Overwhelmed? Turn 1 big task into 3 smaller ones (+ a free tool!)

I’ve recently felt really overwhelmed, which always makes the simplest of tasks or activities feel insanely hard to do. Whether it’s meal prep, or texting a friend back, or tidying a room, feeling stressed can make anything feel like moving a mountain. 🏔

I’m using an app called Bloom, which uses CBT practices to create a very personal experience, and one of the exercises helped me get over this “mammoth task syndrome.” 🦣 It broke my big, scary task into three smaller, and more manageable steps, spread across the day or even the week — and the first step could be as simple as write out the steps I need to follow.

This practice of taking one thing, and splitting it into three (or more, if necessary!) steps is insanely effective.

When you’re emotionally exhausted, and feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it’s hard to do this naturally: Raised levels of cortisol or adrenalin, or even lowered levels of dopamine and serotonin, mean our bodies are in the state of an activated sympathetic nervous system – the “fight or flight” response.

This means many of our resting state functions are reduced, so that energy can be distributed to our “fight or flight” mechanisms, such as our muscles. Part of the resting functions that get deprioritised are the higher order thinking and logic regions of our brains 🧠 so it makes chemical sense that we exaggerate simple tasks into mammoth ones. 🦣

🦣 How to deal with a mammoth (task)

If you have a real mammoth to deal with, I can’t help you (also, pretty sure you should tell someone; I have a feeling that would be a huge scientific deal).

Otherwise, if you’re an iPhone user, I created a simple shortcut for you to add to your home screen. It automatically sets reminders for you for each of the steps of the task you write out.

For everyone else, here’s a simple way you can self-coach yourself out of feeling overwhelmed by a task:

📝 Step #1: Write down the thing you need to do

This could be meeting a friend for dinner, replying to an email, cleaning your lounge, or cooking dinner. Whatever it is, just write down the thing that’s freaking you out.

☝️ Step #2: Decide what the smallest first step you could take is

You need to make it as easy for yourself as possible. Your first step could be putting all the ingredients you need onto the counter; it might be throwing all the clothes you need to fold into one big pile; or it might putting your running shoes by the door. In fact, your first step could even to decide when you’re going to write your first step.

And look at that! All of a sudden, you’ve already made progress towards the thing you want to do!

🐾 Step #3: Decide what the other steps you need to take are

Do the same thing you did with writing your first step, and think about each step you can thereafter. Remember: Keep it small and simple!

⏰ Step #4: Assign a time to each step, and set yourself a reminder

Remembering everything you need to do is part of what makes it feel stressful. So, take the remembering out of the equation completely! Set yourself a reminder of your phone for each step, and then forget about it! Now your phone takes care of remembering, and you can continue relaxing, working, or whatever else you want to do. 😊

“Most times, the way isn’t clear, but you want to start anyway. It is in starting… that other steps become clearer.”

― Israelmore Ayivor, ‘Leaders’ Frontpage’

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