How Productivity Systems Can Absolutely Help When You Feel Stressed and Overwhelmed

Last Updated on April 9, 2022 by Stephanie

The last two weeks sucked. Have you ever had a couple of weeks in a row where you feel like you are being pulled in a million directions? You didn’t overschedule yourself… it kind of just happened that your husband’s birthday, school events, the CrossFit Open, and several other things all landed in the same two-week time frame. I was totally overwhelmed. By Thursday the second week in, I was leaving work early because I felt sick.

My body betrays me, haha. I don’t know if anyone else is like this, but I was totally fine. I was still getting things done. My distractability was way higher than normal and I wasn’t necessarily getting more done than what was absolutely necessary, but it was all getting done. No deadlines were missed, I still played games with my kid, and I crushed some workouts. I honestly didn’t think that I was stressed or overwhelmed at all. Then my body checks in and says, “You’re a LIAR!!!  You aren’t fine. Take a break! Oh… you don’t want to take a break… that’s cool.” That’s when a forced break of getting sick usually kicks in.

Today though, during my weekly review, I was able to reset myself. I was able to take the time to reflect and realize why my body shut down. It was all about my systems.

woman overwhelmed; how effective systems can combat stress; Put things in place to support you!

My Personal Go To Systems

I have several things in place that make my life easier. They don’t fail me. They always help me. When I do them, I am always more successful. These are those 4 things:

  • My Morning Routine
  • The Weekly Review
  • Zero Inbox
  • My ToDoist Project List

When life kind of fell apart this week, and I took a moment to reflect, I realized several things. My inbox for personal and school hadn’t been at zero most of the week. I didn’t have hundreds of emails, but I let 5 or 6 stay in each inbox for several days. I was also not checking my ToDoist the way I typically do throughout the day and during my morning routine.

Going back to my above statements. These things make my life easier, they never fail me, they always help me, and when I do them I am always more successful. Why then, did I abandon them?

Honestly, I have no idea.

Well, I do… it’s all about our brain and how we like to be rewarded. When my schedule wasn’t as planned, my brain wanted a quick fix. My brain told me to check off the easiest things and not the hardest. It told me to play on my phone or watch TV instead of writing down the three things I needed to get done the next day. Our brains crave quick fixes, and as a society that is only getting worse.

Keep reading to learn more about those never failed me four systems I have in place and stick around until the end when I explain why they are so important for you!

The Weekly Review

If you’ve been on my Instagram or on this blog at all, you will know that I’m obsessed with my weekly review. I could talk about it all day. This week, it absolutely saved me. During my weekly review, I look at my calendar, go through each item on my project list, set my goals for the week, clean out spaces on my computer, and I reflect on the week previous. It is a reset each week, and I am so thankful I discovered it. When you are overwhelmed with a lot to do, the weekly review helps you put things in perspective and take action.

Set a date with yourself at the same time every week. Don’t break that date. I’ve kept my date for over a year now and I don’t think I could ever go back. I do my review every Sunday morning before my daughter and husband wake up. It makes me feel fantastic knowing that I’m ready to jump into the week ahead. If you want to learn even more about it, check out my post here.

My Morning Routine

During the crazy weeks, this was also still in place… but it wasn’t done with integrity. My morning routine always consists of getting up around 5:00 AM. I do something physical like an ab routine or going for a short walk.  Then I open up my journal and reflect a bit on yesterday. I also check Todoist and figure out what my top three things to get done that day are. Then I write out my goals… every day. I end it with 3 pieces of gratitude as well. Typically I do some reading in there as well.

This past week I let myself buy into excuses. It was too cold to walk outside. I don’t really feel like reading. Since I didn’t pack my daughter’s lunch the night before I had to cut everything short anyways. The only thing that got done was going through the motions of writing out my goals and my gratitude.

Just small things… not major stuff, but because I let myself slide on a few things, my brain was totally fine with giving me permission to slip on others. Notice though, I still got up. I still woke up early every morning without fail to go through a routine of some sort. Learn more about my morning routine here or read about a few different habits you can try in your own morning routine here. I even have a whole free guide about how to set up an awesome morning routine! Check it out!

Morning Routine Printables

Inbox Zero

Practicing Inbox Zero has changed my life drastically. My inbox stays clear the majority of the time. I check my email twice a day for work and only a handful of times for my personal account. When I look at an email my immediate response is to either delete it, act on it (if acting will take me 2 minutes or less), or file it and add it to my project list for when I’ve got the time. That’s it.

Imagine if we let a physical inbox get the way our email inboxes get. Would you ever leave thousands of pieces of paper, coupons, or reading material just sitting on your desk? No. Our brain does not know the difference. Talk about feeling overwhelmed! You may think that you don’t really think about it, but that nagging red circle notification is totally taking up precious RAM in your brain. Do yourself a favor and clean that thing out! I have a whole process lined out for you in my series on practicing inbox zero. Check out the first post here.

This week, I was actually checking my email more… that was the problem. I again wanted the quick fix. That is what email is, a quick hit for you. You think you accomplished something when you’ve responded to an email. It makes you happy when you delete something. The problem with checking it all the time though is that if you do it when you’ve only got two minutes and you can’t do anything about the email you just saw, it sits in your head and nags at you. It is what David Allen (productivity guru) calls an open loop. Open loops cause more distraction. I had open loops all over the place guys!

ToDoist Is My Hero

I love ToDoist. It is my favorite to-do list app of all time. They are constantly updating it. Their customer service is awesome, and I now could never live without it. When I use it every day and I capture all my stuff in it, my life runs so smoothly. I don’t have to think about the small stuff, because it’s already in my ToDoist Projects.  Recurring items pop up on the day that I have to do them. Each day, my list shows me all that I want to get done.

The problem is… when I don’t actually look at it, it can’t help me with anything. I have my ToDoist separated into projects based on different areas of my life like Family, School, Creating Time For Life, House Projects, CrossFit, etc. Within those projects are the individual tasks that I need to get done in all those areas of my life. It’s all color-coded and wonderful. It is my master to-do list that I base my days off of.

This week, I would look at it once during the day in the morning, and that’s about it. I’m telling you… I was just surviving. I was getting things done as they came to me. There was no getting ahead. I’m typically done with what I need to get done at school on Tuesday or Wednesday. That leaves the rest of the week for getting ahead or the pop-up stuff that happens. It was all pop-up stuff this week. I felt like I was letting myself get so distracted by others and their needs that I was not using my time effectively at all. Read my post about using To-Do Lists effectively here!

You Said Your Systems Never Fail… Why Did All of Those Things Go Wrong Then?

Here’s the deal. The systems didn’t fail. I failed.

Yup. I said it… absolute failure. I was an excuse-making stress ball this week. These were all my choices. I chose to not put my walking shoes on because it was too cold. Picking up my phone and checking my email at every break… was my choice. Not looking at my project list… my choice again.

The system was there and ready for me to use it. Everything was in place. Even my habits! Notice how I said I still woke up early every morning. I still checked my ToDoist every morning as well. My email did not get out of control, but it didn’t get to zero every day. The problem was that when I did these things, I would feel overwhelmed and end up not doing what I normally do. Then, since I didn’t do them, they overwhelmed me, even more, the next time I opened things up. I have created great productivity systems for myself and thankfully one of them (my weekly review), brought me back to reality.

We are a society of self-sabotage. I just finished reading Angela Duckworth’s book Grit and she was talking about how we don’t see the failure in others. That’s part of the reason I wrote this post. I fail all the time. I dust myself off and get back at it though. How often do you see that on Facebook or Instagram? How often does someone show you a peek into their process for something? It really isn’t that often. They show you snippets.

What About Me?

This is why I’m here! I want to show you the bad days and help you realize that you can rise above those bad days. Stop comparing yourself to others because you have no idea what they are actually dealing with or doing behind the scenes. You may think your coworker effortlessly gets through their day. You envy your friend that reads a couple of books a week. Lies!! Well, not lies, but they worked to get to that point. You probably didn’t see that part. Being overwhelmed was definitely something they dealt with somewhere along the line. They have figured something out that helps them get their stuff done. They have built up systems that work for them. 

Creating time for your life means that you have to do the same.

What do I do next?

The next time you feel stressed and overwhelmed, take a long, hard look at what you always fall back on. Do you always resort to the Netflix binge-watch when you’re stressed? Why? How do you plan your day? If it is just based on whatever comes your way that day, that stinks.

What about your future? Do you think about it? Do you have goals in place? When was the last time you wrote a goal down for yourself? A goal-setting practice and review is a productivity system that everyone should have in place. Whether you are setting a yearly goal and reviewing it twice a year or looking at your goals every single day doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are consciously thinking about what you want and how you are going to get it.

I’ve got plenty of information here on the blog about goal setting and building systems. Check things out here on Creating Time For Life or research things on your own, but please take time to think about the things you have in place that are working well in your life. Think about the things that are helping you get done what you need to get done. Take time to think about the things that are NOT helping you get that stuff done. Check out my productivity planner printables in the shop as well! These are a bunch of different printables that can help you plan your days and your goals!

Productivity Printables

You can do extraordinary things. Everyone has unlimited potential. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Now… go do something extraordinary today.

What is going well for you? Let me know in the comments.

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