How To Be Productive When Life Blindsides You

This post was previously published. It has been updated.

There are times when I feel like the dump truck of life blindsides me. And then the truck backs over me for good measure.

But life goes on. So as I metaphorically pick myself up and dust off the tire tracks, I need to have a plan. I need to figure out how to be productive when life blindsides me.

Make a List

I make lists instinctively. So when life is handing me a load of stuff, I make a list of everything I have to do. This is a total brain dump, outside of my usual task tracking places.

I write everything down that is claiming my attention. I don’t try to frame this in any context: no project, no “do-ableness”. I add in everything from vacuuming under the dresser to appointments I have to keep in the next month to vague notions of maintenance I need to do. I just write it all down.

At the end of this process I pick up my current task lists and add those things in, then read the whole mess over to see if I’ve missed anything.

Shorten The List

When life blindsides you you are now dealing with a lot more “ick” than you were before. And dealing with anything takes time. So my next step is to shorten the list.

Off comes anything that can be put off for a short time with no serious consequences. Usually this includes external commitments, committee meetings, and anything that can be outsourced.

Next I scratch out anything that absolutely doesn’t have to be done in the next week.

Shorten the List Again

At this point I look at the much-shortened list. The only things left on there are critical things, and things that have to be done in the next week.

But let’s be honest. Do those things really have to be done? I look hard at each item and see if skipping it will cause irreparable harm. If not, off they come.

Focus on Essentials

Now I have a short list – usually two or three items. I add three more things onto the list: food, rest and exercise.


Because if I don’t write them down, I forget to do them in the appropriate quantities.

By focusing on these essentials I ensure that I am not going to end up in a worse situation due to exhaustion or illness.

Ask For Help

This last one is the hardest for me. But after my husband had a near-fatal accident in 2008, a woman I respect told me that when I let people help, I am doing them a favor, not the other way around. She said that people feel helpless and being allowed to help will make them feel like they can do something to ease what is going on.

If I am really in a bad place, I reach out to others and let them know I am having a tough time. People seem to always come through – even if it is just to listen to me whine for a while.

All of us have times when life gets overwhelming. What are your strategies for coping?


  1. Julia

    I do hope you are feeling more ‘upright’ by the time you read this. Good ideas for those wobbly times & happy to listen to whines!

  2. hesbon kerongo

    Surely you have said it. making a list of things that we need and narrowing them down gives us an opportunity to be more productive and grow towards success. thanks a lot for the nugget.

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