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How to Get Organized When You Are Overwhelmed

It often seems like some people are just naturally organized, with an innate ability to make lists, keep track of details, and stay on top of jobs. Trying to match their attitude and energy may seem hopeless for a naturally disorganized person.

But the truth is that being organized isn’t black-and-white; it’s a spectrum, and getting organized is a skill you can learn. Here is how to get organized when you are overwhelmed.

Benefits of Getting Organized

Getting organized has a wide range of benefits, and some of them may be surprising. Here are the best reasons to get organized:

Improves Concentration

Believe it or not, visual clutter reduces our ability to focus and concentrate. The more organized our environment is, the easier it is to focus on essential jobs and get things done. Because of this, being organized increases our productivity at work, school, and home.

Saves Time (and money)

Being disorganized tends to make everything take more time. It is more difficult to find the item or information you need to do the job or prioritize which jobs must be done first. Disorganized environments are also more distracting and overwhelming, affecting your ability to focus.

Getting organized allows you to do everything more quickly because you know where everything is and can concentrate on a job. It can also save money from repeatedly buying things you already have but cannot find.

Reduces Stress

Being organized significantly reduces stress and creates a feeling of calmness. Because getting organized reduces feelings of being overwhelmed, improves your productivity, and gives you more free time, it naturally reduces stress and helps you relax.

Boosts Confidence and Self-Esteem

Getting organized is a great confidence booster. We strengthen our faith in our skills and abilities by increasing productivity and improving performance. The feeling of calmness and control helps us gain confidence.

And the simple steps of organization (like making a list and ticking off items) can create a sense of accomplishment that improves self-esteem.

In other words, being organized is more than simply having a tidy home or finding missing items: how you see yourself and your daily life. Getting organized has a vast range of benefits.

Obstacles to Organization (and How to Overcome Them)

Getting organized may not be that simple for people who are feeling overwhelmed. In fact, disorganization often comes from several limiting beliefs and habits that can be very difficult to overcome. These are the biggest obstacles to getting organized:


For some people, there can be a fine line between “organized” and “perfect.” Their ideas about organization require perfection and control, which are unattainable in everyday life.

For people who struggle with perfectionism, consider the 80/20 rule: Work toward achieving 80% of perfection and consider it “good enough.” For almost all situations, the time and effort spent on that final 20% simply aren’t worth it.

In practical terms, this might mean a clean home but cluttered closets or an organized desktop at work but a folder full of old miscellaneous files. If you focus on quickly achieving 80% of everything on your list, you can pause and choose whether or not to work toward the final 20%.


Some people are disorganized because they are indecisive and struggle to sort, prioritize, and categorize. Even seemingly small decisions take a long time, and weighing the pros and cons is hard. For people who struggle with indecisiveness, here are two steps to help overcome it.

Set aside tough decisions for the moment. If some tough decisions require more thought and concentration, set them aside until later while continuing with the job. Make it your first step to sort items by easy vs. difficult decisions.

Disposing quickly of all your easy choices is a great way to start getting organized and making your tough decisions more manageable.

Flip a coin. If you have a tough time deciding, it’s often because the pros and cons are nearly equivalent, and there’s no clear winner. In that case, just flip a coin and move on.


Procrastination is the most significant cause of disorganization and is why people get organized. It can be tough to overcome feeling overwhelmed, indecisive, or inadequate, and starting tomorrow is always easier. It doesn’t help that getting organized is often not a really enjoyable activity without many immediate rewards.

For people who struggle with procrastination, the best thing is to do a small thing right now rather than a big thing later. For example, do it now if a job takes less than two minutes.

If you have to move something aside to do something else (for example, move the laundry basket to sit on the couch or move the electric bill to find the Christmas card), take two minutes to take care of the thing on top first.

Give yourself brief “organization breaks,” spending 10 minutes every 2 hours caring for little things close at hand. Taking these small steps helps you quickly get organized and stay organized.

Lack of Tools/Space/Equipment

People often don’t start getting organized because they feel there is something else they need first. Perhaps they need file cabinets, storage bins, or a garden shed. These items are sometimes necessary but are often another form of procrastination or indecisiveness.

If getting a new day planner or file folders helps incentivize you to take on your organization job, that’s wonderful. If you find yourself distracted and procrastinating by shopping instead of organizing, recognize it and stop.

If your disorganization stems from limiting beliefs or deeply ingrained mental habits and is negatively affecting your life, it is a good idea to consider therapy. Disorganization may express some deeper issues that can be worked through with a professional.

How to Get Organized When You Are Overwhelmed

How to Get Organized When You are Overwhelmed

Part of getting organized is knowing yourself and recognizing your obstacles. Are you indecisive or a procrastinator? Are you a perfectionist or easily distracted? Understanding your mental habits will help you build an organizational system that works for you long-term. To get organized when you are overwhelmed, follow these steps:

Write It Down

You may have noticed that organized people tend to have lists, schedules, and notebooks for a good reason. Writing is arguably the first step in getting organized and crucial to several aspects of organization.

Do Not Rely On Your Memory

When you write something down, you no longer have to hold it in your memory. This frees up your mind to focus on the job at hand. Keeping written to-do lists, shopping lists, appointments, etc., and referring to them when you need the information is a more reliable and accurate way to get things done and allows you to concentrate better.

Do Not Scatter Information Around

Using one notebook, journal, or planner allows you to keep all the information you need to remember in a single place rather than looking for necessary information in multiple locations.

Keep a Journal

When disorganization stems from negative feelings about ourselves and our lives, using a journal to identify and explore those feelings can be a powerful way to begin overcoming them.

Make Proa and Cons Lists

If you struggle to make decisions and have set aside a “big decision” bin, it’s time to start making pros and cons lists. Set aside time to concentrate on the decision and think through all the implications, writing them down as you go. It’s a great way to achieve clarity and simplify decision-making.

Make Jobs as Simple as Possible

One of the biggest reasons people struggle with organization is that they assign themselves complex, multi-step jobs, like “organizing the garage.” Complex jobs requiring many steps (combining physical labor with mental decision-making, for example) should be broken down before you assign them to yourself.

Think of yourself as a stupid assistant, and break down complex jobs into small, simple steps before putting them on your to-do list. For example, “organize the garage” might be broken down into steps like:

  • Get extra empty boxes
  • Get extra trash bags
  • Move the car to the driveway to have room to work
  • Move lawn equipment into the garden shed
  • Place Christmas ornaments in the attic, etc.

By setting aside time to think through complex jobs and break them into small steps, you prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed by the job and give yourself a lot of small, easy “wins” that move you toward your goal.

Make and Keep To-Do Lists

The most crucial part of getting organized and staying organized is making and keeping to-do lists. To-do lists allow you to capture all your jobs, making sure you remember them and tick them off as you complete them, giving you a feeling of accomplishment.

Do It Now

If a job requires less than 2 minutes and is in front of you, do it now. If it only takes a minute or two to put something away, pick something up, or take care of a job, then just do it rather than writing it down, setting it aside, or remembering it for later.

Doing small things now improves your productivity, reduces the mental load of remembering various things, and reduces physical clutter around you. It’s a great way to get organized and stay organized.


While it’s essential to simply take care of things right now rather than setting them aside for later, it is equally important to set aside time to concentrate on a single job or goal. Giving yourself adequate time to focus without distractions allows you to make real and meaningful progress. However, the idea that a person can concentrate for hours is a myth.

For most people, it’s best to find a balance, like 50 minutes of concentration on a single job and 10 minutes of taking care of small things. During your concentration time, silence your phone and focus, and then give yourself a mental break by stepping away for a few minutes to take care of other things.

Be Realistic

You can accomplish only so much daily, no matter how organized you are. Getting organized means supporting and caring for yourself, improving your life and self-esteem, rather than beating yourself up for everything you didn’t finish.

Set reasonable expectations and attainable goals, and reward yourself for small steps and continuous progress.


Getting organized when you feel overwhelmed can be as simple as making everything you have to do into jobs that are as small and simple as possible, writing those simple jobs down, and then doing them in brief periods every day.

Thinking of it simply helps to reduce feelings of chaos and disorder, and writing things down reduces the mental load of remembering them, freeing you up to live your life more fully.


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