3 Tools to Overcome Feelings of Helplessness at Work

A few months ago, I was hired by a client to lead a webinar on time management.  There were 700 enrollees, which was by far the largest online audience I had ever garnered.


Participants were encouraged to submit questions, but understandably, I was only able to get to a handful of them.


I reviewed the unanswered questions after the webinar ended.  Here were the themes:

  • How can I get anything done with all the interruptions?
  • If I made a to-do list, it would be so large that I would be overwhelmed.
  • Making a to-do list is useless. By 9:00 am, my day is completely rear-ended.
  • I don’t know what time management tool to use.
  • Can I get a copy of the slides?


With the exception of the request for slides, the other questions have an air of exasperation and feelings of helplessness.


Sometimes we want to be more productive but feel powerless to effect change – in our own lives!  This makes me sad.


When I get sad, I write.


So, here goes…


Three Tools to Overcome Feelings of Helplessness


1.)  Decide to Decide


Productivity guru Barbara Hemphill says, “Clutter is delayed decisions.”  So, incredibly, true.


We can get in these never-ending cycles of postponing decisions until our offices, homes, computers, and brains are overrun with clutter.


Decide to be comfortable with your decision-making ability.


Decide that a quick, and potentially incorrect, decision now is better than spending hours agonizing over an issue.


Decide to decide.



2.)  Make a Stop, Start, Continue list


This is a simple tool to overcome inertia.  Make a list of things you want to stop doing.  Then, make a list of things you want to start doing.  Then, you guessed it, make a list of things you want to continue doing.


If you feel overwhelmed by the start list, add more items to the stop list.  If the continue list is too long, remove some stuff from the start list.  Find balance.



3.)  Change your Situation


Here is an excerpt from my eBook, Corral Your To-Dos…and don’t use your brain at all.


If you are in a job situation that you feel is not sustainable, then the first thing to do is to master the time management tactics described in the Crazy Productive series and other productivity books.  In that way, you will know that you are doing everything you can to manage the workload to the best of your ability.  However, if you feel that you are doing the things you need to be efficient and effective with your time but are still overwhelmed and overloaded with work, you may need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can I make a business case to hire additional people to help with the workload?
  • Can I delegate tasks more effectively and often?
  • Can I outsource some of the things I am doing to contractors or vendors?
  • Can I leave this job and find another that is a better fit for me?


Only you can decide when too much is in fact too much.  Getting organized and managing your to-do items well is an excellent step toward handling workloads that you may have previously thought undoable.  But from time to time, it may not be enough.  Be efficient, be focused, but also be realistic.


Okay, folks, I have attempted to address a complex issue in under 600 words.  I have no delusions of grandeur that all your problems are solved.


For those of you who are feeling helpless and out of control in your work or life, reach out for help.  To me, to a mentor, or to a friend.  Get support.


Decide now what your next steps are…

Corral To-Dos eBook

Are you ready to get serious about doing the right things AND doing things right?

Check out my eBook Corral Your To-Dos: and don’t rely on your brain – at all.


Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Neil Wilson

    Sound and succinct advice. Well done!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thank you, Neil. I’d love to hear the advice you’d add to the tools above!


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