How to be productive when you’re overwhelmed (and freaking out)

How to be productive when you’re overwhelmed (and freaking out)

Putting two-day-old underwear on, inside out. Leaving the house with feta in your eyebrows and lipstick on your teeth. Spending your days with twelve too many empty coffee cups on your desk. Eating melted gelato and your kid’s teething stick you found on the floor for lunch at a quarter past four. Spending the entire week squeezing mayonnaise onto your toothbrush and trying to start your car with your leftover toast.

And then finally the day comes when you ask the window washer at the traffic lights for a double shot, almond milk latte laced with amphetamines and a sugar-free sweetener. You’re cooked. Your brain feels like a car tyre that’s been in the oven for 7 days on high. You spend your days staring blankly at your to-do list in a state of perplexed paralysation, wondering if anyone would notice if you disappeared to your car parked in a peaceful side street for an 8 hour lay down and casual roof stare.

You’ve even considered contacting your local member for parliament to discuss the penalties for faking your own death. It happens. The world spins faster and our brain spins slower. Our productivity hits world record lows whilst our energy hits the proverbial wall that seems to sap away a decade’s worth of your energy stores. Suddenly you feel like a decaf version of Tinkerbell in her eighties with dusty wings, a slipped disc and penchant for gin.

It’s not that you’re not trying. Heck, we live in an age where we are not just awarded for our productivity, but identified by it. You’re eager to face the music, knuckle down and get shit done with as much glitter and gusto as Beyoncé (and let’s face it, in the age of Google Calendar, isn’t that all of us?).

But the simple fact is, your productivity has evaporated in the furnace of fire and you’re freaking the F out.

You’ve read all the advice about how to be more productive. Stay focused, be motivated, get your exercise, meditate twice a day and moisturise your elbows. You’ve been schooled by everyone and his know-it-all uncle who tells you that all it takes is a green juice and a motivational ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ quote. But you need more than that, you need a triple shot macchiato and line of high-grade cocaine.

And the truth is, I’ve received a lot of productivity advice too. If it weren’t for Tony Robbins and the likes of Oprah and her go-get-’em friends, my life would consist of eating untoasted vegemite bagels and checking Instagram to see if someone that I don’t even know has uploaded a new photo of yet another colourful acai bowl that I don’t even care about.

So, in the face of despair and on a quest for motivation that doesn’t come in the way of a curly script font or ‘Yes Man’ conference, I share with you a pocket full of game-changers that I keep up my sleeve when I find myself ordering a drive-through coffee from a homeless man. What I’m about to share is neither rocket science nor business genius. It’s not about how many different colours you can cram onto your Google calendar, or how to titillate your heaving inbox down to zero. It’s a few, very simple practices of changing your mindset to view your productivity through a different lens and muster the courage to keep going, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing.

    Do the world’s most successful people get overwhelmed? Yes, absolutely. But they are still productive even when they are in the middle of a Britney Spears style freak out. But it’s not because they don’t feel the chaos of crazy flooding through their veins, it’s because their passion for what they do is stronger than the discomfort of a 6 tonne to do list. Step away from your computer, hop into the comfort of your warm car (and recline your seat if you must), and put pen to paper for a quick and dirty goal setting sesh. Write down some intentions for the bigger picture of your life; who you are, what you stand for and what you were put on this earth to do. Get back to the core of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Slow down and soak up the feeling of what it feels like to connect back to your purpose. If you continue running at a million miles an hour there’s a good chance you might land yourself further from your purpose than closer to it.
    If you’re a classic type-A personality, like me, you’ve got a nasty habit of adding things to your task list for no good reason. You have a constant stream of to-do’s running through your brain at lightning speed and you’re trying to be a success story with no real strategy or game plan. But we all know that a cyclone doesn’t build new houses, it tears them down.Begin by doing a brain dump and list every single thing that you feel like you should be doing. Then immediately cross off anything that you sincerely do not need to do, I’m sure there’s a few. Next, get prioritising, from might-spontaneously-combust-into-flames-if-it-doesn’t-get-addressed-right-this-second, all the way down to might-get-done-11pm-before-my-funeral-day. The trick is to be very discerning about your to do list and limit yourself to only 3 core items per day. Writing yourself a list of 200 impossible tasks to action everyday is only setting yourself up for failure and feeling the need to drown yourself in cheap champagne and day old donuts.
    Idleness is not an extravagant vacation or bad habit left over from your days of smoking gunja and wagging class at Uni. Idleness is as indispensable to the brain as calcium is to your bones, and deprived of it, we find ourselves wading through murky waters of indecision, fatigue and a severe lack of lust for life. I believe the worst epidemic that our modern world faces is the disease of being constantly busy for the sake of busy – doing for the sake of doing. We are all fiercely addicted to filling our schedules to distract ourselves from rest and reflection. Schedule in an hour to each of your days to do nothing. Yes, you will struggle, like a junkie looking for a fix; your fingers will itch to get back to the keyboard and your brain will crave some form of stimulation. But get comfortable with the discomfort, as counterintuitive as it seems, your energy levels and productivity will thank you for it.
    A public service announcement for you all; you are not a clown, so stop juggling. Unless, of course, you are a clown, then hi, welcome to my blog – keep your red nose firmly on and do not let those balls fall. But for the rest of us mere mortals, stop multi-tasking and give each thing the uninterrupted attention it deserves. If this means learning how to meditate, then by all means, cross those goddamn legs and introduce your pointer finger to your thumb.I firmly believe that multitasking is and will be the death of us all. If you’re reaching the end of your day feeling like you’ve run a marathon, done 20 hours of hot yoga with a hangover and sailed the seven seas on a banana leaf raft all between the hours of 9 and 5pm (okay, sometimes 11pm), then there’s a good chance you’ve spent your day jumping between tasks.Multi-tasking gives you wrinkles. I don’t know that for sure, but I do know that it reduces your productivity, increases your stress levels and makes you feel about ten years older at the end of the day. I believe that it is better to do a few things extraordinarily well rather than doing fifty things poorly. Overcommitting and spreading yourself too thin is the key recipe for disaster and exhaustion. And if there’s one lesson I’ve learned the hard way, it’s that trying to please everyone doesn’t please anyone.
    It’s okay to say no. I bet even Mother Teresa once said no. Here’s the thing, when you start a business, you start your own little mini utopia, where you create the rules. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and freaking out, check in with yourself; are you actually doing the work that you want to do? We all, (including my workaholic self), need to take a good, hard look at ourselves and ask, ‘Am I working because I want to? Am I working because I’m being productive? Or am I just working on these tasks because they just so happened to land on my desk?’This relates to your calendar and personal commitments as well. Look at your social obligations and personal commitments for the month ahead. Which of those do you actually want to attend? Which of those are going to propel you forward and give you joy? Great. Scrap off everything else with as much sorry-not-sorry as you can muster. I don’t care if you’ve gotta fake tuberculous, if you don’t want to / don’t have the time to go to your aunt’s cousin’s next-door-neighbour’s dog’s bar mitzvah, then by all means go ahead and do it.
    My business coach used to tell me that ‘done is better than perfect’. At the time I was like, ‘Nothing is better than perfect, duh, that’s why it’s called perfect’. And when I felt overwhelmed, I would bury myself deep in a task finessing the tiny details and repeatedly making changes to my work that not even my Mum would notice, was my kryptonite. But now I realise that being productive doesn’t mean being a perfectionist. It means doing the best you can, with what you’ve got. Don’t get bogged down in making sure everything is 100%, exactly one pixel to the left and one Pantone shade darker than the way it should be. Productive people know that done is better than perfect.
  7. OWN IT 
    Now that you’ve taken back control, honed in on why you’re doing what you’re doing and slowly backed away from everything else, you need to own it. The sooner you realise that you’re in control, that you’ve made the choice and that this is your life, the sooner you can own up and conquer your to-do list like Bey hitting the stage. Because the simple fact is, unless you’re under eight years old, if you don’t take ownership for yourself, no one else is going to show up and do it for you.


  1. Hannah says:

    Hey Tess! Thanks for the words – love your style and insight. This has come at a really good time for me, such a good read, and I’ve taken notes to remind myself of these things! Hope all is great with you xx

  2. Bel says:

    Thanks Tess, perfect timing!

  3. Skye says:

    Omg, I effen love this Tess! Laughed so much.. genius!

  4. clarisse says:

    really needed this. Thank you!

  5. Emilia says:

    Thanks Tess! Just the pep talk I needed to get through Monday (and the rest of my month!) xx

  6. Ana says:

    You’re amazing! Thank you for this, badly needed!

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