Are You Overwhelmed?

March 19, 2016  Min to Reads

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ID-100353841Would you think that I’m weak if I told you that I sometimes feel overwhelmed with work? Perhaps not, but I know that it feels risky any time I tell someone, especially the people I report to or the people that report to me, that I’m feeling overwhelmed. I worry that they will think that I’ve reached my limit, can’t handle more responsibility, and will ultimately fail at my work. The fact of the matter is that I think most people get overwhelmed with their work at least occasionally, and if you are striving to distinguish yourself, the likelihood is that you will, from time to time, get that sense of anxiety that we are embarrassed to admit that we feel.

Let’s face it, when you want to advance and earn more responsibility and therefore greater financial rewards, you say ‘yes’ to a lot of projects and requests that you probably aren’t sure how you’ll manage. When they start to stack up and the reality of their weight starts to bear down on you, anxiety can set in, and you start to feel overwhelmed. Whether you have what it takes to move to the next level or not has nothing to do with whether you feel overwhelmed. Instead, it has everything to do with how you deal with that feeling of being overwhelmed.

With this post I am adding to the hundreds, maybe thousands of articles and blog posts out there about how to deal with stress and anxiety at work. If you search the web you will find

  • 3 Quick Steps to Feel Better Now
  • Overwhelmed at Work? Six Practice Solutions
  • 7 Things to Do if You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

The list goes on…

So, rather than give you a list of “10 Ways to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed at Work” I just going to share a recent experience of that feeling, and what I knew I had to do to overcome it. Maybe my experience will help you.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and travel means things stack up and new projects come. Whenever I travel for work, it typically means I am going to meet with people who will ask me to do something for them. Often the things they are asking me to do are things I want to do, and if I do them well, there is the belief that I will stand a better chance at future opportunities for promotion. I’ve learned something about myself over the years…I’m a bit ambitious. For this reason I rarely say no, especially when the request comes from an influential leader, whose opinion of me could make or break my chance for future advancement.

A few weeks ago I walked out of a meeting having accepted another major responsibility, my third major project to oversee or manage on top of my day to day managerial responsibilities. For a few hours I was nearly paralyzed thinking ‘what have I gotten myself into? Can I do this? Am I going to make a fool of myself and disappoint my leaders?’

Later on that evening, while talking with a friend, a sense of calm came over me as I realized what I needed to do. This will sound so simple and obvious, but it is so often missed and neglected. I looked at my friend and said, ‘it is going to be fine. I just need to get in front of my white board and write it all down, define it, understand it, and see it with that level of clarity, and I will be fine.’ I knew it was true, because that practice has become my standard response to anxiety. By simply writing down every major Area of Focus and the major milestones that need to be addressed next and then prioritizing them I going from being mastered by my work, to mastering it. It is no longer this ethereal pressure of ideas and undefined due dates weighing down on me. Now it is a definite, visual, named thing that I can manage, prioritize, and tackle piece by piece. I go from being force fed an elephant, to enjoying a savory meal in my favorite restaurant.

Ok, so I know there’s a lot of flowery imagery in that last paragraph, but its real. The simple task of writing it all down, the Areas of Focus and their Major Milestones, and then setting some firm dates and prioritizing everything is one of my most effective methods for overcoming the feeling of being overwhelmed.

What are your techniques? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it.

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  1. If I have a set amount of hours to devote towards a project, what helps me is this: I will divide my project time into short segments of time. In between segments I will also schedule breaks to do something like workout, make a phone call, or go to another project that is more enjoyable. I’m essentially taking a break. Then I jump back into things. I will also very my work place for these segments: a coffee shop, a hotel lobby area, a park bench – or I take a long walk and think about the project. I will work on projects even while on the eliptical machine and find myself putting notes in my phone to reference later. So basically, I try to stay energized and stay away from boredom. Don’t know if this is considered a ‘right way’ with people who study this – but it works!

    1. Rudy, thanks for sharing your techniques. I think you have found an effective way to keep yourself energized and productive. The variety in activities coupled with the exercise are definitely helpful ways to maintain focus and reduce stress. Moving away from a project for a while can sometimes be the best thing we can do for the success of the project.

      It is also amazing to me how beneficial exercise is and yet how often I sacrifice it because of how overwhelming my projects and tasks feel. In reality the exercise would help me, but too often I think that I don’t have time.

      I’m curious; do you notice an average amount of time that you are able to focus on a project before you need to move or change activities?

      Thanks, Mark

      1. I’ll begin with half an hour per segment. Having a schedule will typically help me to be more productive. Just a little pressure of a clock, even if it’s self generated pressure, makes a difference. 1/2 hour time slots are a good place to start.

        1. Rudy, that is really interesting that you choose 1/2 hour segments. I know many people struggle to even get focused in 1/2 hour let alone get meaningful work done in that amount of time. For some the time needed may be longer, but definitely having a schedule and a goal in mind like 30 minutes to work help keep us on track and make meaningful progress on our projects.

          1. Yea, sometimes my 1/2 hour slots go longer – which means I’m enjoying it and making good progress. But when I don’t feel like doing my projects, 1/2 hour slots help me to jump in and get started – because it doesn’t look so bad. So that is one reason I use that. But it’s a ‘sliding schedule’. If I go longer because I’m ejoying it, then the break slides to a later time. Enjoying my work helps me to be more productive in it.

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