As a human being living in 2015, I’ve accepted I will always have too much to do in one day. Assignments to complete, freelance work to manage, email accounts to check, life maintenance to take care of, people to meet. All, of course, on a deadline.

Years ago, this endless to-do list used to stress me out. However, I’ve learned over time that panicking doesn’t accomplish much. Or really, anything at all. And while it’s normal to freak out when we’re faced with so many urgent tasks, it’s not at all productive. (Unless you’re lucky enough to be one of those people who thrives on pressure, deadlines, and impossible odds.)

So, when you’ve got a lot on your plate and aren’t sure how to stay calm—don’t resort to that “there’s no way I’ll ever get it done” mode. Instead, ask yourself these four questions to come up with a game plan that actually makes sense.

1. What Needs to Be Done Right This Second?

I can’t tell you how many times I have what seems like a billion things to do—and what do I do? Add more things to the list that don’t belong there. Not to say that those things aren’t important or don’t have to be done—they just don’t need to be done right now.

Evaluate your own list, and decide: What’s most important? What’s next most important? And what is possibly okay to be put off until tomorrow? Try dividing your to-dos into four categories—do now, do today, do this week, and do later—and hiding the “do this week” and “do later” lists until you actually need to look at them.

2. How Much Time Do I Really Need to Do All This?

I know—what you really need is for someone to design a time-stopping machine, like, stat. But given that you realistically only have 24 hours in a day, it’s time to calculate how much time you’ll need for each project within your given timeline.

Muse writer Lily Herman walks through an excellent process for working backward from your deadlines that can help you understand just how to fit everything in. In addition, you’ll want to put your tasks into the context of your day. What requires your entire attention—and what could you do while eating lunch? What could be delegated during the afternoon team meeting? What could be accomplished during your commute? There may just be hidden pockets in your day to fit more in.

3. What’s the Smartest Way to Tackle This?

Now, there are countless ways to tackle your to-do list, but the one that matters most is the one that works best for you. Some people work better when they get the hardest tasks out of the way first; others like to begin with the easy stuff to boost their confidence. Similarly, some of us are early birds, and others are night owls. You know you best, so come up with a personalized system that makes sense.

(Just don’t spend too much time planning instead of doing the actual work.)

4. What Can I Do to Alleviate This Feeling Right Now?

When I feel stressed, I clean my room. It sounds unproductive, but something about cleaning helps me re-focus and feel better about what I have to do that day. Sometimes, despite how much work you have, you just need to organize your life a bit before you tackle the difficult stuff.

So, let yourself go off the beaten track if you think it’ll help reduce your stress. Do 15 minutes of meditation, take a walk, grab a coffee, chat with a co-worker about last night’s TV shows. By giving yourself a little bit of time to calm down, your “I won’t even have time to take a lunch” day will probably feel a lot less stressful.

While it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed with your to-do list, it is so important to learn how to handle it in a way that works for you. So, how do you cope with a jam-packed schedule productively? Tweet me!

Photo of stressed man courtesy of Shutterstock.