If you feel overwhelmed at work, it can seem there is too much to do in the time available to do it. This feeling doesn’t go away when, (or if), you shut the laptop down for the day; it follows you through into the evening. And it can take a significant toll on your mental and physical health if it goes unchecked. If this sounds familiar, these steps might help you regain control over your time and have a better workday.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, the first thing you need to pay attention to is yourself. My recommendation is to begin the night before and take the time to end the day with a night-time routine. It might be reading a few pages of a book before bed, writing down your thoughts about the day or even meditating. During the day, keep a log of how often you are taking breaks and how much water you are drinking. Find time to breathe throughout your day and do your best not to rush.
Know why you are working
If you don’t know why you are working, it is impossible to see progress, and it can feel like you are burning yourself out by running in circles. Everything you do, big or small, should align with your work goals. For some people, this is an individual goal, and for others, it’s a broader team goal. Ultimately they all support the overall company objective, which means your work should be doing the same in the context of the job you do. But it’s not enough to look at work goals alone. When you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to remember the personal “Why?”. What short, medium or long term goals does this job support for you? Identifying your personal motivation helps give the work meaning and serves as a reminder to do your best to protect the balance.
Make a 5 Star To-Do List
If you have an endless To-Do List, whether it’s on paper, in an app or in your head, it can be overwhelming. The 5 Star To-Do List is a simple way to refocus your attention. Start with a blank page and write down everything you need to work on for the next couple of days. Pick up to 5 of these that you can start, progress or complete the next day. At the end of the day, scan what’s remaining and decide if any can be completed by someone else or deleted. Doing this for a couple of days helps to clarify what work needs to be done.
Write a Handover
If a 5 Star To-Do List isn’t working for you, an alternative method is writing a handover. Imagine you are suddenly unavailable to work for the next month and you need to hand over your work to a new hire in the company. What would the handover document look like? It’s unlikely that every meeting, email and task will make it into this document. It’s more likely that you will include only the work that most contributes to achieving your goals. If you need to discuss your workload with your manager, this document can be beneficial for the conversation.
Plan for 3 Hours of Deep Work
Some studies suggest that the average knowledge worker does 3 hours of productive work each day. Three hours might not seem like a lot, but when you add on time for breaks, checking email, meetings, unplanned work and some office conversation, then it all adds up. The key to planning for 3 hours of work is that this time should be focused, without distractions or interruptions. Not everyone can block 3 hours together; you might need to do 3 or 4 shorter sessions. But do your best to schedule them for the times of day you are most energised to make the most of these slots.
Finally, find someone to be accountable to while taking these steps to improve your workday and check in with them regularly. If it doesn’t work on Monday, then try again on Tuesday. The most important thing to do if you are feeling overwhelmed at work is to be kind to yourself, and the rest will follow.