We’ve all been there. You’re so overwhelmed with work you don’t know what to do. Maybe one of your team members recently left, or maybe it’s just an unusually busy season for your business – whatever the case, your plate is overflowing, and every task you manage to complete is rewarded with another task to replace it.
It’s easy to become mentally overwhelmed in such circumstances, but if you surrender to your workload, things will only get worse. There are two main problems you’ll face in this position:
- You’ll become stressed. The physical and mental effects of stress will leave you miserable if you don’t take measures to relieve it.
- You’ll become less productive. Your lack of focus, prioritization, or rest will catch up to you, and your workload will only become bigger.
These two problems feed into each other, making matters worse in a pattern of self-perpetuation – unless you do something to stop them.
What to Do About It
The next time you find yourself in such a predicament, try one or more of these seven strategies to de-stress and get more done at the same time:
1. Draw a Line.
When you’re overwhelmed with projects at the office, it can be tempting to take that work home with you. You might work extra hours, come in on weekends, check your email regularly when you get home, or become preoccupied with thoughts about work until you actually do it. None of this is healthy for you, and it will only serve to make you more stressed. Draw a line between your professional and personal life, and don’t cross it. Leave work at work, and take the time you need to decompress, relax, and start fresh the next day. Otherwise you’ll risk a burnout or push yourself to the brink of exhaustion.
2. Take Smaller Chunks.
When you look at all the big projects you have to complete (and shift your attention to all the new ones coming in), it’s easy to get flustered and feel overwhelmed. Instead, work to break those massive projects down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will serve several purposes: It will help you prioritize, make your workload seem smaller, and give you a greater sense of satisfaction when checking off “done” items.
3. Take a Break.
In our modern work culture, we disproportionately value people who work through their lunch breaks, never leave the office, and stay late to get more work done. It makes it seem like they’re working harder – but working harder isn’t necessarily more productive. In fact, taking regular breaks throughout the day (and vacations away from the office) can actually help you get more done. It gives your mind a chance to recover, gives you a moment to re-prioritize, and ultimately helps you feel less stressed. Don’t be afraid to walk away.
4. Talk About It.
It might be hard to talk about your stress. You might think your partner, friends, or family members would be “bored” to talk about your work, or would think you’re just complaining. But talking about your problems out loud is a valuable step in solving them. You’ll get an outsider’s perspective, you’ll be able to work through some new strategies, and most importantly, you’ll feel unburdened just verbally admitting that you’re having a rough time. There’s no shame in that; it can only help you.
5. Say No.
If you’re an underling in an office, you might feel that saying “no” is a sign of disrespect or insubordination. If you’re a boss or an entrepreneur, you might feel it’s a sign of weakness, or that it sets a bad example. Reverse your assumptions here; each of us have a limit, and helping your bosses, coworkers, and clients understand that limit is imperative if you want to do your best. When someone attempts to pile more work on your already overloaded plate, let them know, and you can work together to find a better solution.
It’s an old trick, but a good one. Exercise temporarily increases your heart rate, improving circulation and releasing endorphins. This gives you a natural high, fighting back against all your pent-up stress and delivering more oxygen to your brain in the process. The end result? You’ll feel better and work better. This is especially effective if you exercise regularly – either right before or right after work.
7. Cut Off Communication.
While necessary, communication is also distracting, and can serve to unduly stress you out when you should be focusing on specific tasks and projects. If you can, turn off your phone, go offline, and avoid unnecessary meetings and conversations with others. Designate specific times of day to check your email and other correspondence – you’ll be amazed how much less stressed you feel (and how much more work you’re able to get done).
With these strategies, you can take control of your workload – no matter how big or overwhelming it is – and gradually start chipping away at it. Even if your workload does keep growing and you remain as busy as you were before, you’ll at least experience less stress and hold a more positive mental attitude along the way. In the end, your happiness is key, so don’t let a handful of extra tasks and responsibilities get in your way.