April 19, 2021 5 min read
Sounds a lot like your day? You're not alone. Here are just some statistics shared by the American Institute of Stress that indicate far too many Americans spend their days at work in similar situations.
This isn't surprising in the least considering we live in an era of connectivity where people have access to nearly anything and everything. As a result, it's so much easier for our managers and higher ups to send tasks our way, sometimes resulting in an avalanche of work items all demanding to be completed asap. But how do you get things done when you're so overwhelmed to the point of inaction? When you feel like you've lost control of your entire day and all the tasks in it, what are the steps you can take to get back on track?
In this article, we've listed five helpful ways you can keep calm and carry on (working)!
Sometimes, we're so caught up in trying to fit as many things as we can into our limited day that we forget to just pause and breathe. Time for work is important, but so is time out if it's needed. Being overwhelmed leads to stress, and according to Harvard University, stress affects thinking and memory. If we don't take the time to give ourselves a moment especially when we're close to our breaking point, we either do poorly and have to redo the tasks we thought are finished, or worse: we don't get anything done at all.
If you want an actual technique that works, here's another post by Harvard University that lists three "mini-relaxation exercises" to help during stressful moments, - two focus on breathing while the third one is muscle relaxation, all of which can be done right at your desk for three minutes or less.
No matter how urgent each of your tasks seem, not all of them are due now. Step back and take a closer look at your to-do list: which ones have a deadline? What's due within the next thirty minutes to a few hours? Is there anything you can schedule closer to the end of the day? What about tomorrow? Figuring out which tasks you're supposed to be doing at a given moment can shorten your list enough to lessen the overwhelming feeling that's taking over you. When all the stress is gone, you'll start making real progress because this time? You can actually get some work done.
A little unsure how to proceed? The Eisenhower Matrix, inspired by the principles of former President Dwight Eisenhower, might help. Using four quadrants -Do First, Schedule, Delegate, and Don't Do - the matrix helps you decide on and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. You can then sort the rest out as less urgent or less important tasks that you can either delegate or not do at all, giving you a clear idea of what you should be working on first, and so on.
Still stressed despite assigning a priority to each task? Don't worry, here's another way to keep yourself from being overwhelmed: divide your work, especially a more complex task, into smaller and workable pieces. Not only will it make you feel like your workload is under control, it's also much easier to complete tasks if they're simpler. For example, say you were assigned to cook for an important guest who will be arriving in the next hour. You won't go heating the pan without gathering and preparing all the ingredients you'll need first. Otherwise, with your oil too hot and the dish burning, you'll be running around the kitchen just starting to peel and cut things up.
Perhaps a little more perspective is in order: try writing down little chunks that make your task whole in one of our notebooks, just to help you realize that your task, though overwhelmingly huge, is just one whole made of different parts. Shift your focus from the big picture to the smaller one for the meantime: what is the easiest task to begin with so I can start getting this big job done?
Don't multitask. Ever. Despite being such a highly praised skill that people, especially employers, look for in their potential workers, countless studies have proven again and again that multitasking results in less productivity and inefficient work because it affects memory, increases distractibility, and reduces creativity. Powerful as our brain may be, it can only focus on one thing at a time, so the reality of multitasking is, we're not actually doing several things at once. Instead, we're quickly switching from one task to another and then another in rapid succession, which does more harm than good to the pile that is our workload.
If you already have a long list of to-do's, don't cycle around all of them thinking you're getting more work done. It's actually the opposite. Instead, try to do numbers 2 and 3 on this list - prioritize and divide - by picking out the most important task that needs doing right at that instant, and then putting all of your focus on finishing it. You can then move on to the other items in your list, so on and so forth, and before you even notice, you've made a huge dent on your workload for the day.
If you're harsh on yourself when it comes to getting things done, then it's worth learning to be just as kind to yourself by taking breaks when you need them. It doesn't matter how important or urgent your tasks are - you're going to need to exist beyond just being an employee. A lot of people make work their entire lives, and as a result, not only do their health suffer; sometimes their relationships too.
So go grab a bite to eat, send a message to a loved one, talk to a colleague, stand up and do a little stretch, look out the window... we can go on. Help yourself destress by doing these little things to give your mind and body the rest it deserves, especially since it's doing a great job. This can help reenergize you so that you can go back to an unfinished task with a fresh perspective and a more positive attitude.
Being overwhelmed can cause a lot of anxiety and stress, but there are many ways to overcome it. The ones in this list are just some of them. Can you think of other ways to handle overwhelming feelings not just as work, but also life in general? What other things outside of the ones indicated in this article have you tried? No matter how tough it gets, take a deep breath and know it's going to be ok.
And then go ahead - keep calm and carry on!