How to Stay Focused When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed.

How to Stay Focused When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed.
Carly Jacobs

Today we have the inspirational Kimberley from Dream. Delight. Inspire. with tips on how to stay focused when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Oh how I wish I were a super productive little dynamo Virgo like our dear Lady Smaggle here, but unfortunately I am a disorganised million-miles-an-hour Sagittarian mess. I usually have about a bajillion great ideas, a gaggle of to do lists, a stack-load of bookmarked websites and a bursting Google Reader account.

I constantly feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information coming from different directions and all the things I am meant to do with it. When I’m feeling like I can’t cope with the incoming whirlwind of debris, I crawl into my cocoon (read: bed) and watch insightful social documentaries (read: Gossip Girl) until I can function again.

Recently I discovered that I can’t read anymore. I skim. My brain gets bored reading full sentences! I was horrified, to say the least as I was the type of child who would lock herself in her bedroom all weekend with a book and only emerge for meals. I loved reading and now I feel this sense of shame, when I am skimming through an article.

So how can we regain some focus in a world that is barreling along like a train and throwing things at us left, right and centre? We slow down.

Just stop.

Switch all your devices off (no hyperventilating over this!) and go to a quiet spot. Close your eyes and focus on the sounds and how your body feels. There is no need to “meditate” as such (I’m hopeless at that anyway), but just breathe and focus on yourself and your surroundings. Forget everything you have to do that day, let go of any guilt/pain/aggravation from earlier and just sit there for 5 – 10 minutes. Do it, it feels awesome.

Get it all out.

Now that we have a clear mind, write down everything that you need to do, read, see, etc and make one huge list. Call it something motivating like Jenny’s List of Amazing or Dana’s Mountain of Do (I’m sure you’ll come up with much cooler ones, but you catch my drift, right?).
I know, I know, but this will take me forever you whine. Yeah it’ll take a while, but how good will you feel when all your tasks/commitments/desires are down in one place instead of on Post It notes, the backs of receipts, in odd note lists on your phone and voice recordings. One place = Level 1 Peace and Harmony my friends.


Now put everything into categories to give it some order. Colour code it if you like or draw pretty big clouds around everything, but get these into an order that is easier to manage and less overwhelming.


Yeah Kim, no brainer, you say. Everyone can prioritise but it’s what you do with that list of priorities that really matters. Which category do you really want to focus on and get some action on? What is the most logical first step to get that happening?
If you’re anything like me, you’ll tackle the easy things first and leave those that you dread, but that is probably not the most productive way of approaching it. Do what makes sense first, then the other tasks will follow suit.

Train yourself to focus.

Whenever you set out to do a task, set a timer for 20 minutes or so and solely concentrate on that one thing until you hear the beep. No distractions or interruptions or stalking ex boyfriends’ current girlfriends on Facebook (c’mon it’s unhealthy anyway).
When you’re reading something or listening to a podcast, give it your full attention. Skimming? Mind wandering off? Start again. Soon this will become so frustrating that you’ll automatically read every single word just to avoid going over the same sections over and over again.

Do you find it hard staying focused when you’re feeling overwhelmed? What are your tips to stay sane?


  1. Ben 10 years ago

    Great tips!

    I do pretty much exactly this.  I step back and try slow down and do nothing, just to let my subconscious sort things out.  Then I usually do a big brain dump of absolutely everything I can think of…then start categorising and sorting it out.

    After that I try and write a list of JUST things I can do TODAY.  If I can get through those…then I can start tackling the rest!

  2. Rach 10 years ago

    Awesome post Kim, as a fellow “Let’s-try-and-do-a-million-things-right-this-very-second” Saggo, you KNOW I can relate! I also find that the simplest thing – getting outside – is often the most effective. Something about going for a walk and getting some fresh air really clears my head when that frantic/ overwhelmed feeling kicks in. 

    I’ve just gotten into Evernote as well for keeping all my notes in one place and I’m loving it, feel at least 37 times more organised. xx

  3. That[Unreliable]Girl 10 years ago

    As a fellow disorganised million-miles-an-hour Sagittarian mess, yes, yes, and more yes. I’ll be bookmarking this and reading at least once a week. Probably more.


  4. Lara McPherson 10 years ago

    Awesome post Kim – just what I need to be reminded of right now. I feel like when I’m working properly I do these things instinctively but becoming overwhelmed with it all means that I can’t see clearly enough to follow each step.
    Something I’ve found to be a huge relief is taking a break from social media. Sometimes all the activity gets in the way of action and can prevent real engagement, whether that be with the book in your hand, the work in front of you or the person you’re having lunch with. Plus it sucks up a lot of what could otherwise be super productive time! Though I always have time to read your blog! x

  5. lulu 10 years ago

    I write a big list and then sort it out by the importantance of things and what needs to be done, day by day. Then I add on the little things that can be done at/around the same time as the BIG STUFF (which I write in capitals or red pen to remind me how important they are).
    I haven’t really tried the slowing down, “non meditating” trick before, but it sounds useful!

  6. MM 10 years ago

    This is helpful advice. I always try to categories as I am writing the list which distracts me and I inevitably forget something or try doing something on the list. Next time I’ll just get it all out.

  7. Simon Le Pine 10 years ago

    I’ve recently done a few things that help:
    1.) Turned off all alerts. My phone doesn’t beep when I get an email, a notification doesn’t pop up on my desktop. I’ll get to emails when I have time and 30 minutes to reply to an email isn’t life or death.
    2.) Started using Pomodoro (Pmodroid on an Android phone), which breaks work into 25 minute  chunks with 5 minute breaks. 
    3.) Created a hand written to-do list. At the top of the list it states that “only short, physical tasks belong on this list, major ideas/concepts belong in business/marketing plans”.

    Hope that helps,

  8. Stacey 10 years ago

    I’m an atypical Virgo – far from organized and very easily distracted – and have struggled for some time with the chaos that is my life. Recently, I’ve been having major issues finding focus and feeling so overwhelmed with everything… so your post couldn’t have come at a better time. Many thanks for this 🙂

  9. Victoria Lynn 9 years ago

    Oh, my, Kimberley! I felt as though I wrote this article! I’m Sagittarius, too,and horribly disorganized. My to do lists are all over the house. Right now, I lack inspiration, motivation, but I know I’d feel better if I’d just get a few of those things crossed off! Great article. I’m going to go off and try to focus now!

  10. Megan 8 years ago

    I am a Sagittarius, too, and I felt like your article read my mind. Like, seriously, it was uncanny!


  1. […] all your devices off (no hyperventilating over this!) and go to a quiet spot,” suggests blogger Kimberly Smith. “Close your eyes and focus on the sounds and how your body feels…just breathe and focus on […]

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