How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

Has the thought ever crossed your mind that there’s always something to do? Have you ever felt overwhelmed or felt the stress of constantly having something on your to-do list? Well, my friend, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can stop the overwhelm through a priori planning. Not sure what that is? Let me show you the way. 

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Today’s thought is this, in order to stop feeling overwhelmed by our life’s responsibilities, we must show our life’s responsibilities who is the boss. We do this by owning our life and being intentional with our time.

Some common thoughts that people bring to this, and this is interesting, because coaching is all about your thinking. This is what I normally get when I ask people, “What’s the problem?” “What are you thinking?” And they’re like, “I don’t have enough time in the day to get everything done.” Has that gone through your head before that you don’t have enough time in the day? Probably. Or, “I’m constantly overwhelmed by my ever-growing to-do lists.” In other words, there’s always something that has to happen.

My Experience With Overwhelm 

I’m checking emails. I’m looking at text messages or replying, or maybe I’m scrolling social media. My kid is in the flesh in front of me asking me for my time and I’m on my phone. 

“Dad, why are you always on your phone?” That is a dagger to the heart. And really, this next one, “Dad, why are you always working on other stuff? I just want to play with you.”

My kid said that to me one day and that hurt. That really, really struck me to my core because it really made it obvious to me that I’m being run by my to-do list, rather than determining what is important to me in life and then building my schedule around that, which is the way that it should work. 

My feelings of overwhelm or lack of balance before I really started understanding these concepts, was that I felt like I was always working on multiple things and not doing any of them extremely well. 

This caused major anxiety because it was almost like cognitive dissonance where I was struggling with these two different identities to be a good doctor, to be a loyal and faithful employee, and to be a good dad and a good husband.

The Solution to the Problem

How many times has that happened in your life? By doing two things at once, you’re not doing either of them well. Most of us lack focus when we multitask and that produces superficial, inefficient, and often ineffective work.

So what’s the solution? We constantly feel like there’s something that has to be done. It has to be done right now. All this pressure we place on ourselves, what is the answer? 

Well, it turns out that you stop letting your tasks rule your life. Instead, you show your tasks and your calendar who the boss is. How do we do that? We do it through intentional planning. So here are the steps that you have to take to be intentional with your schedule to make an intentional schedule or to do a priori planning. 

Write Down Your Thoughts 

Use 15 minutes and write down everything that you can possibly think about. This is where you get rid of all your thoughts of the things you have to do for work, for home life, for your side gig or whatever tasks and responsibilities you have. 

You write down everything that you can think of that you have to do this week and you keep asking yourself, what else, what else do I have to do? What else do I have to do? You check your to-do list. You put it all down on paper, and then once you have everything on there, you move on to step number two.

Plan Out Your Schedule

When you get to the actual intentional scheduling piece, you’ve already written down everything you can think of. You’ve checked your list to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Now you’re starting your schedule. 

This whole process, by the way, takes 30 or 45 minutes, and it will ease and calm and solve so much of your stress in your life. Schedule the things that matter most in the big picture. Things like taking care of yourself. So make sure you get seven or eight hours of sleep; schedule it.

Plan Out Blocks of Focus Time

Plan out one to two hour blocks of focus time. And the purpose of this is to make time for maker tasks. So I guess at this point, I should probably explain to you what a maker and a manager task are.

A maker task is a task that requires you to have deep work and focus. In other words, you do not want any distractions. You want that to be blocked off, and you want everything put away. You are doing one specific task as deeply as you can. Your maker tasks that need to be protected and require you to do deep work; they’re going to be tasks that typically take one to two hours, your phone’s upstairs, it’s on silent.

Plan Out Your Checklist

The next part I do is I plan out my time for my manager tasks. Manager tasks are things that need to be done, but they’re more like checklist items. So checking your email, fixing the garbage disposal, making sure that you run to the store to pick up X, Y, or Z.

So sometimes there are other odds and ends that are on the schedule and I will leave them for those gaps, the little 30 or 45 minute gaps in between a maker task and my next call with a client. I literally will just say, “Oh, it’s going on my to-do list.” I open my phone, I put it on the to-do list. I put my phone back down and I’m going to take care of that next Sunday.

At the end of this whole process, which may sound daunting and involved, but it only takes 30 to 45 minutes honestly. And that 30 to 45 minutes takes care of so much stress.

Why This Process Works

So let me explain to you why this works. We’re changing those initial thoughts that we had at the beginning of the show, “I don’t have enough time.” “I’m constantly overwhelmed.” “My to-do list is never ending.” We replace those thoughts because we have the schedule that has everything on it. Instead we can think, “I am exactly where I need to be right now.”

Those tasks that used to take you three, four, and five, that make you feel like you don’t have enough time, look at your schedule, your next thing starts at three o’clock. It’s one o’clock right now. You have two hours to get this thing done. Turn your phone off, put your headphones on if you’re like me, listen to some music and crank out the work. It eliminates multitasking and that allows for deep work. 

You can know I’m exactly where I need to be right now, and anything else can wait. And that my friend is a powerful thought that produces feelings of comfort and certainty and confidence.

That’s the thought for today. If you’ll take 30 to 45 minutes per week at the beginning to schedule out your time, you will be amazed how little you ever feel overwhelmed.

Final Thoughts

I also want to remind you not to forget about the waitlist for the Alpha Coaching Experience. Our waitlist is currently open for Spring Enrollment. Those who enroll from the waitlist will get priority registration and an exclusive offer to join Alpha.

Find more information about the Alpha Group and signing up for that waitlist by going to the physicianphilosopher.com/alpha-waitlist.

Until next time my friends, start before you’re ready, start by starting, start now.

1 Comment

  1. PrudentPlasticSurgeon

    Really enjoyed this!

    I started doing this awhile ago in residency and found that it helped a ton! By planning out when tasks will get done ahead of time, it allowed me to stop worrying about getting them done. I knew I would take care of them because I planned it out and put it on my schedule. I still struggle w overwhelm a bit as sometimes I’m trying to get these things done “ahead of time” so it’s still a work in progress. Definitely going to implement some of the tips you use and I haven’t tried yet!

    The Prudent Plastic Surgeon


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