Manage Overwhelm in Times of “Crazy Busy”

Tool #9: Climb Your Mountains One Step at a Time

This is an edited excerpt from Ease: Strategies to Manage Overwhelm in Times of “Crazy Busy” by Eileen Chadnick. Reprinted with permission of author. All rights reserved. Ease is available from most major online book retailers. See more at

Estimated reading time: less than 2 minutes


I think that now and again, we can all claim to have been daunted by a particular task. Sometimes these tasks truly are mountainous, and other times, they might only appear to be so. Whether you are making a mountain out of a molehill or are truly confronted by a big, hairy, giant mound of a task, it’s not uncommon to occasionally feel overwhelmed in light of everything else on your plate. A common response to this is to ignore the task for a while. Yes, you read that correctly: procrastination is a common response, but it is certainly not an effective one! Procrastination, my friends, can add substantially to that heaviness in our hearts and contribute to our sense of overwhelm.


The Story at a Glance

I was out walking one evening with a good friend of mine, Marcy, whom I’ve known for more than forty years (yes, this is her real name!). I know Marcy to be an exceptionally capable woman. She has a full family life, juggles a big job at a bank, and somehow always manages to keep it all together. But on this evening, she vented that she was feeling befuddled by the planning of her son’s bar mitzvah. She confessed she had done nothing and was worried because time was ticking away. But she was in “Stucksville.” “What’s up with that?” I asked. She didn’t know—or so she said.


I then had a hunch she was thinking about the whole mound of stuff that needed to get done and, in her mind, was trying to untangle a nasty furball of to-dos all at once. No wonder she was in distress!

So I asked, “What’s the first thing that needs to get done?”

She said, “I have to book a location.”

I asked if she had any ideas, and she said she did. I asked if it would be helpful if she had that sorted out. She thought it would. “What is the first thing you need to do?” I asked.

She said she had to make a few calls.

“What is stopping you from making some calls?”

“Nothing really,” she said.

So I asked the most obvious question: “When will you make those calls?”

She said the next morning. And then we both laughed because that discussion had taken about a minute and a half, yet she said it felt as if a hundred-pound load had been lifted off her chest.


Yeah, it was that easy. (I warned you some of these ideas would be embarrassingly simple!)


The rest is history. From there, she was to tackle one piece of this seemingly mountainous project at a time, and ta-da! She got it all done, and it was a beautiful celebratory event. She had needed the nudge to start the climb up the mountain by focusing on the first steps. After scaling that first part of the climb, she had experienced a sense of accomplishment, and the next part of the climb had felt easier. This is what is referred to as action momentum.


Sometimes all we need to focus on is getting started. Being in action—even if beginning with just one small starting step—can help create a sense of momentum that will empower us to take the next step and the one after it and so on.


But there might be another explanation. Recall the Zeigarnik effect introduced earlier with the first tool (“Get It out of Your Head”), which describes a state where our minds get fixated on unfinished business. I wonder if in starting a project, we are more likely to feel the pull towards completing it if it’s a meaningful goal. Just a thought.


The Advice

Step back from the mountain (project, task, etc.) that is keeping you stuck. Ask if you are aiming for the top of the mountain or setting your sights on the first or immediate next leg of the journey. Take some time to focus on a starting plan, and most importantly, break the challenge down into manageable parts.


Remember the adage that a journey starts with a single step. Mountain climbers know this, and they scale their mountains one stage at a time. They plan the climb with milestones along the way. This approach is what’s needed for our own mountains.


Make It Work for You

Take a look at a project that you feel is mountainous to you. Then try these steps:


  • Set your sights on a way to start. It might be at the beginning, or it might be somewhere that provides an easy entry. It doesn’t matter. Simply start.
  • Break the mountain into smaller, more doable chunks.
  • Create a plan so that you can see the steps instead of trying to take in the entire task at once.
  • Identify the first milestone, and focus your attention on that part of the mountain.
  • Move into action with that first step, and experience action momentum.
  • Keep moving one step (milestone, chunk) at a time.
  • Remember that small steps add up to a solid journey.
  • Celebrate success along the way. This tool seems obvious, but like many of the other simple strategies, it goes out of our mindset when we are overwhelmed. Find a way to create a reminder for yourself next time you are faced with a mountain of a task.


The Pay-Off

  • Remembering to scale your mountains in smaller steps can help you deal with large, complex, and seemingly overwhelming tasks.
  •  Breaking your mountain (or perceived mountain) into manageable chunks will reduce brain and mind overwhelm.
  • Getting started provides a sense of action momentum, making the next parts easier.
  • Breaking large tasks into smaller parts provides opportunities for a sense of completion and reduces the perception of the never-ending task list.
  • The brain loves a plan! You will be rewarded with a sense of greater ease, focus, and peace of mind.


About the Author: Eileen Chadnick (@Chadnick) is Author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of ‘Crazy Busy’. She is a certified executive and leadership coach; a communications pro (20+ years of experience) and principal of Big Cheese Coaching and Chadnick Communications in Toronto. Eileen draws from the science of positivity, leadership, neuroscience, emotional intelligence – and Conversational Intelligence®(C‐IQ®) in her work as a coach, consultant, trusted advisor, and facilitator.