Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed with all the items on the never-ending to-do list?

Some days my focus completely flies out the window and I don’t know what to tackle first. Work projects, house projects, errands to run … there is always something begging for my attention.

Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed with all the items on the never-ending to-do list?

Some days, my focus completely flies out the window and I don’t know what to tackle first. Work projects, house projects, errands to run … there is always something begging for my attention.

Today I stared at the piles of papers and research on my desk and felt the heat of looming deadlines. I looked at the floors that needed sweeping and the stack of dishes. I surveyed the full laundry baskets. My head started swimming with “Where do I begin?”

Then I did something that I have not done in a very long time. I grabbed a blank notebook and a pen, and I wrote a poem. It had nothing to do with chores or obligations. It was a reflection on friendship and how blessed I am. And it was not a very good poem; don’t worry, I won’t be sharing it.

Those few moments of pen in hand, scribbling on paper took me away from the demands of the here and now. It was a short break, but in those minutes, I was completely absorbed in the act of writing and my mind was not drifting about, arguing with itself about what was most pressing to accomplish.

Perspective came back. Gratitude entered in. Calmness washed over me. I looked up at my bulletin board on the wall over my desk and was reminded, “Bird by bird.” That is the title of a book by Anne Lamont. I photocopied the book cover years ago and thumbtacked it up on my inspiration board. I even took this piece of paper to a book signing and had Anne autograph it.

The title is her metaphor on how to tackle the to-do’s. When she was growing up, her brother had put off doing his school research paper until the night before it was due. He had to research and write on 20 different birds and was succumbing to the pressure. Their father gently encouraged him, “Bird by bird, buddy. One at a time, you’ll get them done. Bird by bird.”

My life lesson was two-fold. Bird by bird is a steady reminder to take a deep breath and just get going. Pick a bird, any bird. Then move on to the next. Bird by bird, the projects will get finished. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started.

The other nugget of wisdom is that sometimes a little head clearing is needed in order to approach the birds with a fresh outlook. All of sudden the undertaking does not seem so scary. To achieve that new point of view, you need to step out of the swirl of emotions for a short time and get centered.

How you choose to regain your composure is a personal choice. Maybe it is writing in your journal. Maybe it’s a quick walk around the block. Maybe it’s a 10-minute nap. (Maybe it’s a shot of whiskey and a Camel cigarette.)

There will always be moments of overwhelm. When they hit, take a deep breath, and take a breather. Then simply tell yourself bird by bird. Bird by bird. Bird by bird.

Write Journal-Standard contributor Kelly Epperson at kel_epperson@yahoo.com; P.O. Box 2324 Loves Park IL 61131; or www.kellyepperson.com.