Paul Haarman: 3 Things to Do When You Have Too Many Goals and Feel Overwhelmed


As a productivity consultant, I work with many people who feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by too much to do and myriad goals.

Many of them have calendars filled up months in advance and constantly struggle with deciding what to focus on at any given time. This is not surprising since research shows that the average person has over 50 projects going at once and spends less than three hours per week on their top priority.

While research also shows that multitasking is an illusion and impedes productivity, the average person switches between tasks 17 times per minute, which means they are constantly dividing their attention. If you add up all the time spent multitasking in a year, its equivalent to 2 months. Yikes!

The good news is that there are things you can do to feel less overwhelmed without resorting to multitasking or having dozens of projects.

Here are 3 strategies I suggest that not only increase your sense of control, but actually work: Paul Haarman

1) Get clear about what truly matters most

First, take some time for soul searching to get clear about what really matters most in your life right now. Your big goals are the outcome you care about, not the tasks that will get you there. For example, if one of your goals is to lose weight, your task list may include exercising three days per week for an hour each time and eating more vegetables. While these are necessary steps to take in order to reach the outcome of losing weight, they aren’t what matters most. What matters most is being able to feel confident in a swimsuit by September or getting healthier so you can play with your grandkids when they visit.

Once you have identified what truly matters most for right now, then ask yourself how much time you actually have available this week (see #2 below). You might be surprised at how little free time actually exists in some weeks. That’s okay. The goal is to start small, paying attention only to the things you have time for this week without adding anything else.

2) Focus on one or two commitments at a time

Next, pick what matters most and commit to doing it (or some variation of it) every day this week. For example, if your biggest goal right now is to lose weight, you might decide that you will walk for 20 minutes after dinner each evening Monday through Friday with no set number of repetitions. You might then decide that Saturday morning you will take a yoga class with a friend. Notice I didn’t say “exercise three times per week”. Research shows that people who work out more than twice per week don’t get additional benefit. There are other things you could do this week, but not until next week when you’ve mastered doing something each day for a week.

3) Learn to say no

Don’t over commit yourself! Resist the temptation to fill up your calendar with busy work. Give yourself permission to be bored on occasion and to say “no” without feeling guilty if someone asks you to do something that isn’t urgent or meaningful.

Believe it or not, saying no will help increase your sense of control because by prioritizing what’s most important in your life right now, committing to one thing at a time and only taking on projects that have meaning for you, you free up mental energy so you can better focus on what matters most instead of being distracted by a million other things. By being able to focus, you increase your productivity and the quality of your work.

In addition, research shows that people who have a high sense of control are happier than those who don’t because they feel empowered – not stressed out! They feel confident in their ability to be successful and have a positive attitude because every day they get to do what matters most to them.


Taking control of your life can feel overwhelming in the beginning, but over time you’ll adapt. You’ll learn what you’re capable of and will develop the skills to be able to successfully set limits on how much you do by learning to say “no”. This will decrease your stress level so that when people ask for favors or beg you to take on more projects; they won’t even register in your brain because you are laser-focused on one thing at a time.

According to Paul Haarman once you’ve mastered focusing only on what matters most right now, and then start adding other projects back into your life. If at any point it feels like too much, stop! Take a break and ask yourself again which things truly matter most this week. Then pick just one or two to focus on and commit to them wholeheartedly.