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How to Deal with an Overwhelming Workload

It’s a common complaint:

I’ve got too much work and not enough time to do it all.

Considering the alternative (no work at all!), you’re in a decent position. That doesn’t make it any easier to handle though. So let’s talk about ways to manage this overwhelming workload without losing your cool.

Note: All of these topics are explored in much greater depth in my Get Productive Now! Boot Camp program. Learn more about it here >>

Set Limits

As much as is possible, take control of the situation. Don’t allow people to keep piling the work on top of you if you know you’re drowning. It’s not fair to them or you. Get comfortable saying “no” and setting more realistic expectations. This is a bigger topic we’ll save for another day, but just recognize that you don’t have endless capacity. If you continue accepting work when you’re already overwhelmed, something’s going to give. You’ll miss deadlines, reduce the quality of your work, or run yourself ragged. Those are all bad options. As I always say, “Learning how to say ‘no’ is much easier than living with the consequences of always saying ‘yes’.”

Chunk It

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Stop looking at the big picture and just take it one baby-step at a time. What’s the next action you can take to move this task or project forward? That’s the thing to focus on.

If you’re looking at your master task and project list all day every day, it’s time to change your routine. You can’t possibly accomplish everything today and looking at it all will only stress you out more. Pull out a handful of tasks that will be your focus for the day and set aside the rest. This will make everything feel more manageable.

Get Organized

A chaotic workspace creates a chaotic mind. When you’re drowning in work, you don’t want your mental and physical energy pulled away because of disorganization. If you’re scrambling around trying to find paperwork or maneuvering around that tangled ball of wires under your feet, you’re not working as productively as you could be. Take a little time to get yourself organized now and it will save you much more time later. Everything is easier to handle when you know where things are and you feel comfortable in your space.

Prioritize Effectively

An overwhelming workload can make prioritization difficult. Too often, we reach for the easiest thing to do or the fastest thing just so we can cross something off our list. Unfortunately, those tasks might not be the most important.

When you’ve got a pile of work, prioritization becomes even more critical. Determine the criteria on which you’re evaluating the tasks and be conscious about what you choose to do when. As tempting as it is, checking off those fast and easy tasks might not be the smartest use of your time.

Process Tasks Effectively

Evaluate how you’re actually “doing” your work. Are you as efficient as you could be (while still maintaining quality, of course)? Perhaps you’re bouncing around from one thing to another, wasting time as you refocus. Perhaps you’re backtracking quite a bit, going to the copier dozens of times a day instead of doing all your copying at once. Maybe you’re dealing with too many interruptions and distractions. The biggest assets you have are time and attention so make sure you’re using these resources wisely. And remember: The more you jump around, the more inefficient you become. Make it a point to get “in the zone” and stay there.

Manage the Stress

There’s no way around it: When you’re overwhelmed by your workload, stress happens. Do what you can to manage it. Taking regular breaks throughout the day is probably the best thing you can do for yourself.

Let me say that again…TAKE BREAKS.

I work with so many professionals who think it’s more effective to just work right on through the lunch hour. If you’re guilty, let me tell you something: You’re shooting yourself in the foot. You simply cannot remain productive for long stretches without giving yourself time to regroup. Even if you just take five minutes here and there to sit in silence, the impact on your productivity and stress levels can be huge.

Spend that time outside getting fresh air and sunshine and the benefit is even greater. Eat a balanced meal and snack on healthy food and (heck!) you might even feel GOOD at the end of the day! Imagine that!!

Lastly, don’t forget to reward yourself for all your hard work. Take off an hour early once in a while and go get a pedicure. Your to-do list will still be there when you get back, I promise you.

Photo Credit: Florian (Flickr)

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