by recognizing that you don’t have to grant every request made by family and friends.
Most importantly, allow yourself some time each day to completely forget about your “to dos”.  By doing so, you’ll be able to return to the chaos with a fresh perspective, and may even see some new and better ways to keep the pandemonium down to a dull roar!

Maud Purcell, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, is a skilled and seasoned psychotherapist, as well as a trained Coach and Corporate Consultant. She is the owner of Maud Purcell & Associates Inc., and she writes a regular column for The Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, The Danbury Times and CT Post Newspapers.

Go back to the Kitchen Share Digg Tweeter Facebook StumbleUpon Send To a Friend


  • I have recently been concerned about the state of my sanity -- definitely brought on from suffering from the same condition as your client! FT (married)working mother of 2, I struggle with rarely feeling like I'm covering the bases, let alone getting to the big projects around the house, or (if I dare) taking time to indulge in my interests & dreams (I still have 'em, darn it!). I realize there is no "perfect" & it isn't helpful to compare myself or my messy house to my neighbor's. Each day I try to check in an ask myself if I've done my best, and if the answer is yes, then the pile of laundry that didn't get done can wait until tomorrow without weighing heavily on me. I'd rather have some time to ride bikes with my kids in the evening, frankly. We just need to give ourselves a break most of the time when things get overwhelming. And when others are critical, it's even more important we have our force-field of acceptance up -- accepting ourselves as we are, for our best efforts even when others don't. Otherwise, we will go insane! Thank you.

    Posted by Yogamomma, 5 August 2009.

  • I think the new diagnosis of "Too Much To Do and Not Enough Time in Which to Do It!" or Overwhelmed Syndrome is a very apt one for today's SuperMoms.

    Posted by comfortdoc, 22 July 2009.