How to Overcome Feeling Overwhelmed and Get Work Done

08/18/2015 03:08 pm ET Updated Aug 18, 2016

When you're facing a big, messy obstacle that requires consistent, hard effort, you can feel so helpless...

This could include anything from finishing a major project to restoring a strained relationship to losing weight to looking for a job.

In all of these cases, results usually come far more slowly than you would prefer and are in some ways dependent on variables outside of your control.

To focus on results is to set yourself up for despair so instead I've developed a method of hyperfocus on measurable actions that I call "Zoom In."

Here's how it works:

  • Decide on one measurable action step that you can do each day. This could include items like spending 30 minutes completing a job application or saying one nice thing to the other person in the strained relationship.
  • Come up with a system of recording your action steps in a clear, easy manner. For instance, this could include a weekly checklist or a series of star stickers or getting to cross out a recurring task on your calendar.
  • Whenever you do what you intended, Celebrate--BIG Time! I am serious. Throw your fist in the air, look in the mirror and tell your reflection, "I'm awesome," or do whatever else you like to do to give yourself a huge energy boost.
  • Whenever action steps don't go as you expected, turn off your emotions, and pretend you're an archeologist or a detective investigating a site. Observe the who, what, where, why, when and how of what happened or didn't happen and then ask yourself, "What can I do differently next time so that I complete the desired action steps?"
  • Repeat daily.
  • On a less frequent basis, such as once a week or once a month, you should measure your desired results. The best way to remember to take this action without thinking about it all the time is to put it as a repeat reminder on your calendar.
  • If you see any progress in the right direction, celebrate like you just made the winning touch down!! It doesn't matter if the scale measures .2 pounds less or you simply saw your boss smile at you for the first time in a month, chalk it up as progress--as success in the making.
  • If you don't see progress in the right direction, you'll experience the temptation to feel frustrated, defiant, angry, or even betrayed. I did what I was supposed to do! Why didn't it work???!!! Once again, it's time to have an out-of-body experience. Step back, observe, and learn from the past. Decide if you could or should do anything differently in the future or if you simply need to keep at your current action steps. If you can't figure out what could be different, ask a true outside observer for their feedback.
  • Make the most recent measured result your new starting point (regardless of whether it is an improvement on the previous measurement) and then measure your following progress from there.
  • Repeat regularly.
I know this "Zoom In" method isn't glamorous, but it works. When you practice this technique you go from feeling helpless to feeling confident, in control and peaceful that you are doing what you can do in the moment to move toward your goals.

About Real Life E®
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching and training company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished. She is an expert on achieving more success with less stress. Real Life E® also increases employee productivity, satisfaction and work/life balance through training programs.

McGraw Hill published her first book The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress. Harvard Business Review recently published her second book How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Elizabeth contributes to blogs like Lifehacker, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and the 99U blog on productivity for creative professionals and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox.