The Secret To Fighting Seasons of Overwhelm

Note from Kat: This post is from a HelloMornings Challenge contributor, Sarah.

I’m in the middle of one of those seasons. You know, the so-busy-it-feels-like-every-second-of-the-day-is-scheduled kind of seasons.

I’m walking around in a constant state of worry that I’ll forget a crucial detail and all of my spinning plates will come crashing down.


Recently, I found myself asking my four-year-old daughter to remind me of this or that, but I quickly decided that wasn’t the best approach when she started telling people, “My mommy forgets things a lot.”

I’m discovering these busy seasons are inevitable with raising a family, and I also know it will pass. But as the famous (in our house) bear hunt book says:  We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. We gotta go through it!

So, instead of trying to escape the busy, I’m determined to do the best I can with the time and energy God gives me each day. I’ve gone back to my tried and true method for staying on top of my to-do list. Perhaps you’re in a similar season? If so, here are my tips for making it through with minimal plate-dropping.  

Step One: The Brain Dump The first thing I do when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed is to sit down and make a list of every task, responsibility and commitment that is fighting for space in my brain. Nothing is too minor for this list. Put RSVP card in the mail, schedule oil change, finish the laundry, return library books… Seriously, anything that’s taking up brain power goes on the list! Once I make this master list, I find it useful to actually make a plan to get it all done…

Step Two: Plan Your To-Do’s I (still) use a paper planner, and the one I have separates each day into morning, day and night. This works well for me because I can list tasks on each day at the approximate time I should complete it. For example, if I know I need to bring cookies to a party on Thursday evening, I add “buy cookies” to my lunchtime errands on Thursday.

During my busiest seasons, I even plan things as simple as sending a follow-up email or calling to check in on a friend. If I think of something I have to do, but can’t get to it right away, I jot it down in my planner to get it out of my brain and onto the list. And every time I hear myself telling someone I’ll do something, that’s a cue to write it in my planner. That way, I’m not wasting brain space worrying about whether I’m forgetting something.

And if a paper planner isn’t your thing (you’re my hero), I found an iPhone app called Things that allows you to manage tasks in a similar way.

Step Three: Maintain the System It does no good to write a list of to-do’s if you don’t look at the list. Each morning I spend a few minutes reviewing my planner. I move yesterday’s tasks that I didn’t complete to the current day (or a future day, if appropriate). This method makes it hard to procrastinate for too long without annoying myself.

If I write the same unfinished task day after day, it’s a sign the task is either not important or that I’m putting it off and I just need to do it already. And the best part of all this planning? Crossing those babies off when they’ve been accomplished, of course!

What method of planning do you use when you are feeling overwhelmed with daily life activities? Click here to join the discussion!

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 7.41.46 PMSarah is a 30-something wife and mom of two preschoolers who lives imperfectly for Jesus. She’s a communication professional by day, word girl by night and always an appreciator of art. You can find her pursuing beauty and collecting stories at

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  • Chelsea says:

    Love this!! I also find the brain dump to be essential to not getting overwhelmed. What planner do you have? I like that it chunks the day out! Side note- I had a good laugh to myself that you call it a paper planner. I call my planner a paper planner as well and get a lot of grief for it 🙂

  • Brittnie says:

    I feel ya with the brain dump!! I do this ALL the time. I also spend a few minutes each morning with my planner reviewing the days agenda and to do list. 🙂

  • Kim says:

    I have been given an endless amount of grief the past several years for continuing to use a paper planner instead of an app on my smart phone. But I’m the kind of person who, if it involves electronics of any kind I shall avoid it at all costs. I need my paper planner. And my to do lists.

    • Kat says:

      And you know…as much as I’m a techie and use lots of digital planners and to do list apps, when I’m overwhelmed, I always go back to good old paper and pen. There’s something peaceful about just writing it all out in front of me.

  • Jennifer says:

    For brain dump, to dos, calendar, and maintenance my new favorite tool ever is the Bullet Journal! I think this youtube video sums up the concept and all it costs (versus a notepad, calendar, phone, app, etc) is a pen and a gridded composition notebook. I look at my Bullet Journal once a day down to once a week and can keep check of all my brain lists/ideas/thoughts as well as calendar, shopping lists, gift ideas, etc in one safe place! I tried it for one month and now am three months in and can see all I have accomplished in one book, it’s the best.

  • Kat says:

    So good! I think it’s ironic that once I do a brain dump, I realize everything on my plate is a whole lot more manageable than I’d imagined in the midst of my overwhelm. Thanks for sharing Sarah!

  • Christina says:

    Sarah, what paper planner do you use? I haven’t been able to manage my time/tasks/etc. electronically (although Evernote sure has helped – you gave me that tip!) and have been wanting a paper planner for awhile. However, I don’t even know where to begin on choosing one! Any advice you have would be great. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Kat says:

      FYI – Sarah is having some tech issues and that’s why she hasn’t replied yet.

      I use a paper/electronic combo and for the paper page, I just use a weekly planner. Actually, I use the weekly page from my Blog Planning Kit – (that page is free at

      I print that page out on the front and back of 28lb paper and then I have a Staples Arc notebook where I keep all my planning stuff. I love that it’s just like a spiral notebook but you can move the pages around.

      I love having a week planned out all at once. I usually do that on the weekend. I look at my to do list and pick the most important items that need to get done that week and fit them in like appointments on the calendar.

      I keep my to do list on Love it.

  • Always love your wisdom friend! I do think there is a certain power with the pen to paper approach instead of an app. Marking off those to-dos gives us a sense of accomplishment and boosts us for the next tasks. Love how you balance life and family with such grace!