Meet Max. He works in an insurance company where he receives a healthy sales commission apart from the basic salary. With the pandemic taking over the lives of the healthy and the elderly, the pressure is on to get more business. He’s one of the star salesmen of his company, and his team members often barge into his office for his guidance. His boss depends on his performance to make a difference to the bottom line and often calls him to attend sudden meetings. Max’s wife is expecting their second child, and every Tuesday evening, he and Hannah visit the birthing classes after dropping their 2-year old son at the babysitter’s. Meanwhile, Max’s mom hasn’t been able to visit them due to the pandemic and is expecting him to visit this Easter. Feeling overwhelmed at work and home can seriously put a dampener on your happiness and productivity. You need to fulfill many roles – reporting boss, colleague, spouse, parent, confidant, child – and things can get too much sometimes.
This post uncovers the reasons why we feel overwhelmed at work and the strategies to alleviate this situation to increase our productivity without compromising our well-being.
Table of contents
- Why We Feel Overwhelmed At Work
- Strategies And Tips To Reduce Feeling Overwhelmed At Work
- Identify the trigger
- Break a big project into smaller parts
- Estimate the duration of the tasks
- Reach out and ask for help
- Exchange notes with colleagues
- Prioritize tasks
- Set boundaries
- Do a brain dump
- Don’t aim for perfection
- Use the time blocking method
- Don’t procrastinate
- Don’t avoid making decisions
- Focus on 3 MITs daily
- Take breaks to overcome feeling overwhelmed at work
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
- Weekly planning
- Check to re-adjust
- Banish the negatives
Why We Feel Overwhelmed At Work
The following are the key reasons we feel overwhelmed at work:
→ Tight deadlines
→ Work pressure
→ Too many tasks on the plate
→ Too many commitments
→ Uncertain about job security
→ Always on-call, thanks to virtual channels of communication.
One or all of the above reasons can lead to an overwhelmed feeling at work, hampering your ability to make the right decisions. This causes more stress as you feel like you’re not making any headway. The feeling gets compounded as you see your productivity levels sinking in front of you.
Although we are built in a way to enable us to handle stress, letting it become a regular part of our lives is a big no-no. Feeling overwhelmed at work day in, day out will get to you and lead to mental and physical conditions, often life-threatening ones.
Strategies And Tips To Reduce Feeling Overwhelmed At Work
Whenever you feel overwhelmed at work, get to work on the tips below to address and overcome them.
Identify the trigger
Learn to identify the trigger that’s setting off the feeling of being overwhelmed. Is it too many projects with clashing deadlines? Or spending way too much time in meetings? Are team members distracting you from deep work with their sob stories? Is your boss expecting you to grow another pair of hands?
Once you know what’s causing you the feeling of being overwhelmed at work, you can address these by digging deeper. Only when you get to the source of your feeling overwhelmed can you plan an action to overcome it.
Remember that there is a solution to all predicaments. You just need to take time to address the cause(s) to stop feeling overwhelmed at work. Moreover, knowing the trigger will help you develop coping mechanisms.
For example, take an antsy client who sends you an email every morning. Don’t let it throw you into the overwhelming pit. Prepare your reaction to this stimulus so that instead of letting it overwhelm you, you can make the appropriate answer and retain your relaxed state of mind.
Break a big project into smaller parts
When you have a big project sitting on your shoulders, it may seem too huge for you to complete without losing your sanity. However, you’d be surprised at the calming effect breaking down the big job into smaller tasks may have on you.
Breaking a large task into smaller parts is one of the key strategies to accomplish your work efficiently. It forces you to see the component parts and how connecting these together can make things happen.
Without SMART goals, nobody can complete a big project. So, whenever you feel overwhelmed at work because of a big launch or an event, break it down into smaller tasks that are manageable and doable. Assign a deadline to each smaller task so that it leads you smoothly to the main deadline.
Estimate the duration of the tasks
It’s good to have a rough idea of how long each task would take to complete. At this stage, it’s enough to just guesstimate. No need to jump right into the execution phase.
Always over-estimate the duration of a task instead of the opposite. Underestimation would only make you overwhelmed at work, while the right estimation would give you enough time to complete. Even if there’s some time left over, you can take a break or start on the next task.
You will see that a major portion of the project is getting handled without your help in every step. Suffice it is for you to get a regular progress report and remove any blocker.
Some employees may think it is only their responsibility to get things done. This notion will always overwhelm you. Although on paper it could be just one person in charge of a project, it takes a team or two to help with the execution part.
Hence, instead of feeling overwhelmed, the first thing to do is to divide a large task and delegate the smaller jobs to get the work done. Ask for help when in doubt, even if you don’t feel like it.
Reach out and ask for help
If you feel overwhelmed at work, reach out and ask for help. Your manager can help you by getting you in touch with one or more of the right resources. Use the office grapevine and connect with counselors or other teammates who can help you out of your stress.
Those who are not in the same situation as you are would be able to give you a neutral solution from a calm perspective. Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed because of personal things, ask for help although you may not feel like it.
Team members can become great friends over time and they would stop you from feeling overwhelmed and full of stress whenever things seem to go out of control.
Exchange notes with colleagues
This helps especially if your job is a new one or you have recently joined the workforce. Exchanging notes with your team members and hanging out with other teams can give you insights that may help reduce your stress. You could choose a one-to-one informal session or a group chat.
For example, if you know what the department head likes or doesn’t like, it would be easier for you to focus on those strategies to put you on their good books. This will, therefore, reduce the chances of unnecessary stress and overwhelm.
However, steer clear from office gossip as that would be detrimental to your career and productivity. Just try to find out as many tips as possible that would have a direct impact on the way you can focus on work and get it done.
When there are too many tasks on your plate, learn to focus by prioritizing. You can use the ABCDE, Eisenhower Matrix, or any other prioritization technique as the first step to prevent stress. It would help you sort out tasks that are high, medium, or low on importance and urgency.
Delegating urgent but not important tasks and eliminating tasks from your to-do list that are neither urgent and important are two key strategies that we often overlook. Adopting these tactics would create more room for you to breathe and less stress.
If you are unsure about which tasks to put on priority, always ask your manager or team leader. Otherwise, you would end up working again on something and that would leave you feeling overwhelmed. The stress of double working will make you lose focus and feel frustrated.
Can’t say no when your colleague pops around for a quick chat? Or when your boss asks you to represent him in a meeting that you know nothing about? If you keep spaces in your calendar open, people would book you for a meeting, assuming that you are free. This would lead to a life of stress.
Calendar-block your time using the time blocking technique. Assign hours to your daily schedule when you will be in an important meeting or doing deep work. Besides work activities, you should time block your breaks and other activities like jogging, meditating, etc.
You can share your calendar with your boss and your colleagues so that everyone knows when you’re free. They won’t take you for granted anymore and won’t send you a random meeting request.
Another way to set boundaries is by demarcating the times when you would be free from your electronic devices. Let your team and your boss know that you need to go for a daily digital detox from, for example, 9 pm to 8 am as a way to stay away from social media and any email from work to avoid stress.
If you don’t want to fall into the overwhelm trap, make it known that you are not on-call 24/7/365. Also, set phone-free zones and times in your home like the kitchen and during all mealtimes. Step by little step, you will help yourself to take long strides toward less stress.
Do a brain dump
When you’re feeling down and overwhelmed at work, write down what’s bothering you. Do a complete brain dump without worrying about making a list perfectly.
Not only is this process cathartic, but it also helps you identify what’s triggering your discomfort at work. Once you identify the cause, it’s easier to form a strategy or a mindset to tackle your stress.
Don’t aim for perfection
The more you aim for a 100% perfect job, the more you get stressed and lose efficiency and productivity. Put 20% focused efforts as that would get you 80% of the results.
Trying to get 100% accurate results will only lead to wasting time and more frustration. Check out how else you end up wasting time at work without realizing it.
Use the time blocking method
In your calendar, schedule your tasks using the time blocking technique. Plan for each day and each week and you will gradually feel less overwhelmed at work and more in control.
With the time blocking method, plan to get your work done on time by assigning chunks of hours to specific tasks. Most of us have high energy levels during the first few hours of the morning. Use this time to work on strategies and other deep work.
Keep tasks like routine email and messaging, stand-up meetings, etc for times when your productivity starts to dip. For example, after lunch. However, some people have a different productivity cycle. You should plan doing your tasks according to their importance and the time of the day when you are most and least productive.
You can stop feeling overwhelmed at work by doing similar activities. Don’t go back and forth replying to emails. Just keep a 30-minute window for replying to emails and you can get done similar tasks like responding to text messages.
When you see your daily calendar organized with the work you need to get done during the day, you will automatically feel in control and collected.
Another reason we could be feeling overwhelmed at work is that we didn’t start doing a task at the right time as we fell prey to procrastination. Now, with a deadline looming ominously over our heads, we naturally lose our cool and start feeling overwhelmed.
Procrastination means putting off till tomorrow what we can do today. Pushing back our work and hoping that destiny will save us somehow is not how things work. If anything, try to get a head-start on a project by starting earlier if you have some bonus time in your hand.
Don’t avoid making decisions
We tend to avoid making a decision because we don’t want to think about a project. We keep telling ourselves that we will do it later. In the process, we end up not making a concrete decision.
Whatever project or situation is bothering you, seek the advice of others or simply have a chat about it to get it off your chest. You’d be surprised how sticky situations can be handled just by talking to the right person.
Once you are determined to make a decision, you will find it easier to seek out solutions, and feeling overwhelmed at work will become a thing of the past.
Use Parkinson’s Law to get more done in less time.
According to Parkinson’s Law, the more time we allocate to a job, it’s like we will use all of it and some more.
For example, if we think it will take 30 minutes to reply to emails, we will use all this time to do exactly this. But, if we time box this task by saying, “I will reply to 10 emails in 20 minutes”, we will be more efficient.
In essence, reduce the time you think it will take to complete a job and you will still be able to complete it comfortably. Once you stick to these time blocks and time boxes, you will stop feeling overwhelmed at work.
Focus on 3 MITs daily
Every evening, plan the 3 MITs or Most Important Tasks for the next day. Things can change overnight so have a look again in the morning. Even after you prioritize your activities, there may be more than 3 of them that need urgent attention. Sift from these until you decide on the top 3 MITs.
When you focus on the MITs, you can visualize your goals and work toward them without feeling overwhelmed. With zero stress, you can deep work on one thing at a time and tick off each from your to-do list.
A firm conviction to complete three MITs is a really great way to accomplish your daily objectives.
Take breaks to overcome feeling overwhelmed at work
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at work when you have a lot on your mind and on your task list. If you have so much work that you don’t know where to start, the first thing to do is take a break from work and think things through.
Just step back from the work environment and go for a walk. Sit somewhere quiet where you can organize and process your thoughts clearly. Or just close your door and meditate for ten minutes.
You could also do some breathing exercises to get back on track of work without letting your work overwhelm you. Just take a deep breath through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Do it 10 times and you will feel much better.
Many people fail to benefit from a quick walk or spending some time in quiet meditation. It will calm your mind so that you’re more relaxed and able to make better decisions.
Make sure to put a high priority on your mental state if you want to be productive at work and home. If you let the external environment overwhelm you, all hell will break loose. So, it’s better for you and your team if you go for some me-time to help you figure things out.
Plus, it’s good to take a little break in between meetings to help you reduce your stress level and make you feel less overwhelmed. Always add buffer times when your day is filled with meetings so that your chock-a-block day won’t overwhelm you.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Little things can lead to feeling overwhelmed because when we are too invested in the small stuff, we lose sight of more important issues. The more important things suddenly take a larger than life proportion, leading to feeling overwhelmed.
That’s why when you prioritize, don’t put little things like replying to an email or calling back your vendor on the top of the schedule. These activities may seem important, but in reality, they are not. Feeling overwhelmed at work is directly proportional to putting focus on the small stuff.
Looking at how the week is supposed to unfold is a great way to stop feeling overwhelmed at work. One thing for certain is that a weekly schedule will make you feel like you’re in control.
A weekly plan gives you the opportunity to take a close look at the pending activities. You can adjust the duration of these activities if you want to. We can’t always get the duration estimate right the first time. With a weekly schedule, it becomes really convenient to tweak the timing.
You also learn to build flexibility if you make a weekly plan for your work. One thing for sure is uncertainty and if you’re armed with a flexible weekly plan, it’s easy to adjust your schedule.
Instead of fighting a fire, you can step back and assess the situation. As there is enough buffer time in your calendar, there’s no reason why you should feel overwhelmed at work.
Check to re-adjust
Get a reality check on your original work plan to reduce the causes of overwhelm at work. Review your list and the entire plan at the end and the beginning of each week to check if your initial plan was spot on or not.
If we think the original plan is the best course of action to follow, we may be wrong. It’s essential to check the results of the initial schedule against objectives. If you want to improve your productivity, you need to keep reviewing and making adjustments.
Banish the negatives
Don’t let negative thoughts, situations, or people overwhelm you. When everything around you seems chaotic, you may tend to lose focus on the positives and feel the negative energy only.
No matter how much downsides there are to things at work and home, try to see the positives and focus on these. You will experience fewer bouts of overwhelm and train your mind to learn from such situations.
In all aspects of life, we are bound to feel overwhelmed at one point or another. And it’s not only confined within the workspace. By following the tips shared in this post, you can improve your quality of life along with your productivity level at both the workplace and home.