Martin Seminars

12021 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 123  
Los Angeles, CA  90025  
Phone: 310-820-4336   

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Defeat Overwhelm
by Bob Martin

Have you ever been faced with so many tasks that you felt overwhelmed and you couldn’t even begin to work on them? You'd sit down and it seemed like there were so many things you had to do that your mind just “frizzed out.” You couldn't focus, couldn't prioritize? I felt like that yesterday. It’s hard for me to admit that I sometimes have trouble keeping all of my tasks in order because I counsel others on how to keep their lives order, but yesterday was one of those days. 
Fortunately in all of the research I do, I come across many tools for dealing with whatever hurdles life seems to throw in the way. Wouldn’t you know it, I just happen to have one such tool to deal with the situation above. 

When you feel like you’re overwhelmed or you’re avoiding a task that you know you need to perform, take a pad of paper and list all of the things you know you need to do. List every task you can think of and leave nothing off of your list. For larger tasks, use subheadings and indent the sub-tasks immediately under the main task. This is a brainstorming session so break each task into its smallest elements and don’t worry if the list seems long. You’ll find that the longer your list is now, the easier it will be to complete each task later. 

Now prioritize the tasks by placing an “A,” “B,” or “C” next to each task. The “A” tasks will be your most important activities - the tasks that are urgent enough to demand your immediate attention. The “B” tasks are your less-urgent activities. These are tasks that should be completed today but are not as urgent. The “C” tasks are your least urgent activities and can wait until later today, tomorrow or whenever you have some down time. 

Now that you’ve categorized your tasks into three levels of urgency, look at your A-level tasks and ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I should be doing?” Take the task that answers that question and label it “A1.” The next important task will be labeled A2 and so on until you’ve numbered all of your A-level tasks. Now do the same for your B and C-level tasks. 

Do you feel a sense of calm coming over you? Do you feel like your tasks aren’t as overwhelming now? My belief is that you do and it’s because you’re doing something constructive about the way you felt before. I once had a music instructor who told his music students that if they felt nervous while performing their songs, they probably weren’t concentrating enough on the song. 

What you’ve done by focusing on your tasks and prioritizing them is you’ve turned your attention away from your feelings of being overwhelmed and focused it on ranking and completing the tasks that were causing you those feelings. You’ve focused your mind on doing something constructive about your work rather than dwelling on the feelings your work caused you. 

Now look at your A1 task - the task that you’ve given your highest priority. Complete that task, right now, and cross it off. If you absolutely cannot work on that task now because you need to wait for something to happen or for someone to do something first, go to your A2 task and work on that instead. Continue completing each task and check back with that highest priority task until you can complete it also. 

Keep your pad handy while working so you can add any other tasks that come to mind as you work. Believe me, new tasks will come to mind as soon as you begin to work. This is due, in part, to your mind’s desire to avoid the work you’re doing. Your mind will try to distract you by dreaming up other tasks. By writing each task on your list as you think of it, you’ll be able to free your mind to concentrate on completing your highest priority tasks first. 

When you’ve finished working on a task, cross it off by drawing a single line through it so you can still read the task later if you should need to. Feel a sense of accomplishment from completing the task as you cross it off of your list. Drawing a line through each completed task will also help your eyes to focus on the uncompleted tasks whenever you refer to your list. 

Now march through the rest of the tasks on your priority list. Cross off each task as you complete it. Do you feel more focused now? My belief is that you do. You’ll also feel a certain sense of pride and motivation from marching through your list one item at a time. 


Focusing doesn’t have to be difficult. Your tasks aren’t any easier to accomplish than they were before. You’ve merely simplified them by determining which tasks are most important to you. This really isn’t a difficult process but it’s one that many of us avoid because we think prioritizing is just one more task to add to an already overwhelming situation. In reality, you’ve simplified your life. You’ve made it easier to get into each task by eliminating the distraction of competing tasks. 

You’ve also given yourself an incentive to continue working by crossing off completed tasks. 
You don’t have to complete all of the tasks on your priority list to be successful. You will know by the end of the day that you’ve completed the tasks that are most important to you - the tasks you needed to accomplish most. Take pride in that! You can transfer any leftover tasks to a list for the following day. 

In my own case, I often use an entire pad instead of a single sheet of paper so I can list projects for the following days on successive sheets of paper. I write a date at the top of each page and place the tasks on the appropriate page when it comes to mind. This way, I don’t have to worry about remembering the task and I can focus on the work at hand. 

You don’t always have to go to this extent to prioritize your work. This is a convenient tool when you have many jobs and their number weighs on your mind. Some days, my tasks are simple enough that I can work from a list that I keep in my head. On other days, I find that my tasks are too numerous or too varied to track mentally. Instead of investing mental energy in worrying about the tasks, I list them on paper and focus my energy on completing the tasks themselves. Sounds pretty Zen-like, doesn’t it? 

Now that I’ve completed this task, it’s time to cross it off and see what’s next on my list. 


12021 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 123
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 820-4336