Knock, knock.

Who’s there?


No thank you. We’re all stocked-up on guilt here!

How do we respond when the guilt fairy comes knocking? Guilt has a strange way of sneaking up on us, twisting our priorities, sabotaging our peace of mind and taking cheap shots at our self-worth. Even when we deny it, guilt has a way of inserting itself into relationships. Guilt is best buddies with multitaskers. Unmanaged, it creates an emotional overload, another way to describe anxiety and stress. It can leave us feeling exhausted, heavy, and empty from burnout. Like rocket-fuel powering our stamina, it drives us at warp speed to give and “do” as much as possible at-all-times as if the sun might not rise again tomorrow.

Multitasking and powering our way through the day on guilt can create internal havoc. Scientists at the University of London found that multitasking results in a temporary drop in IQ. That’s right. We do not think as clearly when we’re multitasking. Research has also found that the act of multitasking lowers productivity by as much as 40%.

With so many priorities buzzing around, minimizing our desire to multitask and put guilt in its place might seem easier said than done. Prioritizing our well-being, and addressing seemingly urgent issues can feel like herding wild rabbits. Just when you think you’ve rounded up your furry friends, another one leaps out of no-where, and they all run off together.

A stress storm of “to-dos” can brew into an ominous outlook. Tasks that were once easy-peasy fluffy bunnies, suddenly morph into toothy vampire rabbits, thumping a foot with impatience. In the real world this might look like; wide-eyed hungry kids, and a fridge that suddenly looks empty despite being half full. As the storm twists and turns, a guilt spiral ensues. Previously prepared meal plans vanish, gone, out the window! Every last spoon is soaking in the sink, the dishwasher is waiting to be emptied, and there’s a dozen work emails in your inbox awaiting replies.

Despite what our self-sacrificing inner martyr says, our health and peace of mind cannot wait for the clouds to part and the animal house to mellow out. Never fear. Taming the chaos is possible. Carving out time to design the conditions needed for both personal wellness and productivity does not require an advanced degree. Begin by setting a goal to reduce overwhelm and increase enjoyment. You can start learning new skills and strategies right away, from where you’re sitting now.

Allow me to oversimplify. There are two common types of tasks we encounter on our daily task list. First, tasks that feel easy. They’re like picking low hanging fruit. The second kind requires work. They’re more slippery and less desirable. These are the ones we’re capable of doing but don’t like to do.

Despite our task preferences, all tasks are important, or they wouldn’t be on the task list in the first place, right? Review your list. If there’s something on the list that doesn’t belong, remove it. One less thing to do!

Some tasks can wait, others cannot. When our responsibilities intersect with relationships, being attentive ensures continued trust, especially if the action item relates to one’s boss, client, spouse, child or extended family and friends. Being timely and thoughtful is universally appreciated and valued.

When we let little tasks slide for too long, things eventually feel unmanageable. That’s when the guilt fairy likes to visit. With a sprinkle of guilt dust, a cute fluffy bunny hopping around our brain can transform into a soul munching vampire rabbit. There’s hope. By setting up a plan to keep the bunny stocked up on carrots, it’s less likely to cause mischief, and we’re less likely to become overwhelmed.

What happens if it’s logistically impossible to feed the bunny at a set time before the guilt fairy descends upon our crown of self-assurance? Then we must seek other options. Find a way to delegate the task. If assigning the job to someone else isn’t possible, offer something to tide the bunny over.

Finding creative ways to tide over tasks can keep the lines of communication open in our relationships. It also keeps us out of the hot seat with the guilt fairy. This can be accomplished with quick status updates to allow lines of communication to flow. It’s ok to keep it simple. Checking-in provides valuable insight into other’s experiences and helps people feel connected.

Five strategies to make tasks more manageable and less overwhelming

1. Intentionally break long tasks into smaller steps.

2. If a specific task becomes frustrating, there’s a reason. Ask yourself why. Is it a lack of information? Ask someone for insight, or take a break and come back to it.

3. Set your expectations. How you think about a task can affect how you feel about. If you’re dreading it, chances are, you’re setting yourself up for more of the same.

4. Designate a specific time each day on your calendar to complete administrative tasks at work and domestic responsibilities at home. Set a start and end time. This will allow you to track your time, and assist in setting up healthy boundaries with colleagues, and at home, so you’re less likely to become overcommitted.

5. Give yourself a reward for completing undesirable tasks. A reward can be motivating, especially for the tasks that are dull and boring.

Incentives and rewards don’t have to be elaborate. Read a chapter of that book you’ve been meaning to crack open, exercise, or phone a friend. More ideas? Meet a friend or co-worker for lunch or coffee, take a long walk alone, or splurge and get a massage.

Guilt and multitasking can whip up stress and shame, taking a toll on our health and relationships. We become so eager to check-off our to-do list, we numb our feelings, stuffing them away inside, suffocating our breathing room, and weighing down our hearts. Finding ways to break down overwhelming responsibilities into smaller parts and designing a routine that includes rewarding small accomplishments is a healthy way to maintain a sense of groundedness and self-confidence. We may not always have as much time as we’d like, but we can put strategies in place to make our responsibilities achievable and manageable.

Final thought — When the guilt fairy comes knocking, and you can bet she will, you’re not obligated to invite her in to join you.

Originally published at