The Easy Way to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

Stop Feeling Overwhelmed-1

This is a guest post by Robert D. Smith. He is the author of 20,000 Days and Counting, a crash course in living every moment with maximum intensity and purpose. For over 30 years, he has overseen the career of New York Times best-selling author and speaker Andy Andrews. He also writes about entrepreneurship, personal growth, and more at

Are you working on something BIG right now? If you are, my guess is that your to-do list is a mess, some part of you is afraid the project will fall apart, and your stress level is through the roof. You are simply overwhelmed.

As a human being, you have an amazing ability to do this to yourself over and over, all because you consistently overlook basic principles of time management that are easy to forget when you’re in the heat of a major project with intense deadlines.

The reality is this—if you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, you are simply being foolish. Being overwhelmed is proof that your perspective has been knocked totally out of whack.


Because overwhelm is nothing more than a product of becoming too focused on the big picture…when all you really need to worry about is what you must accomplish in the next 15 minutes.

How to Master “Small Bite” 15-Minute Tasks

You can reverse the creation of any project, no matter how huge it might seem, into small components that can each be done in 3-to-15-minute chunks of time. And if you think three minutes can’t be a long time, try jump roping for three minutes. I bet you can’t do it. I’m serious. You cannot do it. Time it. Three minutes is longer than you think.

After working in the publishing industry as both a manager and an author for over 30 years, the example I always come back to is writing a book.

When you reverse the creation of a book, you see that each one is made up of chapters. Every chapter is made up of paragraphs. Every paragraph is made up of sentences. Every sentence is made up of words. Every word is made up of letters.

With that in mind, think about the big project YOU want to start (or are currently working on), and do the following:

1. List the 10 main components that make up your project. Pick one and hone in on the one aspect of that component on which you can spend the next 15 minutes. Self-publishing an eBook might look like this:

  • Create a list of titles.
  • Write the “back cover” copy.
  • Write the content.
  • Hire someone to edit the content.
  • Find a graphic artist to design the cover and lay out the pages.
  • Convert into .epub and .mobi formats.
  • Upload to Kindle, Nook, and iBooks stores.
  • Write sales copy.
  • Hire someone to create a landing page.
  • Promote, promote, promote.

Some of those tasks could be totally scratched off your list with 15 minutes of intense work. If you spend 15 minutes creating a list of titles, you will at the very least create a wave of momentum that will keep the ideas coming for the next 24-48 hours.

2. Ride the motivation. The funny thing about motivation is that it only truly comes after you start working and creating movement. Despite the millions of “motivational” books, programs, and speakers out there, the truth is that none of that stuff provides real, looong lasting motivation.

Think about it—when do you feel motivated? Before you sit down and make yourself start working on something…or after you’ve pushed through those initial feelings of discomfort and the really good ideas start to flow?

Once you hit that wave of motivation, keep riding it. Every 15 minutes, move on to the next 15-minute task.

3. Realize that you’re halfway there. One time in high school I was totally stuck on writing a term paper. I had all these ideas, but wasn’t sure of the direction I wanted to take. When I asked my teacher for help, he offered a piece of advice that has stayed with me ever since.

“Robert,” he said, “just start. Starting is half finished.”

Start. Right now. No matter how unsure of yourself you may be. Take that leap forward, list your 10 tasks, and pick the one thing you’re going to give 100% of your focus to for the next 15 minutes. If you stay focused on the 15-minute moment in front of you, you can forget about feeling overwhelmed.

So often we completely overestimate what we are capable of doing in the next year…while drastically underestimating what we can do in the next 15 minutes. This moment is all you have. Don’t underestimate its power.

What will you do with the next 15 minutes? Yes, I literally mean the NEXT 15 minutes.

16 thoughts on “The Easy Way to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

  1. Great article!

    In the next 15 minutes I will start the car, pack some snacks, feed the stray cat in the backyard, leave for work, stop at gas station, pump gas, continue on to work.

    1. Thank-YOU for reading, Heidi! Sounds like an active next 15 minutes. Repeat this process throughout the day and you’ll be amazed at all you’re getting done by the time it’s over!

  2. This is a great point. Several weeks ago I posted on my blog “Why the Big Picture is Overrated” – The Big Picture is so big it becomes overwhelming. We are more effective when we are able to post small. – For my next 15 minutes – (Actually an hour) I am off to lunch and I will read something not work related

    1. Agreed, Abilene! None of us work well when we are truly overwhelmed. It leads to a lack of certainty, missed deadlines, and eventually unhappiness. Thank-YOU for reading!

  3. I agree that bite-sized pieces are the easiest way to avoid overwhelm and to get focused on each task. Your advice is great! My next fifteen minutes will be working on my weekly email newsletter and I think motivation might be a good topic 🙂

  4. I love this, thank you! I’m nearly always feeling overwhelmed, but I was surprised that at the end of reading your post I actually managed to accomplish something pretty big in less than 15 minutes!

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