How to Dig Yourself Out of a Deep, Deep Hole.

I’m going to get serious here for a sec. Have you ever gotten so far behind that you’re literally rendered immobile by the sheer size of your overloaded to-do list? That’s me lately. I’m telling you, you could hand me three free hours with which to be productive, and I’d still accomplish nothing more than reading every single nasty comment below a gossip article about a celebrity I couldn’t care less about, the whole time lambasting myself up and down for not doing anything productive but not being able to do anything about it. This particular song has been on repeat for me for a long time, now, and I know for sure I’m not the only one experiencing acute mental paralysis because of it.

So, what the heck?! We’re bright and ambitious people with go-getter attitudes and mildly- to moderately-awesome organizational skills. How does this happen to us?


Image Credit: Allie Brosh. A brilliant person who is very familiar with this whole topic.

For me, it’s been a combo of stressors and time sucks. Here are three of them:

  • Our family was finally preapproved for a mortgage after a loooong uphill battle to improve our credit. I now spend way too much time on home listing sites. Like, really, how many of those home listings on Zillow are going to change between 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM?
  • I got all volunteery and stuff, recently. I took on a board position this year with my local MMRWA chapter and volunteered to be the social media gal for an awesome small-town museum with no web presence.
  • I’ve been dealing with anxiety issues. Freaking out a lot about everything from never finding a house to what if there’s a zombie apocalypse and a meteor collision on the same day to whether I have ovarian cancer because I’m often nauseated and my lower back hurts. (FYI, I don’t. Diagnosis: prolonged stress and slouching in my office chair.)
I'm very confidante in my abilities. Image Credit

I’m very confidante in my abilities. Image Credit

I’m obviously not the end-all be-all expert in stress coping or catchup skills, since I’ve been dealing with persistent immobilization for months, but I’ve been gathering an arsenal of tactics to dig myself out. And they’ve actually been working. Hopefully, if you’re struggling with some of the same issues, you’ll find something here that might help you, too:

  • Make a master to-do list. Take a half-hour (or three hours) and write down everything you have to do. I mean everything. From dishes and laundry to everyday tasks at work like checking your voicemail returning emails, to weekly commitments like Boy Scout meetings, birthday parties, volunteer work and writing that 120K page novel. Looks terrifying, right? It’s okay. Take a deep breath and go on to the next bullet point.
  • Weed out your master list. Take a good look at what all you have to do. All of us, but women especially, tend to overestimate our capabilities and available time. If you’ve got kids that are old enough to handle it, make them do the dishes and mop the floor. Sure it might not be to your exacting standards, but does it really have to be? If so, ask yourself why. (Hint: it might be perfectionism. Ask me how I know.) Also, volunteering is awesome and necessary, but do you do too much of it? Scale back a little, if necessary. Look at each item on that to-do list and determine if it can be delegated, minimized or deleted all together.
  • Eat that whale one bite at a time. It’s the only way to eat a whole whale, after all. Just ask Melinda Mae. In this case, the whale is your to-do list and boy, is it a whopper. You’re about to make it just a bit longer, but it’s okay. Take the bigger items on your list and break each one into bite-sized pieces. 120K-word book, for example? Decide realistically when you want to be done with it. Divide how many days that is from now by how many words you have left to write. That number goes on your to-do list as a daily task.
  • Employ the 15 minute rule. Now you actually have to do all the things. Say that cleaning your fridge is on your list of tasks and, being the same brand of procrastinator I am, you just have to get it done before you sit down to write your daily word goal of 1,117 words. Whether it’s because you think it’ll take too long or you don’t have enough time to tackle it, you’ve been putting it off. Set a timer for 15 minutes (or 10 or 5) and work ’till it dings. Don’t yank everything out – just focus on one shelf. If you still have minutes on the timer after that, focus on the butter bin. And then the produce drawer. You’ll be surprised at what you can do when you don’t overwhelm yourself. Same goes for that book: set a timer. Do 25 words. Still have minutes, write 50 more…

And here’s the toughest bullet point for me to add:

  • Medication? What about when you write that mile-long to-do list and are just crippled by the overwhelmed feeling that sweeps over you at the sight of it? And you feel the same way day after day after day. You take a teeny bite off of those thousands of words left on your manuscript but, after, you tell yourself that those 25 words sucked and you shouldn’t bother to finish that story anyway. You don’t do your dishes because the zombie apocalypse might happen tomorrow and then who cares about clean forks when you’re using them as a self-defense weapon. Some worry and negativity and procrastination and stress in your life is normal. Some is not. Talk to your doctor if there’s even a chance it’s not. It’s early days for me, yet, but I’m on an anti-anxiety med after years of telling myself I’m a happy person who doesn’t need “drugs” and the difference I feel so far is startling.

So, heavy post here, I know. But, for a lot of us, life is heavy. It’s also wonderful and stressful and demanding and and rewarding and way too much fun to spend in the Pit of Despair, procrastinating and beating ourselves up over things we haven’t done instead of looking for the nearest escalator going up, so we can get the hell out of this hole we’ve found ourselves in.

Trust me. You don't want to be here. Image Credit

Trust me. You don’t want to be here. Image Credit

And, hey: none of those tactics up there are my very own, original ideas. They’re just an amalgamation of helpful info that I’ve learned and they’re what is currently working for me. I’m just sharing in hopes that they’ll help someone else, too.

Wanna get serious with me? The comment section is all yours. 🙂


18 thoughts on “How to Dig Yourself Out of a Deep, Deep Hole.

  1. This is great. It’s so important for others to feel like they’re not alone in feeling this way. I can relate to everything you’ve said. Thanks for writing and posting this.


  2. Kristen, sorry you’re feeling this way. When we’re young, we think we can do everything ourselves and be perfect. But it’s not true. Give yourself a break and do the best you can. Life is too short to worry about every little thing. Choose the important stuff – kids because they don’t stop growing older and some day they won’t need you. Your relationships because we change as we get older. And mostly yourself because if you’re not healthy, mentally and physically, none of the other things will matter.


  3. I take medication for my anxiety and depression. I have to or else I can’t get anything done. My mind doesn’t shut off. Mine is more OCDish and if I think something, I have to get up and check on it. Trust me, sleep isn’t your friend when you think that you heard a sound which is really probably the cat and not someone breaking in.

    If you ever need to chat, you know where I can be found. 🙂 And thanks for sharing and giving all of us a reminder to not let things overwhelm us.


    • I can relate to the hearing a sound thing! I live in an old house, so there are lots of random creaks and pops. So then I don’t just worry about someone breaking in, I worry about the place falling down around our ears when it’s stood just fine for the last eight decades… it sounds funny in the daylight, but when you’re trying to sleep? Not so much. Thanks so much for your share, too. ❤


  4. Kristen, this blog is a perfect combination of hilarious and serious. Sharing the zombie moments with our write-in partners (LOL). The master to do list helped me immensely, allowing me to put a lot of tasks into perspective, especially when sitting next to my life goal’s list. Nice writing!!! Can’t wait until you’re back in the group–we miss you!


    • Thank you so much. One of my arguments with myself was that depression couldn’t be an issue because I can laugh at things. But apparently depression and a sense of humor aren’t mutually exclusive? Things have been a little weird and busy lately, but I hope to see you guys REALLY soon. I love those write-ins and you ladies are the best!


  5. Hugs, Kristen. I’m so glad you hit the publish button. So many of us feel the same way. When I’m overwhelmed by my HUGE to-do list, I bury myself in my computer. I’ll waste so much time reading FB, Twitter, Pinterest. You name it. The timer is a great idea. I need to do that. Thanks for the post.


    • Diane, I’ve thought about using those apps that shut your internet off for a set amount of time when you tell it to. It’s just so easy to put things off and waste time under the guise of “networking” and “social media,” when you’re not really accomplishing anything except finding out which Disney character you’re most like or what decade you should have been born in. Darn addictive FB surveys… 😉 Thanks for reading and commenting.


  6. I so hear you, Kristen. I’m years older but I often daily struggle with similar issues. The advice to break it all down into manageable bites is a good way to go, and some days I’m really happy if I can complete one project on my mental to-do list (which I probably should be writing down). Writing all too often falls by the wayside, and then I beat myself up because I haven’t chained myself to the desk all day, and since I’m mostly retired now I don’t have working at an outside job as an excuse anymore. But I’ve been trying to remember to congratulate myself for the projects I do finish. Sometimes we just need to take care of our families and most importantly take care of ourselves, and then everything else falls into place, eventually. Thanks for the suggestions, all good ones, take care and try not to worry so much. (Says the mom whose grown-up kids live miles and miles away but who I still worry about every single day and night. I’ve decided worry is what I do best!)



    • Lucy, thank you. It stinks to know that so many other people struggle with the same kind of things, but it is comforting, too, to know we’re not alone. And moms? We perfect worry into a fine art form. I even try to not watch the news anymore, because everything bad that happens? AGH. It’s magnified and personalized when I’m in my worst worry funks. Know that I admire you and your writing, and looking at you from over here, you’re doing a damned amazing job and should be proud of yourself.


  7. There’s wisdom here! The overwhelmed sensation – I know it well. I do it to myself. And then slowly, slowly pluck away at it. That, and I’m getting so much better at NOT being sentimental over this and that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry to know I’m not the only one dealing with the whole being overwhelmed thing, but it’s comforting to hear that I’m not the only getting by one step at a time! Thanks for reading. ❤


  8. Pingback: Babysteps | Kristen Brockmeyer, Romance Writer

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