Do you often feel overwhelmed by work?
With too many project items on your plate, does the situation feel confusing or hard to navigate?
Here’s what I learned in a recent conversation with my friend in Human Resources-
Different projects are going on hand in hand. Organisations are adopting the Agile methodology and new ways of working. Our familiar styles of working are getting disrupted. There is a lot of unlearning and too many changes. And hence, senior executives and managers are facing increased feelings of overwhelm with work.
Frankly, all of us experience overwhelm with work at some point. Some of us know how to handle it, and others don’t.
As a budding entrepreneur myself, I get overwhelmed with workload quite often. Some days, this translates into anxiety. And on other days, it leads to procrastination.
So, I spent the last few weeks experimenting with ways to address this issue. And in this article, I have mentioned all those tips that have helped me deal with the overwhelm quickly.
A brief background on how we get overwhelmed by work
Let’s decode how excessive work ends up overwhelming us.
The key player responsible for any of us becoming overwhelmed is the overworked prefrontal cortex (PFC). It is present right at the front of our brain.
When the prefrontal cortex is well-rested, it works at optimal efficiency. And thus we find no difficulty in identifying possibilities, making choices, and executing plans. However, when it is overworked, we feel overwhelmed.
In other words, we experience overwhelm mainly when our prefrontal cortex gets overloaded. We make it work beyond its capacity.
Wondering how we overload or overwork our prefrontal cortex?
Well, we multitask most of the time. We check emails on the laptop while speaking over the phone. Sometimes we even think about weekend plans while working on a task. Isn’t it?
Just like shifting gears again and again increases a car’s fuel consumption and reduces the car’s performance, multitasking reduces our brain’s efficiency and performance by demanding extra mental resources and energy.
Moreover, different questions keep consuming us. When will my mutual funds start showing in green? What is happening to the environment? Is my boss happy with the report I made? When will this project finish? Is my kid doing okay? So on and so forth. Such thoughts also make our brain work ‘overtime’.
On top of that, we keep ourselves immersed in social media.
When we don’t give the prefrontal cortex its much-needed break, we become prone to errors in judgement, choices and decisions. Whether we notice it or not, anxiety creeps in. We start getting an uneasy sense of helplessness or lack of control. And all this piles up to make us feel overwhelmed.
3 Things To Do In The Moment We Feel Overwhelmed By Work
Here’s what helps in the moments of feeling overwhelmed by excessive work:
Appropriate Self Talk
Those moments when emotions become overpowering, zooming into inner self-talk helps.
A lot of people opt for a vague surface-level description like ‘it’s okay,’ ‘it will be fine,’ ‘it’s alright,’ etc. A better strategy, however, is to engage in healthy self talk that helps to feel in control.
Routine self-talk won’t do! Reason being, the internal dialogue must have a mix of compassion and accountability in the right proportions. Excessive accountability will lead to worrying. And excessive compassion will result in no-action-taken.
So, engage in an appropriate internal dialogue with self to relieve anxiety and feel more empowered.
💡 Experiment with different types of internal dialogues like:
👉🏻 I would prefer to be able to get more done in a day, but I’m going to accept what I’m realistically able to do.
👉🏻 Even though I have many things to do, I can only focus on the one thing I’m doing right now. I’ll feel better if I do that.
👉🏻 I enjoy my work so I like to be busy. Naturally, I’m going to feel overwhelmed sometimes. I can handle those emotions and make adjustments as needed.
Focus On Breathing Out
Breathe mindfully, without adding any positive or negative connotations.
It’s not deep breathing; just breathing slowly.
The science of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) suggests that the mind and body are parts of the same system. When we breathe out slowly, it activates the prefrontal cortex. Subsequently, our prepare-and-plan mindset takes the centre stage to help us when we are overwhelmed.
💡 Breathe ‘out’ as if you are blowing up a balloon slowly. Breathing in will subsequently adjust itself.
Recall the Mantra!
I’m not relating this with any Vedic hymn or religious prayer.
To bring more clarity in the moments of confusion and chaos at work, our Mantra has to be that statement or question that proactively directs our brain to move towards what we want.
According to Neuroscience, our brain is hardwired for negativity. What it means is we naturally think about negative things more frequently than positive ones. And it’s a little difficult to maintain an optimistic outlook.
So, we must use an all-purpose statement that can create insights about what we want and how we will get what we want, easily and quickly.
💡 Here are a few questions that do not allow overwhelm to interfere with optimal focusing and prioritising:
👉🏻 What’s the best action to take right now?
👉🏻 What has to happen before?
👉🏻 What is the easiest first step here?
4 Ways To Manage The Overwhelming Workload
Here are some of the ways to handle the excessive workload.
Not all of these will be right for everyone, so pick what you think will help you. But always, focus on coming up with both the short term strategy as well as the long term strategy.
The short-term strategy will help in eliminating the roadblocks, and the long-term strategy will help in reducing the frequency at which these roadblocks show up.
And don’t hesitate to connect with me if there’s anything I can help you with:)
💡 Here’s how you can find what’s happening and coach yourself:
👉🏻 Reflect on the script running in your head. Describe the scenario in second person language. And identify the roadblocks.
👉🏻 Develop useful habits that could help you eliminate overwhelm. Continue focusing on one change for a week before adding another thing into the mix.
Take The C.I.A. Route
To reduce the problem of too many tasks and responsibilities building up, use control, influence, adapt circles. And identify a plan for tackling that overload.
Do not let workload overwhelm you for too long, it will become even bigger within the head. Realise that the aspects you don’t have control over are not worth stressing about.
💡 Answer the following questions to flex your problem-solving muscles and eliminate the workload:
👉🏻 What all elements are in your control?
👉🏻 What are the elements you can’t control, but you can influence?
👉🏻 What are the elements that you can neither control nor influence, but you can adapt to?
👉🏻 What is going to be your next step?
At any workplace, unannounced work, complexity and confusion often knock on the doorstep.
Prioritising is important. And it all starts with embracing the fact that there will always be some tasks you might not be able to work upon in the limited time available to you. So, stop twisting yourself. Find resonance instead.
💡 Separate the tasks that need your immediate attention from those that don’t. Your work is to recognise the right tasks and do them.
💡 Here are some suggestions to help you make your prefrontal cortex more resistant to fatigue:
👉🏻 Write down everything you have to do.
👉🏻 Avoid multi tasking.
👉🏻 Be more organised.
👉🏻 Take breaks. Preferably, meditate, listen to music, and play some sports.
👉🏻 Limit the intake of new information/ emails/ messages to certain windows of the day. For example, fish for new emails at 9 AM, 2 PM, 4 PM and 6 PM; not all the time.
This article highlights practical ways of handling overwhelm successfully. My endeavour was to list down the tips that have helped me personally.
The antidote to my overwhelm is in monitoring my self talk.
I’m open and curious to know about the tips that have helped you along the way. Feel free to share with me on my WhatsApp here!