Overwhelm is a pernicious state that can cause significant negative impacts on an individual’s life, most notably at the workplace. With ever-increasing demands on our time, and with distractions all around us, it’s no surprise that many individuals feel overwhelmed at work. However, feeling overwhelmed at work is completely normal and happens to a lot of people. Stress, is the leading cause of feeling overwhelmed at work according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Countless research shows that this overload of stress can lead to many health complications such as hypertension, anxiety, and heart attacks. Therefore, it’s essential to identify when you may be getting too overwhelmed by stress at work.
The first step to dealing with overwhelm is to recognize the signs of it. Although it is believed that overwhelm happens suddenly, there are many benign stages where it can easily be identified. A lack of concentration, trouble sleeping, constant sickness, finding mundane tasks too much, and inability to eat well at lunch are all signs that you may be feeling overwhelmed at work.
Once you’ve identified the symptoms of overwhelm, it’s best to address them before they start to implicate your life. There are many ways to combat overwhelm, six of which we’ll cover in more detail below.
1. Write Everything Down to Offload Your Mind
The first thing that you can do when work feels overwhelming is to write everything down that’s on your mind. Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This helps, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write everything that’s occupying your thoughts. For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind, write it down.
The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will help you stop feeling overwhelmed at work. Writing things down can really change your life. Plus, you can always refer back to what you wrote down if you need to remember something important.
2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos
Once you’ve emptied your head, it’s time to go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do. As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.
Don’t worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. You can learn how to create a more meaningful to-do list here.
3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it. Humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take, so this is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad. It’s more wishful thinking than bad judgment.
To use Parkinson’s Law to combat overwhelm, reduce the time you estimate tasks will take. So, if you have estimated that writing five important emails will take ninety minutes, reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.
Reducing the time pressure you estimate helps you get your work done quicker, and it puts you under a little time pressure. As a result, you reduce the likelihood that you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate. Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening, and you end up being more focused and getting more work done.
4. Use the Power of Your Calendar
Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Schedule time for each task, especially high priority tasks, while also grouping together similar tasks. This will help relieve stress and anxiety in your daily work life.
For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.
Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done, and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer, and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.
5. Make Decisions
For those things that you wrote down that are on your mind but aren’t tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things could be topics that keep coming up in your head, things that you want to say to a certain colleague, or things you need to discuss with your boss. Making a decision about what to do with each one will help you release stress and anxiety associated with these items.
6. Break Big Tasks into Smaller Ones
When you recognize a big task, break it down into smaller ones. If it feels too big, make it into bite-sized chunks that you can tackle one by one. This way, you get a sense of progress, and you’ll feel less overwhelmed by the task at hand.
In conclusion, feeling overwhelmed at work is completely normal, but it’s essential to identify the signs before the overwhelm reaches a concerning state. There are many ways to combat overwhelm, such as writing everything down, deciding on how long each task will take, taking advantage of Parkinson’s Law, using your calendar, making decisions, and breaking big tasks into smaller ones. By using some or all of these strategies, you can reduce the feeling of overwhelm, leaving you calmer, in control, and a lot less stressed at work.