When Things Pile Up

When Things Pile UpIt think happens to most of us. We make ambitious plans, we jump on a chance that came unexpected or we simply feel we should be doing more in our lives. Tasks pile upon tasks, obligations we took upon ourselves take our breathing space, and we suddenly stop, overwhelmed by it all, unable to find a way through the chaos we brought upon ourselves.

I consider myself to be cautious when it comes to my goals and deciding how much I can handle, and yet every once a while I still find myself in a state of a mild panic, trying to comprehend an ever-growing list of things to do. And the more I think about it all, the more I’m convinced it’s not humanly possible to do it all. I’m doomed, I’m simply doomed, and will just keep falling behind.


Such thinking doesn’t get things done. What’s even worse, it prevents things from being done. All the things. But what does then, when it feels like all the duties, obligations and even our own beloved projects overwhelm us?

I think staying focused and positive thinking makes things done.

Whenever I feel there’s too much on my plate and I just wish I could run away and hide somewhere, I stop trying to handle it all. Instead of looking at the big picture and making a list of everything I need to do, I pick one thing. Usually something small and simple. It can be replying to an overdue email. Or editing a page of a short story. Though I’ll tell you a secret: I often start with… laundry. Getting dirty clothes into a washing machine, adding washing liquid, and switching it on means I’ve just done something. It doesn’t matter it took me less than five minutes, because it still can be used as positive reinforcement. Then I use that feeling to do another thing. Dishes? Writing a blog post? Anything that needs to be done and is not a long-term plan like editing a whole novel.

Of course, it’s impossible to clear a backlog within a day, but bit by bit it gets smaller, and at some point (provided I don’t add anything new), it will again start looking reasonably. Some things will be pushed for “later”, and that’s fine. We’re just humans, we can only do so much. Some deadlines have to be met, no matter how many sleepless nights it takes, but other tasks can wait. The world won’t crumble if you do them later.

When Things Pile Up

I fail at things all the time. That skirt I’ve been sewing since January last year, and the other art projects: polymer clay and my drawings are still somewhere in the “not-done” land. But I chose my priorities, and they’ll have to wait until I find a moment when I don’t have anything else to do. Or I don’t feel like doing anything else. Until then I’m happy if I can stick to my 1000 words a day (even if it sometimes means the dishes will have to wait till the next day), and anything else I manage to do during the day means I’m already ahead. It might be nothing compared to all the things I’m supposed to do, but I don’t plan looking at that list until most things are already done.

So if you feel overwhelmed, take it easy, even just for a day. Put that laundry on. Clean up your desk. Write half a page of whatever. Then pick another small task or a reasonable slice of something bigger. And savor every little accomplishment as if you’ve just cleaned the Augean stables. This feeling helps me every time, and it might help you get through the worst backlog. Don’t beat yourself with your to-do list, instead toss it to the side and just get something—anything—done. Because it’s not thinking what we need to do, but thinking of what we’ve managed to do that keeps us going.

Do you have any way to tackle the overwhelming amount of tasks? Maybe you know how to plan to avoid the backlogs? Or maybe you’ve perfected the art of leaving the small things behind and focusing on what’s really important? Share in the comments, we all could use your experience.

Joanna Maciejewska

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games. Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English. Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. portiabridget

    A lovely post! An excellent post and so true! Thank you for letting me know I am not alone in the land of losers who are always behind with something, be it a story or a project!

    Yes, I had to learn how to prioritize and how to focus on small steps rather than on the big picture. It is not easy, especially when you are plagued with chronic depression and there are times when nothing, literally NOT ONE SINGLE THING makes sense. Not even eating or getting up. Still life goes on and either you jump back on that backwagon or you don’t and the choice is entirely yours.

    1. melfka

      You’re definitely not alone. And being “always behind” means that you’re probably living a busy and full life.
      I can also relate to the state when nothing makes sense. It’s good to see you’re fighting it. 🙂

  2. sjhigbee

    A wise, compassionate post. We are often kind to others – yet all too often we fail to simply be kind enough to ourselves…

  3. saraletourneau

    *nods her head* I always seem to have a lot to do as well (though most of it is self-inflicted *blushes*), so sometimes it feels like I’m walking a tightrope between feeling organized / on top of things and feeling overwhelmed / running behind. So I’ve learned to keep to-do lists… because if I don’t write something down, I’m bound to forget it!

    But yes, I agree with Sarah. This was a thoughtful, compassionate post, and a good reminder that it’s just as important to take care of ourselves as well as our priorities.

    1. melfka

      I used to make to-do lists, but they didn’t work for me that well. I started to focus on remembering the important things (the to-do list in your head can only be so long before you start forgetting it) and I don’t feel overwhelmed. And if I make a list, I’m inclined to add more to it than cross out and it doesn’t help my motivation. 🙂
      Once more the common saying that what works for one, won’t work for someone else turns out true. 🙂

      1. saraletourneau

        Exactly! Even writers have their unique ways of keeping track of their stories, word counts, the kinds of edits they want to do in each draft, etc. We all do what works for each of us. 😉

  4. claragbush29

    Great blog!! Needed this today. Thank you.

    1. melfka

      Thank you, Clara. I’m glad it helped.

  5. Jack Primus

    I agree with this, except, I write lists. Long overwhelming lists and everything I don’t get done is usually dumped onto the next day. I do agree that starting small and just getting something done is a great step to take. I know people that can’t do any big project until they clean their house. I’m not like that. I tend to rotate what I do and multi-task. Not at the same time, but more like write, read, chore, errand and then repeat, thanks for sharing your ideas.

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