The Delightful Overwhelm of a Pile of Undone Tasks

By Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net
July 18, 2021 Updated: July 18, 2021

As I came back to work after a month off, I noticed myself feeling overwhelmed by the mountain of work in front of me.

I felt a ton of resistance and stress about how much work had to be done.

A perfect practice ground for me!

In this article, I’m going to share how I’ve been practicing with the overwhelm with some delight.

There are two practices that have helped me:

  1. One breath at a time.
  2. Finding delight in the task.

Let’s talk about each one.

One Breath at a Time

When there’s a pile of undone things, it can feel overwhelming—how in the world can we tackle all of that? It can be stressful and shut us down to actually doing the work.

The way that I practice with this is simple.

First, I make a list of things I need to do. Possibly a long list. Making a simple list like this can really help get everything out in plain sight and let you know what you’re up against. This is where people often feel overwhelmed, so if you start to get stuck here, just move to the next part.

Second, I make a short list of what I want to focus on for today. I can’t do the whole list today, so I chop it down to what I would love to accomplish for today. I try to keep this list short so I don’t get too overwhelmed and it feels doable. If it doesn’t feel doable, make it shorter!

Finally, I pick one task and really just focus on that. One small one, something doable that I can use to get some momentum.

Then that task becomes my whole world. It’s the same as meditation—one breath at a time, one task at a time. When my mind starts to go to all the other things on the list, I simply return to that one task and give it my full focus.

Often you might still feel overwhelmed, because you still have a big pile left. The way I think about it is: I have millions of breaths left to take in my life. I can’t take them all at once, nor would I want to. So I take one at a time.

One breath at a time—don’t try to take them all at once.

Find Delight in the Task

OK, so we do one at a time. But it can still often feel like we’re just trying to get through the list, cranking through tasks, not really loving what we’re doing.

What if you could find delight in the tasks? What if it could be an adventure, or a way of expressing your love for others?

As I take each task off the pile and give it my full focus, I try to find a reason why I care about this. A reason to be lit up by it. A reason to love what I’m doing, and put my full self into it.

I get fired up about the task—if I’m successful at this, or if I remember (hint: I don’t always!).

Then I take it on like a man in love with life.

I find the joy, the dance, the music, the adventure in the task.

Every task has this possibility in it. We just need to find it.

What might light you up about your next task today?

Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net

Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net