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 have observed- 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.
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
Zoom into the vocabulary you use in that moment. Ensure that your internal dialogue is helping you to reduce anxiety and feel more empowered.
A lot of people opt for a vague and superficial phrases like ‘it’s okay,’ ‘it will be fine,’ ‘it’s alright,’ etc. in challenging situations. There are others who go too hard on themselves. A better strategy, therefore, is to talk to yourself in a way that helps you feel like you can get a handle on things.
Your 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.
💡 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
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!
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 need to use a statement or set of questions as our secret Mantra for proactively directing our brain towards what we want.
My favourite Mantras are the questions that help me in channelising focus quickly and bringing more clarity in the moments of confusion and chaos.
💡 Here are a few powerful 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:)
Understand What’s Happening Within
We got to become our own best detective and coach to get the benefit of faster thinking capacity at all times. This will give us a clue into what’s happening. And we could look for ways to do and be better. So, take a pause and reflect on your thoughts.
💡 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
I often use this problem-solving and stress management strategy to deal with tasks, responsibilities, and problems. You can also use the control, influence, adapt circles to identify a plan for tackling your 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.
Avoid Cognitive Fatigue
Cognitive fatigue occurs when brain becomes overworked. Its ability to perform tasks that require focus, problem-solving, decision-making, and other higher-level thinking functions starts to decline.
The prefrontal cortex region of our brain can engage in executive functions in a stable way only for a stretch of time. When we overexert it with tasks like planning, organising, paying attention, and making decisions, it becomes ineffective.
So, do not engage in mentally demanding tasks unnecessarily. And take breaks to ensure optimum performance throughout the day.
💡 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.
In this article, I have shared tips that have personally helped me navigate challenging workload.
With years of experience in executive coaching, I have helped numerous clients successfully reclaim and find the balance between professional and personal commitments such that they don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. Through coaching, we work together to uncover the strengths and areas for improvement. And we develop personalised strategies to streamline workflow and enhance productivity.
If you are ready to tackle the chaos, take control, and regain your balance, feel free to drop me a message on my WhatsApp here. Happy to help 🙂