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10 Great Ways to Organize Your Thoughts When You Feel Overwhelmed by Life

Feel Overwhelmed

Do you often feel overwhelmed by all the thoughts, ideas, and worries swirling around in your head?

You’re not alone.

There is so much going on in the world that most of us feel easily overwhelmed and stressed out by the sheer number of things we need to focus on, keep track of, or be concerned about.

The technology that is there to improve and simplify our lives is the very source of information overload that affects our mental well-being. With the constant streams of information and the expectation to be ‘available’ at all times, it’s no wonder that many of us feel overwhelmed.

A catch-22 situation with no resolution.

Are you doomed to feel overwhelmed indefinitely or is there a solution?

The truth is, there’s always a solution and there are ways to organize your thoughts, beat overwhelm, and get things done.

Disclaimer: This blog post may contain affiliate links. Keep in mind that I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you when you click my links and make a purchase. However, this does not impact my opinion in any way. I only promote brands I believe in and products that I use and love myself. I try my best to keep things fair and balanced to help you make the best choice for you.

What to Remember When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Thoughts

It can be tough to see through the fog when you feel overwhelmed by your own thoughts but it’s important to remember the following:

  • Your emotions and feelings are natural and normal.
  • Your feelings represent your thoughts, not your life.
  • Things can turn around quite quickly as soon as you change your thoughts.
  • When you change your thoughts, you change the outcome.
  • You’ve probably felt this way before and have overcome it in the past.
  • Your feelings are valid but things may not be as bad as you think at this moment.

If you don’t put things into perspective then you’ll struggle to get things done. This is why you need to understand the difference between organizing your thoughts and organizing physical items. Once you do, you can learn ways that will help you better organize your thoughts and manage your emotions.

Organizing Your Thoughts vs Organizing Physical Items

Organizing your thoughts is different from organizing your physical possessions. But just like with physical items, it’s an ongoing process. So, it’s important to learn the process. 

Unfortunately, you can’t grasp your thoughts as you would your collectibles or gather up your thoughts as you would with a boxful of paper. Your thoughts are intangible, elusive, but oh so noticeable when they won’t stop running through your head. They also run your actions.

In order to organize your thoughts when you feel overwhelmed, you need to convert them into physical form. This creates space and allows your mind to process your unruly thoughts. 

But how on earth would you go about converting your intangible thoughts into something physical?

There are actually a number of ways for you to do this. 

Here are 10 ways for you to organize your thoughts so that you can get out of your head and get things done even when you feel overwhelmed (brilliant ideas sourced from The Order Expert):

Use Sticky Notes/Post-its

One of the most practical ways to organize your thoughts if you feel overwhelmed is to get them out of your head and into the physical world where you can visualize them. A great method for this is to stick post-its on the wall. Grab a pen and write only one thought per post-it and then stick it up. Keep doing this until you’ve emptied all the pressing thoughts from your mind. Since each sticky note represents only one thought, you can rearrange and organize your thoughts right in front of your eyes. Step back from the wall and take some time to observe your thoughts. You might just be surprised at the insights you get when doing this exercise.

Draw a Mind Map

Feel Overwhelmed

A mind map is a useful tool for connecting different thoughts together. Mind maps tend to have one main thought in the middle with lots of related thoughts or ideas surrounding the main one. Grab a pen and a fresh sheet of paper and then write down your predominant thought in the center. Then draw a circle around it. Next, draw a line outwards from the circle. At the end of that line write down a thought related to your main one. Keep on adding thoughts as needed until you feel like your mind map is complete.

This is a terrific exercise if you have an exciting new business idea that you are struggling to conceptualize because new thoughts keep popping up and you feel overwhelmed.

Make Notes on Index Cards

Index cards have always been a useful way to organize or keep track of your thoughts and ideas. There are two ways to use them. Grab a pen and a stack of index cards. They can be blank index cards or lined index cards (whichever you prefer). The first option is to write only one thought per card as you would with the post-its exercise. This will work well if you feel overwhelmed by to-do’s and are struggling to prioritize or if you are anxious and just need to get your thoughts out of your head. 

The second option is to write your main thought at the top of the index card and then a bullet point list of subsequent or related thoughts underneath it. You can take this one step further and jot your main thought on a colored index card and develop categories by writing subsequent or related thoughts on plain cards and group them together. You can expand on the related thoughts as you think of them. This is ideal if you’re trying to organize your thoughts about a project or assignment. Once done, you can reorganize the cards in a way that helps your mind better manage these thoughts or ideas.

Write a List

This is likely the classic technique we all turn to when we have too many thoughts. There’s a reason writing a list is popular: it’s an easy and uncomplicated way to organize your thoughts. Whether you’re writing out your to-do list, a shopping list, or anything else you need to remember. So, make sure to turn to this method when you feel overwhelmed too. Grab a pen and your notebook and just start writing. One thought per line until you’re all out of thoughts. Step away from your list for a while and then come back to look for connections or similarities. You can even refine your list by creating a new one as you sort through your thoughts. 

The reason that I suggest using a notebook instead of just a piece of paper is that it becomes a log of information. Like a diary that you can look back on and review over time. You’re less inclined to tear out pages so it’s easier to reflect. Make sure to date each entry. 

Design a Pie Chart

If you’re a more visually orientated person, then this method will probably work well for you. These visual charts combine shape and color to represent thoughts, ideas, or concepts. You can draw the pie chart yourself or use a computer program to design one if you prefer. Grab a pencil, a clean sheet of paper as well as some colored pencils, markers, or highlighters. Draw a large circle and then write down important thoughts at various intervals within the circle. Take the time to really consider your thoughts and their relationship with each other. Are certain ones more pressing than others? Give these thoughts the larger percentage of your pie chart. 

A pie chart is different from a mind map in the sense that you are fitting all your thoughts into a single circle instead of lesser thoughts around a predominant thought. You also assign a percentage value to each thought depending on how important it is to you. Color in each ‘slice’ of the pie with a different color and then review to determine your personal priorities.

Draft a Letter

Writing a letter is an art. It takes skill and effort. The very act of writing a letter requires you to organize your thoughts in a coherent manner. Find some time to switch off all your devices and put pen to paper. Imagine that you are writing a letter to a friend. But keep in mind this is simply a draft – you won’t actually be sending this letter to anyone. It’s just for you. Contemplate all the thoughts swirling around in your mind. How would you organize them in a way that you could describe or explain them to a friend? Which thoughts are connected or relevant and which aren’t? 

Once you clarify your thoughts, just start writing. It doesn’t have to be very good or make sense – it could simply be a stream of consciousness. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel once you get it all out.

Create a Collage

This is another wonderful option if you’re a more visual person. If you have the time, you can create a collage with a collection of pictures that represent your thoughts. Although this can be more time-consuming, it can also be quite a fun process. You can collect images from newspapers, magazines, flyers, cards, or any other printed materials. Use scissors to cut out the relevant pictures and then stick them to a sturdy poster board with a glue stick. Don’t limit yourself only to pictures, you can also add words, colors, or shapes. Whatever helps you to adequately express the feelings and thoughts that are overwhelming you.

Develop a Timeline

Sometimes you feel overwhelmed by your thoughts because they all seem pressing and urgent. It can be difficult to prioritize certain thoughts over others when you can’t put them into the perspective. 


To give yourself more context, it may be useful to schedule your thoughts on a calendar. By creating a timeline, you can clearly see which thoughts are urgent and which thoughts can wait until later for your attention. You can use a calendar for this exercise and then write a single thought per day/week/month slot as is needed. Essentially, you are organizing your thoughts by importance in order to give yourself enough space to concentrate on one at a time.

Record an Audio of Yourself

If you’re more of an auditory person, then this technique will work wonders for you. When you feel overwhelmed by your thoughts, grab a voice recorder or just your phone and record an audio of yourself sharing all the thoughts running through your mind. 

You can take some time to prepare and record your thoughts in an organized manner or you can simply talk and let it all out. Not only will you be able to listen back to your thoughts and process them, but your tone of voice will also give you insight into your mental space at the time of the recording. This method can be extremely cathartic; especially if you feel like you need to vent.

Disconnect from Your Thoughts

Feel Overwhelmed

This final tip is not a specific technique or method. Rather it is guidance on how to better manage intruding thoughts and overwhelming feelings. Yes, getting your thoughts out is extremely useful. But sometimes it won’t help. At these times, you may need to learn how to disconnect or disengage from these thoughts. There are numerous ways for you to do this:

  • Engage in simple yet monotonous tasks such as washing the dishes to help you enter a calm or meditative state.
  • You could also sit quietly in a peaceful space such as under a tree to ground yourself and meditate.
  • Move your body through exercise to get out of your head and drop into your physical body.
  • Spend time outside by taking a walk to bring your attention outwards into the physical realm.
  • Talk it out with a good friend or family member (especially if one of the methods above didn’t work).
  • Listen to music or sing your heart out. When you’re in the car roll down the windows and sing like a rock star.

Summary

I know how difficult it can be to deal with intrusive thoughts which is why it’s essential to learn methods for organizing your thoughts. If you feel overwhelmed by your thoughts, then one of these techniques is sure to help you.

Choose one that appeals to you or that you think may help and put some effort into it. You’ll be surprised at the results. Simply converting your thoughts into something tangible that you can organize, is extremely therapeutic.

How do you organize your thoughts when you feel overwhelmed by them?

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Comments 24

  1. Ronni, this is a wonderful, thought provoking post. It’s so true that when you change your thoughts, you change your actions. Your list of suggested ways to turn these elusive thoughts into something tangible is terrific. There is something there for everyone – no matter which way you prefer to process and review information. My favorite is putting thoughts on Post-it notes. I can just see (in my mind’s eye) creating a wall filled with Post-it notes and then arranging them in an order that works for me.

    1. Diane,

      I use Post-it notes a lot and for many different purposes. It’s visual and clear. It really helps me to organize projects that have many moving pieces.

      One is the most important skills I’ve learned is that if I change my thoughts I can change my actions. It does start with our thoughts. And then, I need to create clever ways of caring it out.

      I’m so happy that this this was meaningful for you.

  2. Such a great topic to focus in on, Ronni! We tend to think our thoughts don’t need to be intentionally addressed or organized, but they most certainly do!

    I find it helpful to get things out of my brain and out into my planner. I also journal in the mornings to give voice to the emotional thoughts, which I find helps a lot.

    Changing our thinking can really improve the way we respond to and experience everything in life!

    1. Seana,
      I have also found journaling helpful. It’s cathartic and it gets everything out of the brain and onto paper.
      I love what you said, that you journal in the mornings to give voice to the emotional thoughts. I’m sure it calms and guides you as you start your day.

  3. Great tips! I found that mind maps work wonderfully for those projects that I know I want to do but just don’t know how to start. It allows me to see the “big picture” to make sure I can reach my goal.

    Using these tips will help our minds take the next step in life without stopping us. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sabrina,
      This is so true. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the big picture. Mapping it out gives a perspective and understanding.
      Right now, I’m starting to plan my daughter‘s wedding. There are so many moving pieces that the easiest way to think it through is mapping it out. It’s such a great exercise for any kind of project.

  4. This is an excellent post, Ronni, and I’ve pinned it to my “Achieving Awesomeness” board. I love that you offer so many options for solving this frustrating problem. I recently discovered another approach.

    I’ve been using the Todoist task management app for a few years. When something pops into my mind, I add it as a task with no due date. Every few weeks or months I go through those tasks to decide whether I should start working on them.

    The last time I did this, I discovered a number of seemingly unrelated tasks which could be handled with some new software I’ve purchased. I created a new project for getting started with the software, and added all those tasks to the project. I was so happy to see how well everything connected, and it will make it much easier for me to develop and implement new processes because I’d already documented those ideas.

    1. Janet,

      Thank you for pinning the post to the “Achieving Awesomeness” board. It feels awesome just saying it!

      I like the idea of the Todoist task management app. It’s helpful to be able to rearrange our thoughts and tasks. I love reading about how everyone has a different method that works for them.

      Documenting is critical. I learned that years ago from a colleague. It’s a real game changer when having to refer back to conversations, notes, ideas- personally or in business.

  5. I’ve always been a fan of the “mind dump”. It’s usually just a big ol’ list, in the order that thoughts occur, that later needs to be sorted and prioritized. I love the idea of doing a “mind dump” on Sticky Notes! Easier to rearrange and group like items together. I also have been known to tape sheets of paper onto my french door window panes and group overwhelming thoughts together that way, writing on the sheets of paper with a black Sharpie. Usually they are things I need to do and the pages are labeled TODAY, SOONER, LATER and/or PROJECT NAME(S).

    1. Hazel,
      Sticky notes are amazing for organizing our thoughts. I also like the visual component of a sticky note.
      Hanging sheets of paper to the wall, window, a door works because it works for you! I sometimes use different colored markers to separate thoughts. It just makes it easier for me.

  6. I love all of your suggestions, Ronni! Our thoughts CAN be intrusive and at times overwhelming. For me, several things are my go-to strategies when my mind is bursting. I write lists, journal, walk, talk out loud with a trusted listener. As a verbal processor, writing and talking are both helpful to sort out ideas or intrusive thoughts. For the listener, it’s helpful for them to do just that- perhaps reflect what they’ve heard but not try to solve. And as the talker, it’s important to cue the listener that it’s the ‘listening’ you need right now.

    That’s something my younger daughter taught me, and it’s been so useful. When someone is sharing with you, what do they need from you? Someone to just listen or help with solutions? Those are completely different.

    1. Linda,
      I love what you said here. Like you, I often want to talk it out with someone who will not interrupt and just listen. There are times you don’t want comments and there are times you need feedback.
      I like journaling as well. I find it so healing. Once I commit my thoughts to paper, I know I’ve worked out at least a piece of what I’m struggling with if not everything.
      I’ve learned a lot from my daughter too. She has a beautiful way of expressing herself. In such a way that the other person can “hear” and take it in.

    1. Thank you Joan! How are you? I’ll send you some referrals.
      I am meeting with our other Joan tomorrow!!

  7. Great ideas and we all are different. The ones that work best for me are the brain dump list of what is bothering me and the timeline. Also the reminder to just disconnect from those thoughts running through your brain is important.

    1. Jonda,

      I find disconnecting from my thoughts to be very challenging. It’s hard to do. There are many times, however, I need to rest my brain. It becomes crowded from a daily stream of my own mental chatter.

    1. Sheri,

      Thank you so much. We’re always talking about organizing our things. I find organization really starts in our thoughts.

  8. I started using Asana to put all my work “to-dos” in and give myself timelines. It’s helped me feel a lot less stressed about everything I need to do for my business.

    1. Phaedra,
      I’ve heard only positive comments about Asana. People rave about it and how much it has helped organize their list of to-dos.
      Everyone has their own particular style. I like to draw it out because that’s how my brain works and responds.

  9. Mind maps all the way here, Ronni. I’ll often start out trying to organize my thoughts on a spreadsheet or by making a list only to abandon it and pull out piece of good old printer paper and let my brain work the way it naturally does. I can see connections better that way. I learned this technique decades ago from Tony Buzan’s book on mind mapping and it’s always worked best for me.

    1. Lucy,
      I’ve always liked to think projects through, mapping them out, especially when there are so many moving pieces. I admire that you found what works for you, even though you’ve tried other techniques,and you go back to what’s most comfortable.

  10. These are such good and varied suggestions! Usually, I’m a linear thinking and can innately come up with a brainstormed, prioritized list. But when I’m feeling overwhelmed by too many obligations and tasks, I need to go beyond my normal list plan, and will alternate between sticky color-coded (by work/life category) sticky notes on the wall or index cards on my living room floor. In both cases, the drag-and-drop aspect is like a life-sized spreadsheet. I can have columns of projects with tasks in order of need for completion, or lay them out by what’s going to bring the biggest return-on-investment. But I know that when it’s all my head, I’m going to spend too much time thinking OF what I have to do instead about robustly thinking ABOUT each thing, and therein lies the difference.

    I find talking it out to someone else, somewhat like having a body double, also works. If I made a recording, I’d probably go from talking out loud to mumbling to just thinking about it, but I’ve been known to just ask someone to sit on the phone while I talk through a decision tree or list of obligations and more often than not, just talking to Deb Lee or Melissa Gratias while they murmur “mmhmm” every once in a while is enough for me to get unstuck!

    1. Julie,

      You make so many good points. All of your methods are terrific. It’s whatever works for you or works for you at the moment.
      Getting out of your head with some type of action is key. (I’m all about focusing on the solutions to a problem.) It’s difficult when there are so many moving pieces. That’s why it’s important to find a way to organize our thoughts.

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