We all know the feeling… the work is piling up; you’re being pulled in a gazillion different directions; the emails won’t stop coming in; you’re booked in a bunch of meetings; the instant messages and texts are flying, and the phone just will not stop ringing. Anxiety is high and there are just not enough hours in the day. You feel overwhelmed, and rightfully so.
The good news is that you’re not alone. Everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed, whether at work or outside of the office. What’s important is what you do when you feel overwhelmed and how your manage yourself. In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to walk you through my tips and tricks for self-management in these situations.
7 Things to Do When You’re Overwhelmed
1. Control your emotions.
First, you have to manage your emotions, especially at work. I can’t stress this point enough. Remaining cool, calm and collected is the most important thing to do when you’re overwhelmed. Why? If your boss or team sees you freaking out they’ll question your ability to handle the situation. And, they’ll also take cues from your anxious energy, which just adds to the stressful environment.
One of my friends uses this analogy for keeping calm, and I think it’s brilliant for this purpose: Think about when you’re on an airplane and hit turbulence. You look to the flight attendants to see what they are doing. If they look calm and carrying on BAU, you might think, “This is no big deal.” But if the flight attendants are freaking out, you’re thinking more along the lines of “oh s**t, we’re gonna crash!”
Moral of the story is that more eyes are on you than you think, and energy is contagious. Therefore, do your best to remain calm and cool, because getting worked up is going to negatively impact the team around you — and make you look bad.
However, you’ll be handling these situations like a seasoned pro in no time. In the next six steps, I’ll map out how you can eat the overwhelming, metaphorical elephant – one bite at a time.
2. Take a walk outside.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed but are working hard not to show it, that anxious energy is still building up inside you. And it needs to go somewhere. Whether you’re working from home or are back in the office, take a walk outside. Even if it’s just for a couple of minutes or a quick trip around the block. You’ll get some fresh air and you can pour your emotions into that walk. Plus, a brisk walk is going to get those endorphins pumping, which works wonders for maintaining an “I’ve got this” attitude.
3. Brain dump everything you need to do.
Once you’re back inside, sit down with your planner or a blank sheet of paper and make a list of everything you need to do. The point here is to take everything that’s in your head and get it down on paper so you can focus. (A “brain dump,” if you will.) After you brain dump all the things you can think of, go back through your texts, IMs and emails to make sure you didn’t miss anything. You’ll get bonus points for doing this because the number of unread emails, texts and instant messages will be decreasing as you’re crafting your list. Two birds. One stone. (Efficiency for the win!)
Take a look at that to-do list you just crafted. Next, ask yourself the following questions and prioritize accordingly:
- What is urgent and needs to be completed immediately?
- Are any small items you can knock out quickly?
- What needs to be completed by EOD?
- What is due by a certain time tomorrow?
- Is there anything without a hard deadline you could work on throughout the course of the next few days without negatively impacting the business? Map out when in the coming days you’re going to work on these items and share a status update with your team/boss so they know you’re on it and when to expect next steps.
5. Ask for help if you need it.
I could write a whole post about this topic but, for now, I’ll keep it short and simple. There’s no weakness in asking for help or delegating. I suffer from Superwoman syndrome with the best of them. I hate saying “no” or admitting when I have too much on my plate — I want to do it all and I want to make everything perfect. But that just isn’t realistic. Let me put it this way – You’re juggling a handful of balls. Your boss would rather you raise your hand for help when you begin to struggle juggling them all, rather than asking for help after you’ve begun dropping them.
6. Get to work.
Your to-do list is made and you have a plan for how you’re going to attack it. Now, get to work and start marking things off that list! Block time on your calendar if you need to to avoid unnecessary meeting invitations. Or go hide somewhere in your office. Or work alone from a local coffee shop. Just go find a place where you can focus with minimal distractions or interruptions and get.things.done.
7. Give yourself a stopping point.
Remember when we prioritized your to-do list? Once you’ve taken care of the things that are urgent and absolutely have to be done today or by a certain time tomorrow, call it quits for the day. Yes, your to-do list might still be giant but — if you’ve taken care of the hottest, most pressing items — you need to take a break. Overwhelmed and over-tired is not a good look. Plus, it’s a fast track to burnout, which I talk about how to identify in this post. Do your best to relax and get a good night’s sleep. Just remember, that list will still be there tomorrow and, (assuming you are not a medical professional or first responder) no lives will be saved or risked in the meantime.