How to stop being overwhelmed at work

Most of us at one point or another, at work, felt overwhelmed. It might have been caused by something as minor as receiving too many emails, or it might have been triggered by an abrupt shift in expectations — like a surprise meeting or a deadline that moved closer at the last moment.

There’s something that drives you into a state of utter exhaustion, and you start shutting down. You ‘re tired, you can’t think straight and you can’t concentrate on your job, for sure. Everything seems unlikely. Just something as basic as writing an email can sound like a challenge that can not be accomplished.

Yet just say what. You aren’t alone – and this will make it simpler. Next time you’re not sure where to start with your to-do list, try a couple of the strategies below.

1. Take a Break: Get Out of the Office

The office can easily become the worst place to be when you feel stressed and your stress and adrenalin levels are high. It feels like your boss is watching every step you make, like everybody’s just being a little too rambunctious, and like your cubicle walls are closing in.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but really: if you’re concerned about your job, the workplace can move easily from an ideal place to work to a place that actually prevents you from doing your job.

So, leave.  Take 10 minutes at least, and go for a walk around the block. The fresh air is making your mind clean.

And, if you can, take your laptop and go to work for the afternoon from somewhere a little more serene: your favorite coffee shop, a museum lobby or even a public park. When you don’t need it for the job at hand, and you can get away with it, go without Wi-Fi somewhere. Walking away from the hustle and bustle for a moment will help you hone into the work that really needs to be done — and remind you that beyond your work bubble there is a world.

2. Take Action: Take Time to Plan

It may seem like a inexperienced mistake to use your precious time to plan — you should use that time, you know, to work! — but setting aside some time to develop an action plan will make the remainder of your time working much more effective.

It can be pretty useful just to write down what needs to be done and decide in which order you should approach it. Why? Why? It takes all the stuff that flies madly through your brain and brings it into an actionable list. This helps you stop worrying about how you’ll do your job, and let you just think about doing it.

So stop panicking for a minute. Breathe. Then pull out a piece of paper and dump every task you have in your mind onto it. And prioritize them. Then, instead of jumping from task to task, you’ll know exactly what you’re focusing on now and what you’ll focus on next. It’s not wasting time—it’s making the rest of your time more efficient.

3. Take Action: Talk it Out with a Colleague
You may be concerned that talking to your coworkers about how you’re struggling would make you sound incompetent or whiny, but ask as long as you don’t expect them to do the job for you, it makes you appear positive. I was shocked to see how much simply talking on my plate through the tasks made everything seem more manageable. In the above example, my co-worker didn’t even have to say a lot back — the simple act of speaking it all out loud helped me process and organize my to-dos into something that I could fix. A friend may also give you tips on how he or she has dealt with similar feelings in the past. And, at least, you ‘re going to have someone to cheer you on when you’re working through your job.

4. Take a Break: Get a Full Night’s Sleep

It really should go without saying, but I still see so many of my friends driving up late at night when they’re “only getting too much work to do.” Avoid doing so right now. Put down your cup of coffee, and go to bed.

The time you sit in front of your computer instead of sleeping doesn’t help you get your work done any quicker. Unfortunately it actually slows you down. Why? Why? You become more distractible when you’re tired. If you’re tired, things look bigger and more threatening, and much less manageable than they do. You ‘re just not as good at your job when you’re exhausted as you could be..

Especially when you’re overwhelmed, you’re working your brain really hard. So give it the break it deserves and tackle the work when you’re well-rested. Trust me, it will get done tomorrow (probably better than you could get it done tonight).

5. Take Action: Work on the Weekends

When you feel overwhelmed and overworked, you may feel like coveting your free time like someone in the desert coveting water. And though, no, you certainly shouldn’t work the whole weekend to try to keep on top of your job (see: take a break), it might be worthwhile to carve out some very unique to minimal work time. This is a perfect way to get the week off to a head start.

I’ve been known to work half days on the weekend at periods of intense stress (doing so at a coffee shop, at least to make it feel a little fun), but usually I think even that’s a little bit overkill.

Eventually, just remember-it ‘s all going to be over. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and you’ll be able to get there with your job done well (and without losing your mind), with the aid of these tactics.

Check out my related post: What are the key soft skills that work require in the future?

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One comment

  1. All great advice. What used to cause me overwhelm is trying to get so much done that I wasn’t doing any particular thing well. My last office job was in a work culture that seemed to say, “It’s not how well you do something; it’s how much you get done.” While I believe in productivity, it shouldn’t be at the expense of doing a job well. That’s one of the main reasons I left. Very nice article.


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