What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed and Exhausted

It’s probably a safe bet that most of you reading this site have far too much to do. I’m also willing to bet that you’re stretching yourself a bit thin in an attempt to get it all done. You’re probably close to being exhausted if you’re not already there and worse yet, you likely have a wrecking ball heading your way that will only make things harder.

As those who have been reading the site for the past week or so know, I’ve been working our busiest trade show of the year out in Las Vegas. Trade shows are all-consuming beasts that demand all of your energy and tear your schedule to shreds. Little else can get done so tasks and personal interests pile up.

After eight days of travel, setting and breaking down two booths, talking more than is deemed humanly possible (even for someone who doesn’t ever shut up, like myself), I have a mountain to deal with. On the work front there are emails that need attention, phone calls that require returning (regardless of the fact that I have little to no voice left) and follow up that needs, well… following up on. On the home front there is a wife who hasn’t had a break in days, a four-year-old who missed her daddy and a 10-month-old who keeps eyeing me suspiciously. On the personal front, there are articles I want to read, things I want to write and podcasts that I want to listen to. And on top of it all, I’m exhausted. Not tired. Exhausted. The kind of bone tired where I can barely move, nonetheless do anything well.

With all of that in mind, here’s the plan of attack for when we’re overwhelmed and exhausted:

Stop and Sleep

I know, I know… There is so much to do and sleep isn’t going to get it done. You can keep pushing and try to knock a few things off your list, but few if any will be done well. If you’re doing a lot, you’re probably sleep deprived; you probably have been for some time. While you can manage on a sleep-deprived schedule for some time, it’s going to come and bite you in the ass when you’re truly exhausted. Start by giving yourself the one thing you really need: some rest. Do what you really have to do (in my case, help my wife who has been alone with our two kids for eight days get said kids to sleep), ignore the rest for one more day and go to sleep.

Organize and Eliminate

When you finally come to, you’ll probably want to dive in. To start knocking things off the list and climb whatever mountain has piled up on your desk. Don’t. Take a step back and use your tool of preference, be it paper or something more powerful like OmniFocus and lay it all out in front of you. Once you see it all, the personal and the professional, you’ll often see that you can eliminate or delegate about a third of it. Be brutal, both about what you want to do and what you need to do and get rid of whatever you can. Making the mountain smaller is a far better way to climb it.

Plan and Attack

Organize the hell out of the coming days. Be realistic about what can get done and then be aggressive about doing it. You’ve given yourself the rest you need, you’ve removed what you could, now all that’s left is to come up with the smartest plan of attack and to dive in. Schedule your time, be honest with both yourself and others as to how long things will take, then put your head down and do the work.

Go back to bed

Catching up or getting back on course after a wrecking ball comes your way can be just as exhausting as the original disruption. You’ll want to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible, but that’s unlikely to happen unless you make time for another big rest. You’ll have to expend a lot of energy tackling your desk, reconnecting with your family and catching up on your interests, but you’ll fall behind on all of them just as quickly if you don’t give yourself one last chance to catch up on some sleep.

It’s going to take a while for things to get back to normal, but give yourself the rest, planning and reality needed to catch up and you’ll be back in your old routine before you know it. Speaking of, it’s time for me to start getting back into my own…

While I do, why don’t you tell me how you combat exhaustion and being overwhelmed?

11 Responses to What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed and Exhausted

  1. Good advice Michael. Definitely sleep and rest is the first thing you need to do. After all without that you won’t get far any way. Hope this post didn’t contribute to your sleep deprivation :-)

  2. I used to travel a ton and do a few big trade shows a year. Luckily at the time I lived alone. No fiance or kids. Girlfriends but not the same. I would always find a day to shut down and spend it by myself. Often this would be a day added to my travel by staying an extra day somewhere and sleeping in.

  3. Timely! I came home last night, fell asleep at 5, and slept through the night. Not before ragging out my spouse for leaving dirty dishes on the counter though and doing way more damage than the dishes were worth.

      • ¬†Ummm…he’s good but apparently I waited too long to share my feelings, so they came out…ummm…in a negative way. It’s funny but I’d been thinking for days that I wanted to have a massage but didn’t make the time to call. have to identify the signs that I’m about to crash, so I can adjust/course correct before I get too tired/too TOO. You know?

  4. Your suggestion is pretty good but have you ever considered hiding under the desk and weeping while crying out, “I can’t do it I can’t do it I can’t do it”?

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