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Managing Overwhelm in Your Job

LearnAlyssa Davis
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

"Overwhelm is, most often, a mindset. If you think about all the things you have to do, you'll be face down on the floor. It really helps to break it down into smaller pieces.” – Jen Sincero, NYT Bestselling Author

When Your Head’s Barely Above Water

You know that feeling – the piling up of papers, the unread messages in your inbox, the “I’ll get around to it when I have a second” constant state of being. We’ve all been there. Maybe you’re feeling that today, and you’re just barely keeping your head above water. You’re far from alone.

The issue is that we get overwhelmed, overworked, and oftentimes think the solution is to put our heads down and just start on that “grind”. Now in some cases, getting started is the secret. Usually taking that first step is half the battle, and then once you get to hacking away at your workload, it becomes more manageable. However, going straight for the gold without a plan is a dreadful use of your time. Now you’re probably thinking, “Well I don’t have any spare time to schedule out my work. I have too much to do.” And while that may feel true, studies show that you’re probably not as busy as you may think. Most people that claim to work 75-hour workweeks are usually only clocking in 50 hours. That’s 25 hours that they’ve most likely spent thinking about work, which in turn made them feel like they were working, even when they were off the clock. In fact, research shows that most people who work an 8-hour day are really only clocking in 3 hours of productivity. Prioritizing what actually needs to be accomplished is necessary for managing overwhelm.

Create your plan of attack. We like to set aside 15 minutes at the end of the day on Friday to go over the past week, organize the week to come, and prioritize the important tasks that need completion. Writing down the tasks that you have to complete and scheduling them into your day not only helps you decide which tasks matter but also gives you a chance to breathe. When we reach the point of overwhelm, we tend to forget to pause. Taking meaningful, intentional pauses throughout your day increases your productivity by giving you a reset and a chance to focus on what’s next.

Once you’ve created your plan, begin. Put your head down and get to work. Do one task at a time and put all of your energy into that singular task. Multitasking is your biggest enemy, and while you may feel more productive, the studies show that it takes “an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task” you were originally on when you switch between multiple tasks. So while intentional pauses are great after completion of a long task, distractions should be limited. Try muting your Slack notifications or hiding your inbox until you finish. The “pings” can wait.

Get to sleep. This, much like pausing, can seem counterintuitive. If you have a lot of work to do, sleeping is probably not at the top of your list. We’re here to tell you to hit the hay. Get a full 8 hours of sleep. If you’re tired at work, the minor stressors can feel like major stressors and you’ll be more distracted throughout your day. No, that third cup of coffee isn’t helping you get through your workload, it’s just making you strung out and more tired. We don’t know who needs to hear this, but if it’s you, put down the coffee and go to bed. Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier, wake up, stretch, meditate, and begin your day.

Know that there is an end. You have gotten through every time that you have ever been stressed out, strung out, and fully past your limit. This too shall pass. Remember that while it may seem never ending, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, get some sleep, plan out your days, and delegate when necessary. You don’t have to be superman (or woman). Being “busy” is not a crowning achievement. You have time. Prioritize as you see fit, take a deep breath, and just begin.