Just keep paddling

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life57 Comments


I am feeling overwhelmed right now in my work life.

Now let me be clear:  this ain't no woe-is-me, I-can't-do-this kind of overwhelmed. This is simply having too many deadlines in too short of a time span and wishing like hell that I could have spread this work out over the summer.

But I can't. I have to git er done, as they say.

I used to like to curl up in a ball and feel sorry for myself when major deadlines loomed, or when it seemed I'd bitten off more than I could chew.

I don't like that old behavior much at all.

Today, I'm plodding through. Doing what needs to be done and knowing there is an end in sight.

Afterall, that's what a deadline is for.

It's funny, because we took a few days off to go up and relax up at our family's cabin over the weekend. Very much needed for both me and Dan even though we knew it'd put us both back this week.

Part of me wants to be back in that kayak right about now.

And part of me knows it's just life.

What do you do when the tasks at hand threaten to overwhelm?

Here's one thing I do: read blog comments wherein people tell me how they like to cope with stress.



Cathy ZielskeJust keep paddling

57 Comments on “Just keep paddling”

  1. #1

    even when busy I get a ridiculous joy from ticking an item on a todo list – so when I’m super busy and feeling its all too much – I make a list of micro steps on the way to the deadline so I can feel joy and progress as I tick them off – I also remind myself of the saying – ‘how do you eat an elephant? – one bite at a time’ although I’m not sure why I’d want to eat an elephant!

  2. #2

    I have a glass of wine, put on some fun music, dance around my living room like a crazy women for a few songs and then get down to work.

  3. #3

    I do two things. First, like Helena, I make lists that break things down into tiny steps that can be crossed off to show progress. I am a HUGELY visual person, so crossing things off a list is really motivating to me – and to make it even MORE motivating, I use a big, fat, red Sharpie pen to do the crossing off. It’s crazy, I know, but whatever gets you moving, right? πŸ™‚

    The other thing that I do is get outside. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes. My favorite thing to do is put the dogs in the car and head out to the local forest preserve and take them for a walk. LIke I said, it doesn’t have to be a long time (typically for me if I can spend 30-60 minutes outside, I feel like a new woman), but there’s something about being in nature that is exceptionally calming and restorative to me. I have found, over the years, that this isn’t a “waste” of time (like I might have told myself before the new, Lynne 2.0 version of me arrived), but now I look at it like a small investment in time for a big payoff in a renewed ability to focus.

    Hope that helps! Keep paddling! You’ll be through this before you know it!

  4. #4
    Kendra B

    I see a trend here . . . I too am a list maker. It helps me stay focused on the task at hand rather than thinking about what else there is to do. And I love being able to cross things off it. There are days when yelling OMG and WTF (literally using the letters not the words) and doing some very dramatic whining helps a great deal.

  5. #5

    I’m a list person. And I also like a nice glass of wine. We are in the last 6 weeks of preparing for my daughters wedding and I’m feeling a bit of pressure to let her do her thing and making sure everything gets done. Along with added stuff at work. But as you say, we just keep biting off small little chunks and keep paddling.

    And soon you can paddle that boat at the cabin for realz. Just breath.

  6. #6

    It’s different for me. I produce some of my best work when I am under pressure and there is too much to be done. Me, I push through. Put a plan together and push through, work the long hours till I am drained but do whatever it takes to get it done.
    I feed off the adrenaline of being under pressure and what I produce is far sharper than things I have ample time to produce.
    No it’s not sustainable but these goals are usually not permanent.
    So, either keep paddling Cathy knowing that being overwhelmed won’t get the work done or just grab a paddle and whoop some a%@#! hehe
    Love your blog.

  7. #7
    Janet White

    Two things: a timer and a “Ta-done!” list.

    The timer is to get me focused and easily switching from one task to another. I set it for 20-30 minutes and work on one thing during that time. No emails, no phones, no surfing allowed. Just 20 minutes on one thing. When it goes off, I get to a good stopping point and switch to the next 20-30 minute task. It’s the only thing I’ve found to get things done as quickly as possible.

    I don’t do a to-do list. They freak me out. It’s like all the tasks are nagging me. Instead, I make a lit of everything that’s done – TA DA! It’ done becomes the TA-Done list. I love to make that list grow.

  8. #8

    I think Helena and I may be long lost sisters! She wrote my answer. Yes, I too am a list maker. I also set timers – work for an hour until the timer goes off, reset the timer for 10 minutes and do something else. Then back to work. If I don’t set that timer I will sit there for hours and then not be able to move when I decide to get up. Good luck with those deadlines, Cathy.

  9. #9
    Andi Sexton

    I have a huge project (divorce) that is causing me anxiety right now, with a deadline of Sept. 15th to have my life displayed on a platter for strangers and the ex who hasn’t done crap for the 2 years to prep for this (aka finances, assets, tax info, what the expenses are for kids). It is NOT fun. It is nowhere rewarding. And, I don’t get paid to do it. It’s actually a money pit. So I ‘bite off’ a little bit of it each day. My anxiety makes me wake up around 3:30 am, or in there abouts, so, I get out of bed, and do a little bit of paper work to feel like I am working toward it. Then have a nice cup of joe and read my favorite blogs. See? It could be worse Sister!

  10. #10

    I get a cup of coffee and open an excel doc on my computer and like so many others, I make a list. Then I sort the list by categories so I can see the big picture. And I make sure my list has little boxes because I love to check things off. Then, if I am not worn down by the list making process, I probably procrastinate a bit more by reading blogs and posting comments!

  11. #11

    When dealing with work overload I praise God that I have work to do. Because the alternative is not good. That’s what I am working thru right now. So, I am very much wishing I was in your shoes. It’s all about perspective.

  12. #12

    I initally panic and get stressed. Then I remember to breathe and all is better. πŸ™‚ What I find works best for me is to focus only on one task at a time. I take the highest priority task and work at it. I don’t allow myself to think of the other things that need to get done or else I start feeling anxious again. Then, once I can tick that one off the list, I reward myself. Maybe by doing a layout, maybe by going for a walk, maybe by going shopping, whatever. Then I tackle the next one. I used to figure out what I wanted to do each day but that was worse because I’d be disappointed if I couldn’t get it all done in that time frame. So, I just started focusing on one “chunk” at a time.

  13. #13

    I try to just focus in the next task, not the big picture. I till myself “do the next thing” and it helps me to keep it all in perspective. Best of luck!

  14. #14
    Amanda Villagomez

    I take deep breaths and then start listing out so that then I can focus on one task or an aspect of a bigger task at a time, knowing that I have space for all of the other looming aspects on my list later. Then I can more fully focus on the task at hand. I make sure to put in some time for family as well, even when it is quick moments.

  15. #15
    Amanda Villagomez

    Oh, and I forgot to say, I also make sure to look ahead to meeting all the deadlines and think about what I can do that is fun (and often with family) that I can look forward to for when everything is complete and to feel a better sense of balance!

  16. #16
    ana roat

    Ok y’all… I seek out my husband, get me a little humm….”lovin”….and then hit the books full on so to speak! Wine makes me sleepy and booze gives me hot flashes so I stay away from them. The release of tension helps me relax and focus on the task at hand. I’m also OCD when it comes to organization so I like to start with a clean work area. A messy desk or house puts more pressure on me than multiple deadlines do. I am a scheduler for 2 cardiologist and deadlines for surgical procedures are cirtical all around. Besides when “pappy’s happy” I’m left alone to concentrate on work….hey, does anyone still use a Franklin Covey organizer??? Loved that system back in the day….

  17. #17
    Jennifer Schmitt

    So glad to hear I’m not the only one. Right now with school about to start (I’m a graphic designer at a university), my brain feels fried. I usually drink a big thing of coffee or iced tea, complain to my co-worker, then get to designing. πŸ™‚ Thanks for starting this discussion. Very timely for me!

  18. #18

    Hoping these deadlines mean you have some cool classes or products on the horizon πŸ™‚

    I like to drink a glass of wine, take a few moments of quiet, make a list of what needs to be done and then get to work. Good luck with it all.

  19. #19

    Take out? When I am on a deadline, I have to set my priorities so I let relax on things like shopping, cooking and cleaning, and try not to let my guilt about it detract from getting the work done. And if this amount of work becomes a more regular thing, consider a house keeping service.

  20. #20

    Lynne, yesterday at the height of feeling the stress, I went for a run in the late afternoon. Even though I was a veritable lobster upon my return, I KNEW it was the right thing to do!

  21. #23
    Tammy Eberhard

    What an excellent reminder Cathy. I agree you do need to take time to relax. Then just Get R Done. You need to rest the body before you can get good productive work out of it. I think Ali Edwards mentioned it one time somewhere — how do you know what to work on next? She said – I just work on the next thing that is due. Also excellent advice. Worrying about it, will definitely not get it done. Here’s to hoping that the rest of your summer is productive and that your deadlines are met.

  22. #25

    It DOES mean that. I think theres always the added stress of if the class is as good as I want it to be, you know? More info will be coming on the new class soon!

  23. #26

    Hang in there, Andi. One of my dear friends is in the same boat with a divorce right now. You are dealing with an ultimate stress. Wishing you an end to it soon, so the new phase of your life can begin!

  24. #28

    Hi Cathy,

    You’ve already gotten lots of good advice. Not sure that I can add anything brilliant πŸ™‚ One thing (that has been mentioned in different ways) is that a break is VERY important to your overall production. Maybe it is 10 minute walk, Facebook check-in or cup of coffee, but take a break. You will come back ready to see everything in a new light. I manage a lot of people and I am always trying to convince them to TAKE A BREAK. In the US in particular we have the idea that working more is working smarter. I’m not convinced.

    Yeah for a new class!!!

  25. #29

    Another list maker. And another timer gal. But as much as I hate it, I also thrive under pressure. I’m a notorious procrastinator. So I’m afraid I’m probably not the best person to take any advice from on the subject. : )

  26. #30

    Well unfortunately, I do a couple things: one good and one bad. Often I eat, although I’m training myself that just a small treat can get me over the hump without breaking a healthy eating plan. The other is to walk away from it all literally. Even a 20 minute walk gives me time to prioritize and put all my “to-dos” in perspective.

  27. #31

    I guess the only thing I can add to the need for lists is remembering that it always gets done. It’s tough and stressful, and seems insurmountable, but I’ve never NOT finished on time (for me, a teacher, the stress time is when all those lovely reports are due.

  28. #32
    Stacy Simpson

    Honestly? When I am stressed, I make lists then procrastinate and eat. When I finally get motivated by the time ticking away; I pull an all-nighter to finish. What I should do is tackle the list one thing at a time. Take walks or do housework when I need a 20 minute break to recharge. If only I followed my own advice…

  29. #34
    Omayra Ortiz

    Ay, ay, ay Cathy! I can see myself in your mirror. I’m a freelance translator, so, I also live with deadlines and editors always on my heels. Yesterday, I got an email reminding me that my deadline is… (well, was) last Friday. Not good. This morning, after putting in four hours of straight work, when my eyes and fingers were already hurting, I decided to take a break to read your blog, looking for some distraction. I read the first line, and started to laugh as a crazy woman here in my office. It worked. I feel better. So, here I am, after reading all the helpful comments, I can say… when overwhelmed, STOP whatever you are doing and HAVE TO DO, and do something that brings just pure pleasure. Recapture the joy in what you’re doing. Say a quick prayer of thankfulness for what you do… and keep paddling.

  30. #35
    Michelle Meisenbach

    I say fuck it all and go to Pinterest!
    okay, I don’t (always) do that.
    when I have too much to do I RELAX. I do have to write a list of what needs done. I hate doing that but it helps calm the hamster in my head who runs around like chicken freaking little getting me all wound up. The list doesn’t let me magnify shit in my head.

    then I pick one thing, ususally the easiest, and DO IT. even if I really REALLY don’t want to. But it gets done and I scratch that bad boy off the list with a big fat sharpie so everyone can see something is crossed off. Makes me feel productive.

    Then I do that again. Relax. check the list. pick the next easist thing and finish it. CROSS OFF. repeat. By the time the hard things are all that’s left I feel so fucking proud of myself that I’m able to tackle it.

    Then I go to Pinterest.

  31. #36
    Heather Peet

    I’m going to be the honest one: When I’m overwhelmed because I have too much to do, I snuggle up to a little 90’s teen angst series on Netflix streaming and pretend all my to-dos are going to magically disappear. (They don’t.)

  32. #37
    Heather Peet

    I have something similar to a Franklin Covey, but not exactly that brand. Yup, still use it, still love it. I’m paperless everywhere in my life but my planner and my scrapbooks. πŸ™‚

  33. #39

    I make lists. I put copious calendar reminders in place. I stick neon pink Post-it(r) notes to the steering wheel of my car (since in the morning I don’t remember a darned thing.) I surf the Internet and comment on blogs (not really the most effective tactic, but highly diversionary.) I imagine the time when the dreaded “whatever” is done — i.e. by next Friday, this will be done and turned in — and perhaps think of a reward I can give myself.

  34. #41
    madeline St onge

    Cathy I don’t have work dead lines, I am supposed to be retired, but in the summer months I get overwhelmed a lot because there is so much to do around here, my husband is not well so I am it here, yard working, cooking, cleaning, all the errands. If it needs to be done, then I need to do it and when I start feeling sorry for myself I just tell, or make, myself get my but moving and conquer one thing at a time and ‘get ‘er done’
    I have faith that you will meet all your dead lines girl

  35. #42
    Jen Hart

    I agree with some of the above;
    I thank the cosmos that I have a job I vaguely enjoy and am vaguely satisfied with and provides for my family after a fashion.
    I make a list, with boxes to tick off.
    I clean up and physically put all the physical in a pile of the nice clean area. I work it all through until it is in order and then;
    Worst First. I started my career at sea as an Officer in the merchant navy here in England and my first boss the Purser taught me that, it has never seen me wrong. I know I am seriously in overload if I don’t follow it. In fact that prompts me to ring home and tell them i’ll be home when it’s done and not before.
    So yes, do the Worst First, uncomfortable call? most boring? get them out of the way, everything clears and you finish up doing stuff you enjoy, and if it’s not due and you can leave it, you know you are coming back to something good.

    Love the paddling shot, Good Luck!

  36. #43

    I’m afraid coping with stress usually involves lunch out with friends. Now, if you can be strict and make healthy choices it’s good stress relief. Otherwise it’s guilty pleasure. Either way — it’s very pleasant. Gotta enjoy these last weeks of summer before we all “get on the wheel” again.

  37. #44

    Well, there is a pan of chocolate chip bars in the oven. While they are baking, I have to try and come up with something productive to occupy myself so i don’t fall in the old habit of eating most of them because I am feeling stressed.

    Deep breath. You CAN do it (and think of how great you’ll feel when it’s accomplished–kind of like running when you don’t want to).

  38. #45

    My husband and i are both total procrastinators.

    He works full time, i work part time, we have two teenagers with all the teenage issues, eg anxiety and panic attacks, teenage daughter bucking the system as well as a 17 acre fruit property that we have to prune, pick and harvest quite a few months of the year.

    Now when we get snowed under with all the stuff that needs doing, we put it off and put it off, then at the last minute we race around like we have a swarm of bees at our butts, and you know what it all comes together in the end.

    We look at each other EVERY SINGLE time and say gee that didn’t take that long did it. Meanwhile the lists i have about the place just stress me to the max…im a list maker and it puts me under pressure when i see nothing getting crossed off, but even though things aren’t getting crossed off somehow we do manage to complete tasks not on that list that do contribute to to finishing of the overall project….not sure how but it does.

    Then i have my own personal goals lists dotted about the place:)

    I want to study nutrition and menu planning for weight loss and dietary issues because it appeals to my sense of organization and having things in list forms….but you guessed it, It may just put extra pressure where its not needed, so these helpful hints may just get me through:)

    And by the way, i though working part time would free me up for the block work and associated paper work and chores needed to get us organized there,,,,uuummm nope not happening LOL

    Sorry about the essay, i hope you enjoyed the break from work to read it:)

  39. #46

    Laura, me too, i even had a note on the dash of my car to remind me to stop at a store before i went home yesterday, as it was out of my way i would have probably forgotten to do it:)

  40. #47

    “swarm of bees at our butts”!!!! ROFLMAO!! ….ummm, I think I’ve seen that around my home too, but never really knew what to call it!!!….the mental image of this is just cracking me up!!

    I don’t have any sage advice to offer….lists, delegating what I can (and then struggling REALLY hard NOT to micromanage it!), deep breaths, music and prayer….sometimes when things are really overwhelming me and I feel the anxiety start to creep in, I try to get to church for an hour of Adoration or just quiet time in the Church….seems to get my head and feet back in line with the priorities! If I’d apply that more often I might just find that balance that is missing most days!

  41. #48
    Renee B.

    One. I try to thrive instead of survive. Easier said than done, but doing one thing well by CHOICE (instead of waiting until I have more time) makes me feel like I own some moment of my day.

    Two. I sit in quiet for five minutes at a time, often with the lights off.

    Three. I “un-plug.” Again, maybe for fifteen minutes.

    Four. I do something. Anything. When I am stressed, I sometimes get so anxious that I am frozen. So doing something…anything…often leads me to doing more in a more joyful way. Good luck!

  42. #49

    I am also a list maker. BUT, I reward myself when I have finished a certain “must do” off the list. Rewards range in enjoying a half hour episode of my favorite sitcom, making myself a cup of tea, having a bath, reading a novel for 15 minutes, walking the neighbourhood, calling my mom, reading through a magazine, Facebook time, etc.

  43. #50

    Hey Cathy… sorry we are the source of your stress but (selfishly) happy that we ‘cz class lovers’ will benefit soon! πŸ™‚

    You’ve already figured it out … you went for a run. Usually helps to cure all evils, for a little while anyway & you can feel very self-righteous for having done it. πŸ™‚

  44. #51

    Great question……how we cope with stress……depends on the ‘nature’. Work stress for me definitely comes from the deadlines, every single week. I worked out ages ago that I need to do things at the last minute because I KNOW they will get done and they will be perfectly fine and I feel less stressed as I won’t take ten times as long to ‘get it right’. Hope that makes sense but it has worked for me. Personal stress, on the other hand, has become something huge in my life over the past 18months and that is not as easy to to work through. My coping mechanisms – which don’t ALWAYS work – are by being kind to myself by spending time doing the things that I enjoy. And secondly, talking to people who will listen and support, from friends to my psychologist. Somehow I always feel much better after I have unburdened myself. Perhaps its because I am a little closer to understanding myself and the reasons why I am currently so stressed.

  45. #52

    A few suggestions – I seem to find that my role at work is ‘talking people down’ from stress situations. Not that I don’t get stressed myself, but as a manager that is what I have found myself falling into. Anyway – here’s some suggestions. Break it down. Try not to get bogged down by the mountain in front of you – decide on small steps and only focus on one thing at a time. Keep a notebook to jot things down as you think of them, but try to stay focussed on the task at hand. Notebook is also good for ‘unloading’ before going to sleep last thing. Try ‘Eating your Frog’ first thing in the morning. Tackle the task that you had been putting off. yes of course you can do it, you talented lady you! And the feel good you have after getting the tough task done will see you breeze through the other stuff. Generally my motto in life is ‘it could be worse’ – there’s always someone worse off than me, so stay positive and have a laugh if you can. This Too Shall Pass. May the force be with you!

  46. #53
    Ellen McKinley

    I like to do a list “backwards–” I make a list of everything I HAVE done! Even the piddly little things count. This helps with the feeling of “where has the day gone?” I also like to set the timer and race to see if I can get a job done before the timer goes off. Probably won’t be applicable to the creative stuff you do, but it can be a great way to get through the grunt stuff.

  47. #54
    Ellen McKinley

    I SO agree with you! I have discovered that, consistently, if I try to work very far ahead of a deadline, I end up pitching the whole thing and starting over at the last minute, producing a much improved product, but still finishing about 2 a.m. However, I do a lot of mental organizing and planning beforehand.

  48. #55
    Barbara Eads

    Have you ever heard of Dave Ramsey—the money guru? I’ve fashioned my “to do” list after his “list your debts from smallest to largest. Start with the smallest one first.” It really works. A quick success sparks enthusiasm. Before you know it, you will become “gazelle intent.”

  49. #56

    My work To Do List is also my Done List! I have a heading for each day of the work week, and a numbered list of everything to do. And then as the things get done, I cross them through. But even the things I did without putting them on the list are added, crossed through, afterwards. That way I know both what I have done AND what is left.

    But when things really get too much I find the things that help are: a run; the late Beethoven quartets; reminding myself to eat and sleep like I need looking after.

    Good luck with yours!

  50. #57

    I’m another list maker! So good to highlight the stuff that’s been marked off, and makes it feel like your making real progress! Also, I go crazy trying to remember stuff, and end up forgetting heaps otherwise, and remembering at the last moment which makes it even more stressful!

    And just think, at then end of each deadline, you can celebrate all the work you’ve put in and just relax and bask in the glory of having one less thing to do!

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