This 5-Minute Video Will Solve Your Overwhelm Problem

June 15, 2014 , 36 Comments

Do you ever feel like your business is turning into a monster and trying to drown you in a flood of work? Ever felt overwhelmed with just too many tasks and too many things that need to get done?

As an entrepreneur, your answer might well be: “story of my life…”

In today’s quick video, I present a simple method that can clear the overwhelm. Warning: you might not like it (but it does work very well).

Watch this Video

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[thrive_text_block color=’note’ headline=’Warning!’]The method described in this video is very simple and easily dismissed. It’s almost too easy to think to yourself “well, I already kinda do something like that” or “this is too easy, it won’t make a difference in my case”.

Try it anyway (and thank me later).[/thrive_text_block]


Did you give this method a try? Share your pain of putting your business into order of priority with us, by leaving a comment below! Also feel free to share your thoughts and ideas about this video.

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About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Nice idea Shane, but what do you do when you have say 50 new sites to add to your PBN and there is a list of 30-40 tasks or line items per site and this batch of sites needs to get completed in the next 2 weeks. There is no point creating a list of 2000 line items and manually moving all these line items around the page. Its easier just to list the 50 sites in order of priority and then link each site to a separate task list which can be cloned as you go for each site. That way you work through a more manageable list of 50 line items and not 2000 as per your one list idea??

    Or did I misunderstand something?

    • Two things come to mind: first, I agree that you should not have 50 sets of duplicate tasks that you’re moving around. The point of the exercise is to gain some clarity and some grouping of tasks may make sense for this, in some cases.

      However, I think the more important point here is that what you’re describing is a set of repetitive tasks. Unless your resources are extremely restricted, these tasks should not be on your list. Instead, your job is to figure out how to automate and systematize this so that you aren’t the one doing the rote work anymore.

      What’s the cheapest and most effective way of outsourcing or automating this work? Where do you hire the right people and how do you qualify them? How do you create a set of instructions that makes it clear and easy for them to do this work for you? How do you ensure that the work is done 100% correctly, without having to check yourself?

      These are creative challenges and breaking this down into tasks results in the kind of list that the system in the video is really effective for: a list of tasks where each one is unique and (annoyingly) each one often seems incredibly important.

      • Rudy Labordus says:

        Those are excellent questions. And I am struggling with them as I type. :) I had a look at Asana and it looks great, but I don’t want everyone on the team knowing all tasks that need to be done. I like to compartmentalise areas so that the whole business model isn’t out in the open for everyone to see and unfortunately I think Asana is ONLY a ‘free for all’ solution (everyone on your team sees every area of the business).

        I just bought ActiveCollab as an alternative project management solution with a one off price instead of a monthly ‘per seat’ price that other solutions offer, but unfortunately they all need pre thought out workflow systems. The problem with ‘fly by the seat of your pants” ADHD marketing people like me is that I am not the best systems person, so actually I don’t have too many well documented workfows. :) And I think I am not alone here.

        It’s really ‘get it done as you think about what to do next’ which I know is really bad. Hopefully a project management system like the ‘one off cost’ ActiveCollab or free Asana or ‘monthly cost’ Basecamp can help. If you have any thoughts on ‘all staff share all info’ model as opposed to compartmentalised project management I’d love to hear it. :)

      • I, like Shane have probably tried every project management under the sun. In the end it comes down to your style of work. But, don’t leave out Wrike… Wrike, IMHO has two claims to fame.

        1. Extremely well designed service
        2. The worst brand name in history… this can be overlooked because of #1. ;-)

  • Thanks for my email shane. ooooooooooooh? yo video was talking about me. as if yo using voodoo to read other people’s minds. thats where I’m NOW. THANKS FOR THE VIDEO. I DO READ YO EMAILS,and i’m following u. i thank you for all yo products. they are fantastic. could u create a course on Traffic? Many GURU’S are selling us traffic getting methods, and i cant tell u how many courses i have bought, till this day, i buy.
    thanks alot

    • Hello Mehar,

      Thank you for your comment!
      A product on traffic generation would be very cool, yes. My biggest issue there is time, unfortunately. If I ever find enough time for it, I’d love to create a product like this.

  • I use a little software that is called Action Enforcer. I definitely get more done since I own this. I do not know why but for my person I can say that the time countdown and the green “DONE” symbol really motivates me. It is as If I can tell myself: Okay, your day is incredibly crowdes, but don’t worry, just begin with the first task on the first list end everything will end well…

    • Ah yes, I know the one. I used this for some time as well and it really can be a very helpful tool.

  • The am attempting to implement this very technique using ActiveInbox. I have always been a huge fan of turning emails into tasks. I actually trying not to use a Task Manager and keep everything in Email, but “hidden” until the appropriate time… still in new process phase. But, it looks promising. After all… Less is More, especially for online tools.

    • @Adam Halpern, have a look at a product called ‘Boomerang’, it can work in conjunction with ActiveInbox in Gmail, and it does exactly what it sounds like. If you have an email that you don’t need to deal with today, you can ‘boomerang’ it to a specified time/day and it disappears from your email inbox until the specified time/date when it automagically bounces back right when you need to deal with it! Works great on its own, or with ActiveInbox.

      @Shane, another thought-provoking article, as usual! At the moment I am beta-trialling a new productivity program called IQTell, which is a cloud-based implementation of David Allen’s GTD theories, and it is brilliant in that it brings all of my email accounts (Gmail, Ymail, website email accounts, etc) into one dashboard with all of Allen’s bells and whistles like tasks, projects, reference, waiting for, etc, folders, but it is still a bit overwhelming. Maybe your K.I.S.S. or SCRUM method might be worth a try and just put everything into one big Project then delegate/defer/do from there.


      • Scrum is particularly made for working with teams and for that, I’ve found it very useful. I don’t think it would be as good as a personal task management system, which is why in the video, I just talked about the one aspect of the “one list for everything” from Scrum. I think that’s something anyone can benefit from.

    • Great video Shane. It can definitely be a challenge getting everything into a list somewhere. It’s often too easy to exclude all those little things that add up to having a big impact on available time.

      Adam, I started using ActiveInbox earlier this year and have found it to help a lot. It’s good because you can create (email) tasks for yourself and place due dates to emails that need to be actioned. I particularly like the ability to be able to record notes against email threads. This is very powerful when combined with adding due dates within a thread (and optionally adding todo items and notes within a thread).

      Like you, I like the idea of turning emails into tasks. It keeps everything in one location. ActiveInbox allows you to manage your tasks that way, with the added bonus of driving your inbox down to only a handful of current emails. This is what I find motivating.

      Ultimately, the biggest challenge is recognising that a given system can work, and then stick to it with the determination and discipline to make it work.

      • I agree that it’s difficult to get everything into a list. I’m also often tempted to put some items into some secondary list or just keep them in my “head-list”, but the results for me are better if I force myself to add items to the one list and have to make the hard decision about where the priorities really lie.

    • Sounds interesting, Adam. I’ve had a look at ActiveInbox and it looks good. I’m quite happy having moved almost everything work related away from email, so it’s not for me. However, the technical details are secondary to the principles, with these things. :)

  • You indirectly alluded to “multitasking” in the video, which brought to mind a job interview I had a few years ago. I was asked about multitasking, and I’m pretty sure that my answer lost me the job.

    My answer, “I don’t multitask very well, and neither do you. If you think otherwise, you are fooling yourself. What works best for me is to identify the most important task, and put all of my effort into it until it is either done or some other task becomes more important.”

    I could tell by the interviewer’s reaction that my answer did not sit very well with him. No loss; I had quickly and effectively identified a manager too stupid to work for *me*, and there was no way I was going to work for him.

    • Yes, that’s how I see it as well. I learnt the hard way that there really is no such thing as multitasking. There’s just working with or without distractions.

  • Hi Shane, thanks for the great tips as always!

    Here are few things I have found helpful with my massive, taking forever to do project:

    1) Bug fixes – these are important and should be at the top of the list, big or small. If it’s broke, fix it right away. Sometimes it’s harder to actually find the bug than it is to fix it. If it can’t be fixed or just too hard to figure out, you might have to remove that part from your project and move on to other things.

    2) Importance vs. resources – This could be a whole blog post or video, but in short, is the task important enough to invest a whole lot of time/money/mental power doing?

    If it’s something essential to the success of your project and/or company, but will take a good deal of time doing, it’s worth focusing on and doing. Take your time, do it right, grind it out.

    If it’s something easy that would take only a minute or two to do, I do it. I bunch these up and knock them out one by one. They might not be ultra important, but fast and easy enough to do that in the end I am happy to have spent the time getting them all done.

    On the other hand, I’ve also scratched quite a few ideas because it just isn’t worth the time and mental exhaustion going through. If it would take you two weeks to do something that only one out of a thousand people will notice or use anyway, scratch it.. in that time you can probably knock out a hundred other tasks and be just that closer to being finished.

    Lastly, be careful about procrastination in the disguise of productivity. If you have so many ideas that you know are just not necessary, ask yourself if these are just reasons to keep putting off completing your project.

    Thanks to you both, Shane and Paul, without you two I would feel like the only one on the entire planet who understands what creating a project is like. It’s all about believing in yourself, your project, and ‘the grind’ :)

    • Thanks for your comment, Chris!

      Your second point is a very important one, especially for software development. It’s one of the tough things about it, for me: there is an unlimited number of things I want to build, but there’s limited time and resource. So I always have to try and separate the really important tasks from the “nice-to-have” ones.

  • In less than 5 minutes you will discover…

    My time management middle ground starts with Rudy’s dilemma, moves to Shane’s need to prioritize and proceeds to a version of Martina’s scheduling. Here are some thoughts I’ve adopted along the way.

    “Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives
    you a 1,000 percent Return on Energy!”

    ― Brian Tracy

    I searched on the term – one hour of planning saves – and chose this result “7 Tips to Work More Efficiently” – because it’s similar to my personal way of looking at time. I also think it does a good job at expanding and reconciling Shane, Rudy and Martina’s ideas.

    And don’t forget…

    “Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”

    ― Harvey MacKay

    Here’s my math. If I live a balanced life then my time budget is 8 hrs. sleep/rest time; 8 hrs. business/work time; and 8 hrs. discretionary/family time.

    Go figure!

    • Thans for your comment, Brian!

      If you can actually pull off the 8/8/8 balance then I think you’re miles ahead of most entrepreneurs. :D

  • While the idea of having just 1 single tasklist FEELS good,
    my impression is that its not possible to keep 1 single list –
    it would just be a too long.

    I have just too many tasks.
    That brings up the question if I am doing task assignment the wrong way at the moment… ?!?
    Maybe I write my tasks in a too detailed way…?!?!

    I take the challenge and will give a close look to this SCRUM thing. Right now.

    • Yes, it definitely feels that way for me as well. The current task list for the Thrive Themes team is 160+ items long…

      As for how the tasks are created: in my case, the tasks often link to other documents. Typically, there will be one extensive spec document and in the task manager, we have 1-5 tasks that relate to this document. In other words: not all information is stored in the task list.

      I think it’s very important to keep a separation between the information/specifications/resources and the tasks. Tasks should be streamlined, so that the task list doesn’t get weighed down with excessive information.

  • Great topic! Productivity. My one bucket is Wunderlist and for Project Management

    I use both the Pomodoro Method and a digital timer (Timer Utility PRO) to keep focus and on task.

    For maximum focus, I pause email, airplane mode on phone, and turn off skype/facebook, etc.

    Time blocking on my calendar also is big for me.

    I also use Active Inbox for Gmail.

    Thanks, Shane.

    • Thanks for your comment, Chik!

      I like the idea of putting the phone in airplane mode while working. I’ve never thought of that before, but it makes perfect sense.

  • I nike your idea of ‘One List To Rule Them All’. I am setting that up. However, I also set up a more detailed list for each project using Trello. In my main To-Do list I have this project listed as an item. The various steps of this project are then in the Trello list.

    • Hi Mike,

      This is actually quite similar to the way we do the Scrum process, where there’s one list for all planned tasks and then a board for the stuff we’re working on right now (with a specific time frame to complete everything on the board).

  • Hi Shane,

    Some good advice you offer, especially the ‘one list’ which I also use.
    I like to use (free) Trello for managing, sharing and syncing my to do list. It’s a great free piece of software.

    By the way, your social share icons are really nice. Are they part of your theme or a separate plugin?



    • Thanks, Scott!

      It seems that Trello is getting increasingly popular. It’s a cool app, but I preferred Asana when I compared the two (although I have to admit that Trello looks “sexier”).

      The social icons are part of the theme (FocusBlog).

      • Is FocusBlog one of your themes, or custom? Can I but it somewhere?

      • Yes Scott it’s a Thrive Theme here is the Demo

  • Hi Shane

    I’m a systems type thinker/person and have always thought that the typical time management or todo list approach is problematic.

    Whilst I think your strategy for listing every task and every project is a good idea. I’m left wondering if leaving everything as one list adds to complexity and potential overwhelm.

    I have explored lots of tools/software as well as systems or ways to think about this problem and its flip side which is opportunity.

    In the end I settled on applying KANBAN and there is a tool/software which enables one to use KANBAN.

    KANBAN means visual card and is Japanese term.

    One would add every task, project, todo item into a backlog and would bring forward a maximum of three items into the next column which could be called actions.

    Once a task or action is completed it moves into a third column called completed. This has a benefit in as much as one can see progress.

    If one has large teams or outsources work the same approach would apply with each individual only ever having a maximum of three sets of actions on the go at any one time.

    Ideally a visual board would be used in an office environment with post it notes in each column. There are software tools like which have both free and paid for services (quite low cost per seat/user).

    This all assumes one has priorities mapped out. I happen to think priorities should be based on the long term vision or goals. This may or may not fit with a benefit to ones business or ones customers.

    At the end of the day a vision or goal is very personal, so this system will apply to any part of one’s life.



    • Hi Steve,

      I’m familiar with the Kanban approach (I think I first heard of it in the excellent “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries). It’s a great method for removing overwhelm and I know that there are many teams who use the Kanban method in their Scrum development process as well.
      The default Scrum process is a bit more complex, but there’s a similar idea behind it: you define a set of tasks that are going to be worked on in a “sprint”. The sprint usually last 1-4 weeks and it’s defined beforehand how long it will take and exactly which tasks will be done.

      This way, you take a set of tasks from the large list and you strictly limit your activity to those. It’s another form of single-tasking and saying “no” to many other tasks and distractions. For a specific duration, there’s just a limited set of tasks that will be worked on and no one can change that until the sprint is over.

      With Kanban, you have a similar limitation in that no one can add more than 3 tasks. It forces a decision about priorities. I’ve seen this kind of thing make a huge difference to the way our team works, so I’m definitely an advocate. :)

  • I use Simpleology, it is a GREAT software (has a free version) and it does things mostly as you described in your video. Since I’ve been regularly using it (about a year now) I feel much less overwhelmed. I don’t know if my productivity has actually gone up a lot, but at least I feel my things are in order.
    They have an interface that guides you through all the things you need to do, to choosing what is actually important and/or needs to be done, delegating, and prioritizing based on a couple principles. It’s really great software!

    • Thank you for your comment, Mary!

      I remember trying simpelology ages ago, but it’s too long ago to remember many details. Sounds like a good system, though. :)

  • Shane

    I have used scrum for years as a Project Manager in Collaborative Software Development, the most simple and useful book to get your head around it is this one. There are other books but this is an essential foundation. Cherry picking the Backlog will probably not help your audience unless they understand Scrum.

    Ironically I have been developing a methodology and systems that will deal with all of the information overload and the responses here show me that people definately need it.

    I developed this from my own experiences and coaching others.

    I will let you know when it is done, I decided not to just sell it as some BSO, but as a service where do the implementation and training for people so they do not hit further blockers trying to do it (that justs adds more tasks).

    Thanks for the interesting post, as always!

    • Hello JP,

      It’s important to note that I’m not recommending people use Scrum for personal task management or use just one aspect of Scrum for team project management or software development. I only mentioned Scrum because that was part of what inspired this video. Just want to clarify that. :)

      I hope things go well with your Scrum-based service!

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