When you are overwhelmed and overloaded at work, it is natural to feel trapped. After all, what can you do besides plug away at the massive to-do list until it all gets done?
Well, to be honest, a lot. In fact, being a die hard and putting your nose to the grindstone from the early morning hours to the dark of the night is probably the absolute worst way to deal when you feel like you have too much on your plate.
A couple of the best ways to get a grip on the feeling of being overwhelmed actually fall into two categories neither of which have anything to do with working until you have a complete and utter brain meltdown: taking action to get a handle on your work, and taking a break so that you can keep working to the best of your ability. Working tired leaves a lot of room for errors.
Next time you’re not sure where to start with your to-do list, try a couple of the strategies below.
1. Take Action: Take the Time to Plan
Time is precious right? You don’t have time to plan when you just need to get this pile of work done, right? I know it seems like a very elementary thing to do but actually setting aside some time to create a play of action will make the rest of your time working more efficient. Trust me.
Try writing down what needs to get done and create an order in which you are going to tackle it. This can be a pretty powerful tool. Why? It will take all the craziness going on around you and forces you to put it into an actionable list. It will stop you from thinking about how you are going to do your work, and lets you just think about doing it.
Now, breathe for a second and stop panicking. Now…pull out a piece of paper and dump every task you have in your mind onto it. Now, prioritize A-Z. Now there is no more jumping from task to task, focus on your list. Now you know what you are focusing on now and what you will be focusing on next. It’s not wasting your time, its making the rest of your time more efficient.
2. Take a Break: Get Out of the Office
When you get that feeling that you are completely overwhelmed and your stress levels are high, the office can quickly become the worst place to be. You feel like the office walls are closing in, the other people in the office are all too loud and going crazy, your boss is watching your every move.
Okay, maybe I’m getting a little dramatic, but truly: If you’re feeling anxious about your work, the office can quickly switch from an ideal place to work to a place that’s actually preventing you from getting your work done.
So, quit and run away! KIDDING. Just leave for a bit, take a breather.
At the very least, take 10 minutes and go for a walk around the block. Get a bit of fresh air.
Or, if you can (depends on the job) go work from somewhere a little bit more calm: A coffee shop, the park, the beach. Getting away from the typical hustle and bustle for a bit will help you hone in on the work that really needs to get done. The plus – You will be reminded that there is a world outside of your daily work bubble that you seem to be stuck in.
3. Take Action: Talk it Out with a Co-Worker
This is one of my favorite strategies for dealing when my mind is spinning with all the tasks I have to do. I learned it years ago as an intern when I was getting ready to go on a vacation and mentioned to my colleague how I wasn’t sure how I was going to get everything done before I left.
You may worry that talking with your colleagues about how you’re struggling will make you sound incapable or whiny, but ask long as you’re not asking them to do your work for you, it makes you look proactive. I was shocked how much simply talking through the tasks on my plate made it all seem more manageable. In the case above, my co-worker didn’t even have to say much back—the simple act of saying everything out loud helped me process and organize my to-dos into something I could tackle. A colleague may also be able to give you pointers into ways he or she has dealt with similar feelings in the past. And, at the very least, you’ll have someone to cheer you on as you power through your work.
If you feel comfortable talking to your boss about it, it can be even better as they might be able to help you prioritize tasks or see places where work could be allocated differently. Simply approach them and say something along the lines of, “I feel like I have a lot on my plate right now and would love your help figuring out the best way to tackle it all.” It sounds proactive—not like you’re complaining or trying to get out of work.
4. Take a Break: Get a Full Night’s Sleep
I still see too many of my friends pulling late nights because they “just have so much work to do.”
Stop. Stop it right now. Put the Starbucks down, and go to bed.
That time you’re sitting in front of your computer instead of sleeping is not helping your get your work done any faster. In fact, it’s probably slowing you down. Why? When you’re tired, you are easily distracted. When you are tired things seem bigger and scarier and a lot less achievable. When you are tired you are just not as good at your work 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’re feeling stressed and overworked, it can feel like you should covet your free time like someone trapped in the desert would covet water. And while, no, you should absolutely NOT work the entire weekend in order to try and stay on top of your work (see: take a break), it can be worth carving out some very specific and limited time to work. It’s a great way to get a head start on the week.
During times of extreme overwhelm, I have been known to work half days on the weekend (doing so at a coffee shop, to at least make it feel a little fun), but generally I think even that’s a bit of overkill.
My favorite way to get some work done while still feeling like I got my full share of weekend is by popping in a movie on Sunday night after dinner and spending that time plowing through some of the more mindless tasks on my plate. I’m still somewhat enjoying myself, and I get into work the next morning not feeling totally drowned in tasks.
Finally, just remind yourself—it will all get done. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and with the help of these strategies, you’ll be sure to get there with your work done well (and without losing your mind).