Scheduling our Priorities: How not to feel Overwhelmed

The third and fourth weeks of a new school year tend to be when some students, families, and faculty/staff alike start to feel a little bit (or quite a lot, for some) overwhelmed by everything they have to do. We are all at the point where we are starting to get used to the new routine of the new year, but that doesn’t always mean we have quite yet figured out our time management—or more importantly, our stress management!

Peter Bregman described the feeling overwhelmed in a Harvard Business Review post in 2010: “when we have too much to do, we can freeze. Spinning without traction, we move fast but don’t make progress on the things that are creating our stress. Because when there’s so much competing for attention, we don’t know where to begin and so we don’t begin anywhere.” In other words, when there are many things we need to do and many options for how to spend our time, it is sometimes easy to feel so overwhelmed that we don’t know where to start—so we pick something, do a little bit, get stressed, and then sometimes “freeze” and do nothing, get behind, and then feel more stressed because we now have more to do than before. Students—especially 9th grade about this time of year—I know you know what this feels like! It may surprise you to know that your teachers deal with this as well, and so do your parents. Here’s a few tips that I have found useful for me when I start feeling overwhelmed:

  • Make lists! List the things you have to do. Pick a few things on the list that you know you can accomplish quickly without major effort, and do them to build some momentum. Cross them off the list as you go—there is something oddly satisfying about that physical act of documenting an accomplishment. Once you have the “easy wins” knocked out, tackle one of the bigger items with your newfound confidence.
  • Be honest with yourself. This can mean many things—in this context, I’m talking about being willing to ask for help when you’re stuck and being responsible for your time.
    • Life isn’t designed for us to handle everything on our own—that’s why we have a support structure of people available to us, especially at Greenwood. Be humble, speak up, and say you need some help. Personally, I have struggled with this quite a bit—I always want to believe I can do it all myself! Independence and confidence are great, but exercising the humility and honesty to say you need assistance is worth it every time.
    • As tempting as it may be to retreat from the list of responsibilities and just Netflix binge our cares out of existence for a few hours…postponing stress only makes it grow. Manage your time responsibly, and maybe reward yourself after accomplishing a few tasks on your list by taking a reasonable break, then get back to the list. It’s all about balance.
  • Schedule your Priorities—not the other way around! This is from Steven Covey, who has written extensively about success and management and leadership. In his 2004 book The 8th Habit, he said, “the key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities” (p. 161). What he means is that you should combine the strategies above to make sure that first “big item” you take on from your list is the one that is the most important. It might be the most important because it’s due soonest, or it might be the most important because you will need the most time for it or will need help from others to accomplish it. The longer you avoid scheduling time to complete it, the more likely it will be that you won’t get it done—and the stress monster grows (for more about procrastination, I encourage you to watch the very excellent video by Tim Urban, cited below with a link).

Here’s some good resources to look over—if you need help with your time management, please don’t be afraid to ask!

Bregman, P. (2010, September 23). A practical plan for when you feel overwhelmed. Harvard Business

Review blog. Retrieved from


Covey, Stephen R. (2004). The 8th habit: From effectiveness to greatness. New York, NY: Free Press.

Urban, T. (2016, February). Inside the mind of a master procrastinator. Retrieved from