Published on February 2, 2021

How To Motivate Yourself When You Are Overwhelmed in Life

How To Motivate Yourself When You Are Overwhelmed in Life

Like the majority of us, I imagine, I was very happy to wave farewell to 2020. Nothing much changed on the 1st of January, of course. The Covid pandemic rages on, businesses are still struggling, jobs are still being lost, and people are unable to see their loved ones in many corners of the world—many people feel overwhelmed in life.

That certainly didn’t change when I woke up on the first day of a brand new year. But there’s something about the first day of a new year that brings a renewed sense of focus. I’m optimistic that we will see some semblance of normality return this year, and that optimism grew as we kicked 2020 out of the door.

I’ll join millions of “resolutioners” in making promises to myself about improvements I’ll make this year. We—those who do this every year (however long we last)—are riding on that wave of new year optimism and the feeling of a “new start.”

But how do you stay motivated on anything—whether it’s resolutions, healthy eating, running a business, or getting out for a run—when the world is practically on fire around you?

I’m no psychologist, but I like to think I’ve got plenty of experience in maintaining focus and motivation regardless of what’s going on around me. I’ve spent years honing my productivity skills and tried countless tactics that both succeeded and failed at helping me stay driven when I feel overwhelmed in life.

So, let me share some of the things that I’ve found most successful to help you stay focused on what matters to you regardless of what else is happening in the world.

List What’s Overwhelming You

Lists are very powerful things. I often find that when I’m feeling overwhelmed in life, I lose sight of specifically what is causing me to feel this way. When I feel like this, I list what is making me feel overwhelmed.


The list is very often not as long as I expect it to be and often, feelings of being overwhelmed come down to just one or two things on my mind.

What Can You Control?

With a list in front of you, it’s time to take a look at what you can influence.

For example:

  • If too many pressing deadlines is something on my list, I will speak to clients and I will see if I can change some things, or perhaps I’ll stop taking work that month
  • If I’m feeling overwhelmed by non-work commitment, I work out what I can cancel and just cancel it

On the other hand, if it’s something I cannot control (like a pandemic), I grant myself the permission to sit with it—to just be ok with not being ok with it.

I go through my list and I take action to change anything I can change (even if it’s just an email to delegate a task or move a deadline). It’s something that helps me feel a little more in control, though I accept this is something that will be different for everyone.

Set Micro Goals Each Working Day

Feeling overwhelmed can really lower productivity and stop you from doing things you need or would ordinarily want to do. One way to overcome that, I’ve found, is to set very achievable micro-goals for each working day.

So, if one of my goals for the day is to complete a lengthy report, I will break it down into sections and segments that might only be 30 minutes of work as opposed to a whole day of work. I can then visibly see progress towards this goal (and I’ll be honest, I do love ticking things off a to-do list).


I’m a huge fan of micro-goals, which have consistently helped me to get through tasks quicker and break down what seems like overwhelming tasks into smaller jobs.

Prioritize Tasks and Goals

Got too many micro-goals to complete in a day? Prioritize them. Order them by the most important thing on that day and if you need to move some deadlines around or get some help, then do it.

Personally, I give everything a priority score from 1 to 3, with 1 being the highest priority and I work on my 1s first. A wider scale of priority levels might work for you or even just 2 levels.

Take Some Time for Yourself

This is the thing I always find the most counterintuitive. When you’re busy, the last thing on your mind is probably taking time to just go and do something for yourself. But I find that getting away from my desk and walking for 30 minutes clears my mind, and I return more focussed and more able to be productive.

Other tactics can help you to become more productive too but certainly, a quick walk is a useful one for me. Meditation is proven to lower stress levels.[1] It is something that can be done wherever you happen to be, guided by online help or one of the many meditation apps available.

Some people like to run. Some like to play games on their phones. Whatever your thing is—something that you enjoy and makes you feel better—take time out to enjoy it for yourself no matter what’s going on and how busy it seems you are.

Stop Multitasking



can reduce your productivity and increase feelings of being overwhelmed in life.[2] The reality for most of us is that concentrating (or trying to) on multiple things at once means we don’t really get to focus on any of them. We’re slower, more stressed, and tick less of our to-do lists. So, tackle one thing at a time.

But What If You Have to Multitask?

Based on the above, I do not like multitasking. I’d much rather focus on a single task at once. But I share that now 6 days into another lockdown where I live and thus, homeschooling.

Ever homeschooled a 5-year-old while his 3-year-old brother shoots Nerf bullets at him and his baby brother tries to destroy everything in sight? I tried that last week. And I tried to finish some 2020 performance reports over the course of the day too.

I’m not going to lie. It was a bit of a disaster. On the second day, I decided to be a little less ambitious. I’m not going to get reports done while I’m tackling the carnage that is homeschooling. But staying on top of my emails was a little easier to do.

I did it by working in time blocks, taking a little inspiration from the Pomodoro Technique. I didn’t have the full 25 minutes to do complete Pomodoro blocks. But as the baby slept, I saw my opportunity to split up the older two in separate rooms, set the younger one craft tasks, and let our eldest continue with the school tasks set for him.

I told them I needed 10 minutes. And I worked in complete silence without any distractions to clear my inbox over those ten minutes. I managed 6 such stints over the course of the day around baby naps. It was enough to keep my inbox under control.

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.


Have an Accountability Buddy

A close friend of mine and I both embarked upon some health and fitness goals last year. We caught up regularly on Zoom or similar to talk progress and sent one another screenshots from our fitness apps to “report” activity.

Having an accountability buddy is very helpful in reaching goals. We encouraged one another on those days when we just weren’t feeling it. For me, it has been one of the single most important factors in me sticking with these changes 7 months on.

I also have similar relationships with people relating to work tasks. I’ve talked to lots of people (many of whom are freelancers) who struggle with productivity and procrastination, particularly since the start of the pandemic when we’re facing so many other challenges. So, I have two people who I regularly catch up with and talk about how much of my to-do list I’m getting through and they do with me, too.

Don’t Be Afraid to Share

Are you feeling overwhelmed in life? It’s normal and acceptable, particularly in times like these. Talk about it, share your feelings with a trusted contact and ultimately, be kind to yourself.

More To Help You Stop Feeling Overwhelmed in Life

Featured photo credit: Christian Erfurt via


More by this author

Stacey MacNaught

Small business owner, public speaker and marketing expert obsessed with working smarter.

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Last Updated on December 14, 2021

15 Simple Ways To Get Confidence Back

15 Simple Ways To Get Confidence Back

Confidence is essential to survival. If you’re a man, you can’t even attract a mate without it, as women (and even gay men) are attracted to tenacity. There are times, however, when a devastating or unexpected loss can sap you of your poise. If you’re down, here’s how to get confidence back into your system so you’re ready to take on the world again.

1. Find Your Comfort Zone

Everyone has a comfort zone, whether it’s food, music, art, a favorite book, movie, TV show, a specific geographic location or group of people. Whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable, get into that zone. You’re not there to hide from your problems or dwell on them. You’re there to recharge; just like your muscles and mind need time to recharge, so does your mood. Take a staycation in your comfort zone to regain your composure.

2. Change Your Thoughts

Actively make a conscious decision to change your thought processes. Every time you doubt yourself, counter those thoughts with ways you can overcome. Remember most of your problems are in your head. That’s not to say they don’t exist – merely that you’re allowing them to affect you. Stand up to and for yourself, and you’ll learn ways to stand up to and for everyone else.

3. Smile Like You Mean It

A smile goes a long way. Even if you’re not fully sure of yourself, you’ll exude a sureness that encourages people to perceive you as a confident person. You’ll be seen as a leader rather than a follower, and things will be more likely to go your way. The media portrays Special Forces soldiers as killing machines, but one of their most used weapons is a friendly smile. Diplomacy is strong, so put a smile on your face, and make the world a better place.


4. Don’t Slouch!

Your posture and the way you carry yourself goes a long way in determining your appearance. If you’re slouched over, people assume you’re weaker. This is how nature works – every plant and animal species on this planet understands survival of the fittest, and you need to look like you’re fit. Make an effort to sit up and stand up straight and tall.

5. Take Baby Steps

Everything happens in steps. Don’t get discouraged if there’s no magical change that suddenly makes you confident. Focus on your path, and understand it’ll take baby steps to get where you want. You’ll soon be taking baby steps from confidence to full-on success in life.

6. Clean Yourself Up

Cleanliness is close to godliness (or so I’ve heard). Hygiene is vital to your confidence – it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re stained, sweaty and smelly. No matter what your circumstances in life are, do your best to stay clean, as it’s the key to your confidence.

7. Face Your Fears

Everyone has a list of fears and phobias, although many don’t want to admit it. I’m afraid of snakes, spiders, heights, loss of control, drowning, the dark, other people, and just about everything under the sun. I’m even afraid of the sun since I have moles and have a high melanoma risk. These are natural fears that everyone has on some level or another – it’s a fear of death and the unknown. Face at least one of your fears. When you survive, you’ll be that much more confident.


8. Define Yourself

You are your present choices. Your past decisions and future aspirations determine how your present choices are perceived, but you are your present choices. Learn how to define yourself. Set your rules and boundaries and follow them. These are your morals and ethics, and they’re the foundation of who you are. Never forget that.

9. Embrace Mistakes

Looking back (even while it was happening), we judge Michael Jordan on his successes. People quote him as the greatest basketball player of all time and use his wins, championships and statistics to back it up. Jordan himself, though, reached that level by focusing on his failures. What drove Michael Jordan wasn’t the high from making a game-winning shot, it was the low of missing one.

10. Live In The Present

Learn to appreciate everything around you. By practicing gratitude, you’ll change your perspective. Instead of being upset about losing an important client or failing a test, you’ll be grateful for the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat, and the people you love. Focus on the now, because it’s all you truly have.

11. Take Inventory

If you’re reading this, you also have a lot of secondary stuff, such as a computer, the Internet, the knowledge to use it, the ability to read. You have a lot of skills and resources available to you, even if they’re not the ones you wish they were. Figure out what you have, and find ways to use them.


12. Socialize

Talk things out with friends and family – they’re normally happy to help you regain confidence. If they (or lack thereof) are the reason you lack confidence, expand your social circle. Go to public places and interact with strangers. If you fail to make an impression or completely blow it, who cares? They weren’t in your life before, and you won’t miss them.

13. Play A Game

Video games are great for a lot of reasons, and gaining confidence is just one of them. In real life you may be a boring file clerk with a dead-end life, but in a video game, you can be whoever you want. Every video game console (as well as the majority of computer and mobile games) has achievements. Hunt down some easy wins to jumpstart your spunk.

14. Do Something Crazy

I’m a firm believer in spontaneity being the spice of life. Go out and do something you said you never would. When I reached a point in my life where it felt like nothing could go right, I jumped out of an airplane. As I fell through the air, I had several epiphanies that forever changed my life. No other decision in my life had more of a direct impact on my life than that one crazy act.

15. Try Again

If your lack of confidence is caused by failure, pick up and try again in any way possible. It doesn’t have to be immediately – you can practice, learn and evolve prior to trying again. This time, however, go in as an experienced veteran who took a few licks and got back up stronger, faster and smarter than before.


It’s easy to lose your confidence. Unexpected things happen, and you can very easily find yourself on the short end of the stick. Even though it seems like you’re the only one it’s happening to, we all experience inequalities and failures. Stick it out, and you’ll eventually get the confidence it takes to succeed.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Mowe via

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