How to Stay Motivated in Life When You’re Overwhelmed

I, like the bulk of us, was relieved to see the year 2020 come to an end. Of course, nothing much changed on January 1st.

The Covid pandemic continues to rage, businesses are still struggling, jobs are still being lost, and people in many parts of the world are unable to visit their loved ones—many people are feeling overwhelmed in life.

When I awoke on the first day of a brand new year, nothing had changed. However, there’s something about the first day of a new year that inspires newfound attention. I’m confident that some kind of normalcy will return this year, and that optimism intensified as we ushered in 2020.

I’ll join the millions of “resolutioners” who make vows to themselves about changes they want to make this year. We—those of us who do this every year (for however long)—are riding the tide of new-year optimism and the sense of a “fresh start.”

But, when the world is virtually on fire around you, how do you stay engaged on anything—whether it’s resolutions, good eating, running a business, or going for a run?

I’m not a psychologist, but I like to think I’ve had plenty of practice keeping my focus and motivation regardless of the circumstances.

I’ve spent years developing my productivity abilities and experimenting with a variety of strategies that have both worked and failed to keep me motivated when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

So, let me share some of the strategies that have helped me keep focused on what matters most to me, regardless of what else is going on in the world.


  1. List What’s Overwhelming You
  2. Set Micro Goals Each Working Day
  3. Take Some Time for Yourself
  4. Stop Multitasking
  5. Have an Accountability Buddy
  6. Don’t Be Afraid to Share

1. List What’s Overwhelming You

Lists are quite useful. When I’m feeling overwhelmed in life, I frequently lose sight of exactly what’s making me feel that way.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I make a list of what’s bothering me.
The list is rarely as extensive as I imagine it to be, and feelings of overwhelm are frequently reduced to just one or two items on my mind.

What Can You Control?

It’s time to look at what you can affect now that you have a list in front of you.

Consider the following scenario:

If I have too many urgent deadlines, I’ll talk to my clients and see what I can do to modify things, or I’ll cease taking work for that month.
If I’m feeling overburdened by non-work obligations, I figure out what I can cancel and do so.

If it’s something I can’t control (like a pandemic), on the other hand, I give myself permission to sit with it—to simply be okay with not being okay with it.

I look over my list and make any necessary changes (even if it’s only sending an email to delegate a job or alter a deadline). It’s something that makes me feel a little more in control, though I recognize that everyone’s experience will be different.

2. Set Micro Goals Each Working Day

Feeling overwhelmed might stifle your productivity and prevent you from accomplishing tasks that you need or would otherwise enjoy. Setting highly attainable micro-goals for each working day is one technique I’ve found to tackle this.

So, if one of my goals for the day is to finish a long report, I’ll break it down into chunks and segments that will take no more than 30 minutes to complete rather than a whole day.

I can then see how far I’ve come toward my objective (and let’s be honest, I enjoy crossing things off a to-do list).

Micro-goals have regularly helped me get through chores faster and break down what may appear to be enormous activities into little jogs.

Prioritize Tasks and Goals

Do you have too many micro-goals to accomplish in a single day? Make them a priority. Order them by the most significant event that happened that day, and if you need to reschedule deadlines or hire some help, do so. 
Personally, I assign a priority score to everything ranging from 1 to 3, with 1 being the highest priority, and I prioritize my 1s first. You might find that a larger scale of priority levels, or perhaps just two levels, works best for you. 

3. Take Some Time for Yourself

This is the thing that I usually find the most perplexing. When you’re busy, taking time to do something for yourself is typically the last thing on your mind.

However, I find that getting up from my desk and walking for 30 minutes clears my thoughts, allowing me to return to work more focused and productive.

Other strategies can help you become more productive as well, but for me, a quick stroll is a good one. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress levels. [1] It’s something you can do anywhere, led by online resources or one of the many meditation apps available.

Some folks enjoy running. Some people enjoy using their phones to play games. Whatever it is that you enjoy and that helps you feel better, find time for it regardless of what else is going on or how busy you appear to be.

4. Stop Multitasking

can lower your productivity and make you feel more stressed in life. [2] The reality is that concentrating (or attempting to concentrate) on numerous things at once means that we don’t get to focus on any of them.

We’re slower, more stressed, and we’re checking off fewer items on our to-do lists. As a result, focus on one task at a time.

But What If You Have to Multitask?

As a result of the foregoing, I dislike multitasking. I’d rather concentrate on a single activity at a time. But I’m sharing that we’re six days into another lockdown where I live, and I’m homeschooling as a result.

Have you ever tried to homeschool a 5-year-old as his 3-year-old sibling fires Nerf bullets at him and his baby brother destroys everything in sight? Last week, I gave it a shot. Over the course of the day, I also attempted to do some 2020 performance reports.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It was a complete flop. I decided to be a little less ambitious on the second day. I’m not going to finish my reports while dealing with the chaos that is homeschooling. However, staying on top of my emails was a little more difficult.

I did it by working in time blocks, drawing on the Pomodoro Technique for inspiration. I didn’t have enough time to do all 25 Pomodoro blocks.

But, when the baby slept, I saw an opportunity to separate the older two into separate rooms, assign craft chores to the younger ones, and continue with our eldest’s schoolwork.

I informed them that I would want 10 minutes. And I worked for ten minutes in pure silence, with no interruptions, to clear my inbox. Over the course of the day, I managed six such stints around baby naps. It was plenty to keep my inbox under check.

So, even though you may be multitasking, rather than trying to do multiple things at the same time, you should try to work in blocks of as many or as few minutes as is practical for you.

5. Have an Accountability Buddy

Last year, a close friend and I set health and exercise objectives for ourselves. We spoke on Zoom or something similar on a frequent basis to discuss progress and exchanged screenshots of our fitness apps to “report” action.

Having a goal-setting partner can be really beneficial. On those days when we didn’t feel like it, we pushed each other forward. It was one of the most crucial reasons for my 7-month commitment to these changes.

In terms of work activities, I also have comparable interactions with others. I’ve spoken with a number of folks (many of whom are freelancers) who suffer from productivity and procrastination, especially since the epidemic began and we’re dealing with so many other issues.

So, I have two folks with whom I regularly catch up and discuss how much of my to-do list I’ve completed, and they do the same with me.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Share

Do you ever feel like you’re drowning in your own life? It’s quite normal and understandable, especially in these trying times. Talk about it, confide in someone you trust, and, most importantly, be kind to yourself.


  1. Mayo Clinic: Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress

2. Time: Why Multitasking Is Bad for You

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