time management

How to Organize Your Day When Everything Feels Overwhelming

February 19, 2024

Reading Time: 9 minutes

How to Organize Your Day When Everything Feels Overwhelming

Ever have those days when your to-do list is endless, everything feels chaotic, and you can’t decide what task to tackle first? We all have those days! In this episode, we’re exploring some practical ways to organize your day when it feels like everything is happening all at once.


Wish you could organize your day? You’re in luck – today, we’re talking about something that I’m sure we all know all too well – a terrible, awful, no good, overwhelming day. 

You know those days, right? When your to-do list is longer than a CVS receipt, your inbox is bursting at the seams, and let’s not even start on the home front. Kids’ soccer practice, grocery shopping, that pile of laundry that’s starting to resemble Mount Everest… Phew!

As I’m recording this episode, it’s a few days after Mardi Gras, and down in Louisiana that means everything kind of shuts down for a few days so we can enjoy parades and have a really good time. That also means that for about a week, my kitchen was a disaster zone of plastic beads, stuffed animals, confetti, noise makers, glitter and who even knows what. Complete and total post-Mardi Gras chaos. So last night while my girls were spending the night at their grandparents, my husband Scott and I turned that chaos into a clean kitchen… one bead at a time.

You might not be recovering from Mardi Gras, but hey, we’re all in this together, and today’s episode is all about turning that overwhelming chaos of a crazy day into something manageable, something we can tackle with a smile – or at least without pulling our hair out. 

We’re going to explore some super practical ways to organize your day when it feels like everything is happening all at once.

In this episode, I’m sharing:

  • The most important question to ask yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed 
  • The key difference between a brain dump and a mind sweep
  • A simple way to prioritize when everything feels important
  • How to Use the Overwhelm Management Map to organize your day

The Feeling of Overwhelm When Organizing Your Day

Before we talk about how to organize your day, let’s talk about what this feeling of overwhelm really is.

It kind of reminds me of family reunions when I was growing up. We’d all take a road trip into this tiny little down in the heart of North Louisiana, and our family reunions were always at this little church – right by the church where my great grandparents and their parents and their parents were buried. 

Family reunions were always a lot of fun because I’d get to see my cousins who lived in far off places that I didn’t get to see often. But the best part was the potluck dinner. We’re talking the most southern spread of homemade casseroles, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy – and the desserts. Oh, the pies! Every kind of homemade pie, pudding and cake you could imagine, all made with love by family. 

Overwhelm can feel like standing in front of a potluck buffet spread – specifically the dessert table – and everything looks delicious… but your white paper plate with the little dividers is only so big. You want a little bit of everything, the key lime, and the chocolate pie and the strawberry cake – but you just can’t fit it all. And even if you did – it would just result in a big stomach ache and nobody wants that. 

When You’re Overwhelmed…

That’s our lives, right? We’re juggling jobs, family, personal time, and trying not to drop any of those spinning plates. We want our cake and the pie, and we want to eat it too. It’s just a part of being human to want to experience everything that life has to offer – while also doing the things that you have to do as a responsible adult.  

Sure – you can load your plate to the brim, but the next thing you know that white paper plate starts to collapse and then you’ve got gravy all over your shirt. Trying to take on too much stuff can result in chaos, disaster and overwhelm.

So what do you do when you’ve said yes to too many things? How do we organize an overwhelming day? 

Here are 3 easy-to-implement strategies for prioritizing through the overwhelm, breaking your overwhelm into tiny bite-sized pieces, and then organize your day in a way that actually feels doable. 

Use Prioritization to Organize Your Day

When it comes down to it, if you want to organize your day, it comes down to one thing: Prioritization. That’s your secret weapon. 

And I’m not talking about just making a run-of-the-mill to-do list. When you’re dealing with next level overwhelm, you’ve got to try your hand at next level strategies to get to the other side.

Let me introduce you to a simple three-step approach prioritizing when your day feels totally overwhelming.

Identify Why You’re Overwhelmed

First – we’ve got to get a handle on what exactly is making the day overwhelming. It’s easy to say “I’m Overwhelmed!” Without considering what exactly is causing it. 

Are you feeling overwhelmed because you have 37 things on your to-do list and you’re not sure how you’re going to get them all done? Are you feeling overwhelmed because you’ve got a sick kid at home, a big deadline looming, and now you’re not feeling so great either? Or is your overwhelm because you’ve got a huge project to tackle and there are so many parts and pieces and things to consider that you’re not even sure where to begin?

The reasons for feeling overwhelmed can be just as overwhelming as overwhelm itself… but if you’re able to stop for a second and get to the root of what’s going on, what’s causing your feelings it can help you move forward. 

If you’ve got a full to-do list, we prioritize. If you’ve got a lot of heavy emotional stuff going on, we prioritize – and also make sure we’re taking care of physical and mental wellbeing. And if you’ve got a big project… you guess it – we prioritize. 

I often find that overwhelm is a result of having a lot of different moving projects – or things that are in motion, things we’re working on, things we’ve started but haven’t finished – but we don’t exactly know what the next step is for each, or even a full inventory or what we’re working on. 

3 Strategies to Organize Your Day 

1. The Mindsweep

So, to get a handle on what’s causing the overwhelm, start with a mental download. Some call this a brain dump, I like to call it a mind sweep. I’ve got a whole episode all about mindsweeps, but it’s just a more orderly way of doing a brain dump. 

When I hear brain dump, I imagine someone taking a junk drawer and dumping it out onto the kitchen floor and stuff flying everywhere. A mindsweet is more like taking things out of the junk drawer and categorizing them by type on the kitchen counter. Much neater, right? 

So once you’ve done a download of everything that’s swirling around in your you’ve gotten it onto paper, let’s start prioritizing. 

My favorite way to reframe priorities is by thinking about the things in your day as Boulders. Big Rocks and Pebbles. 

One of the biggest challenges with an overwhelming day is that it’s usually really hard to figure out what to do first or next because everything feels important. And it all feels like a priority. 

And when everything feels like a priority – how do you choose? So instead of choosing, we’ll just kind of skip hop around and put out whatever fire feels the most urgent, or do whatever we feel like doing in the moment. That can work… for a little while… but it doesn’t help us truly deal with the overwhelm.

So instead of thinking of everything as a priority, label each thing on your overflowing to-do list as a boulder, a big rock, or a pebble.

2. Boulders, Big Rocks and Pebbles

I talk a lot about boulders, big rocks and pebbles in my book, Time Management Essentials, but the gist is this:


Boulders are the things in our lives that are important, but they’re not urgent and they help us show up as our best selves in the different roles and responsibilities in our lives. Taking a moment to plan your day before diving in – that’s a boulder. Stopping to eat lunch. That’s a boulder. Doing proactive lead generation before your pipeline dries up? Another boulder. 

But boulders aren’t just work stuff – they’re personal too. Working out and moving your body – that’s a boulder because taking care of yourself helps you show up as your best self. Date night with your person, or a coffee date with a friend – again, not urgent but those are activities that help you nurture those relationships and help us show up as our best selves.

Big Rocks

Then, we’ve got big rocks – typically when we think about priorities we picture big rocks. These are the important and urgent things we’ve got going on in our lives. The biggest thing for you to know about big rocks is that they are typically project based and time sensitive – but here’s the kicker… Big rocks move the needle in your life and work. Big rocks get you closer to achieving your goals or making your vision a reality – whether that’s a professional vision, a vision for your family or your personal life. Your big rocks are going to look like the deadline based work you’re doing for a client, the presentation for the big meeting later this week, or even the birthday party you’re planning for one of your kids. 

I’m currently planning a SuperKitties themed party for my soon to be three-year-old, so that’s one of my big rocks right now.


And then finally, we’ve got pebbles. Pebbles represent pretty much everything else on your to-do list that isn’t “be your best self” related and doesn’t move the needle closer to your vision or your goals. They can be a real roadblock when you want to organize your day. It’s the little tasks and to-dos like… filling out a reimbursement form or making a vet appointment for your dog. It’s stuff we’ve gotta do, but it’s not quite as impactful as everything else. Now what’s really crazy is that pebbles can take over our lives and our to-do lists, and our time if we don’t watch out! Our brains looooove pebbles – because our brains love novelty. Isn’t that annoying – even though we neeeed to focus to get stuff done, our brains would… rather not. So it’s like a constant battle with ourselves to stay laser focused on one thing. 

So – One way to organize your day when you’re feeling super overwhelmed is to get all of your to-dos out of your head and onto paper, and then identify the boulders, the big rocks and the pebbles.  You can write a Big B next to boulders, a BR next to big rocks, and a little P next to pebbles. 

3. The Overwhelm Management Map

Next, to organize your day, we’re going to take our list and run it through another filter – the Overwhelm Management Map. The Overwhelm Management Map looks like this – imagine a blank sheet of paper. Draw a line down the middle, top to bottom, and a line across the middle, left to right. This creates four quadrants. 

Top left – Must Do. Top right, Should Do. Bottom Left, Could Do, Bottom Right, Want to. 

Here’s the thing – you want to organize your day, but a lot of times when we’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s because we’re putting everything in the “Must Do” box, even though it doesn’t belong there. It’s really hard to mentally categorize things… everything just ends up kind of swirling around. That’s why the Overwhelm Management Map is so helpful – it creates more options for you than just Must Do.

Must Dos

So based on what’s on your list, what MUST you do today. Like absolutely MUST do. And be real with yourself. This is your way out of overwhelm and toward making real progress. This looks like stuff with a drop dead deadline of today, or picking your kid up from school. We can’t just leave them there overnight, right? These are your nonnegotiable absolutely must do’s. 

Should Dos

Then, what’s on your list that you should do, but if you don’t get it done, it’s not the total end of the world. This might look like skipping a nonessential meeting to catch up on client work. This might look like baking homemade cupcakes for your kids’ Valentines party tomorrow at school. You feel like you should do it… but it’s truly not the end of the world if you don’t. 

Could Dos

Then, what are the things you’re putting on yourself that don’t need to be done, but you could do them? This category can be tricky, but it often takes the form of going the extra mile, when it’s not really necessary. My clients know this is like going for an A+ when a B- is pretty darn good. Sometimes getting a B- in one area can prevent you from making an F in others. I’d rather have four B minuses than a A+ and three F’s. Know what I mean? 

Want Tos

And finally – what are the things you want to do? These are the things we’ve put on our list that truly don’t need to be done, but we really want to do them. And I don’t mean we feel obligated or guilted into doing these things, we truly want to do them. Like maybe you want to call your cousin because it’s her birthday. 

Now here’s the thing – how you define each of these categories and what you place in each one is going to be unique to you. We are all different, we all have different values and visions for our lives – so listen to your gut. Listen to your intuition. Don’t get too caught up in following the rules, and the goal here isn’t to have an equal amount in each category. Instead, it’s to think critically about what’s on your plate, so you can sort out the must-do’s from everything else. 

Once you’ve sorted your stuff into each category, here’s what you do next:

Start with the Must Dos. Schedule the Should Dos and Want Tos for later. Let go of the Could Dos. You don’t need them. 

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