Calming Down: How to Overcome Overwhelm

Often, my coaching clients come to me feeling overwhelmed at work. They have too much to do and not enough time to do it in. In this video, I outline three steps to start to feel in control of your work and your life.


Don’t want to watch the video?  There is a transcript below.




Hi, this is Dr. Melissa Gratias. In this video, I will be talking about calming down. Specifically, how to overcome feelings of overwhelm.


Here are some basics:


Step Number One – Acknowledge Reality


When I’m first working with a client in a coaching situation, they often come to me because they are feeling overwhelmed. So, we make a list of everything they have to do because typically their lists are incomplete, old, or outdated. If they already have a list, it’s typically an amorphous blob of tasks that are causing stress and sleepless nights.


Acknowledge reality. Get it all down on paper. Sometimes, it’s as bad as you think it is. Sometimes the number of things you have to do is overwhelming. Sometimes, however, it’s not as bad as you think, and it may seem more doable once we get it down into a productivity system. Make a list of everything that you need to do between now and the conceivable end of time. That at least that you can conceptualize right now.


Step Two – Make Decisions


Make decisions on those things on your list. I like the McGhee’s four Ds for decision making model:

  1. Do it yourself
  2. Delegate it to someone else
  3. Defer it to later
  4. Dump it entirely


When we’re in a situation of overwhelm I recommend reversing that. The first thing you need to do to this list is look and see what you can dump. What just does not need to be done. That really is just never going to make it to the top of the priorities. So, what can you dump?


Second, what can you defer? What is not a high priority, it needs to be done at some point, but not now. What can you defer?


Third, what can you delegate? Even if you aren’t a manager or someone who has people who report to you, you can still delegate by outsourcing. Finding assistance for tasks that are taking up your time personally that you could then redeploy to something else professionally. So, what can you delegate?


Lastly, what’s left. What do I need to do myself? After I’ve deferred and delegated, what do I need to do myself. Make your list, then make decisions on that list. Be brutal in your decision-making process.


Step Three – Slow Down to Speed Up


This one’s counterintuitive, but my friend and colleague Dan instructed me at one point in my career to “slow down to speed up.” Our default when we are confronted with a lot of things to do is to knuckle down and start working really fast, but that leads to speed errors, judgment errors, rework, and all sorts of things. The counterintuitive approach is to be more effortful and intentional with whatever has survived the four D decision making process, and the things that I still need to do myself.  Slow down to speed up.


If I am more thoughtful with my tasks, I will often get them done with less time. I will be less prone to trying to multitask, which is extremely ineffective as a way to work. Slow down to speed up.


Step Four – Take Preventative Measures


Take preventative measures to keep this from happening to you in the future. You’ve done things to help your situation right now, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of stress.


Brainstorm how you got into this situation. Did you not have productivity systems? Were you procrastinating? Were you multitasking? Were you saying yes too much? Were you not delegating early enough or at all?


Brainstorm what could prevent this from happening again.


If you need help with step four, that’s what I do with people. I am a productivity coach. I work one-on-one with clients to help them get out of the cycle of overwhelm.


Reach out to me online, my website is, and there’s a contact form on my website where you say, ‘hey let’s talk.’


I offer a no-cost-to-you initial assessment where you’d ask me some questions, I ask you some questions, and I help you make decisions about whether productivity coaching has a good return on investment of time and resources for you.


Do not stay in your perpetual cycles of overwhelm. You can do things to get yourself out of it, and I’m here to help. My name is Dr. Melissa Gratias. Have a great and productive day.


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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 or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.



  1. Rebecca Renner

    Thanks for these helpful tips! I passed them on to my always-stressed college-age daughter, too as she has many of the same issues that a businessperson does as far as stress and time management.

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Good point, Rebecca. I think I’ll pass them along to my high-schooler. However, I am her mother and naturally don’t know what I’m talking about. Oh well. We try. 🙂

  2. Brad Wolff

    Great stuff Melissa! So true yet so easy to think that rushing will make us go faster. Really appreciate your sage and easy to understand advice!


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