6 immediate strategies to feel less overwhelmed at work

by | Apr 5, 2022 | General Productivity

Takeaway: It’s possible to catch up on tasks without working longer hours. My go-to strategies for feeling less overwhelmed at work: list out your current projects, shift or tackle deadlines when possible, block dedicated work time in your calendar, minimize chronic stress, and schedule time for your mind to wander.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 12s.

I haven’t written for my website (and newsletter) as much as I would have liked to lately. This was intentional: I’ve been pouring my writing energy into a book that will come out early next year. (I can’t wait to tell you more about it!)You probably have uniquely busy periods like this too, where you’re hunkered down on an all-consuming deliverable, or are otherwise at capacity and need to make unfortunate tradeoffs.

In case this is you, I’ll cut to the chase. Here’s a shortlist of strategies I use to combat overwhelm when I’m at capacity with my work—without usually needing to log longer hours.

  1. List your current projects. Once I reach my limit, I almost always spend more time planning. I start by making a list of every project I’m in the middle of. Doing this, you’ll likely find that no two items on your list are equally important or urgent. Prioritization is so valuable during busy times and stepping back from less important tasks during crunch times is crucial. After making my list, I see if there’sanylessmeaningfultasksI can delegate or drop.
  2. Beat back deadlines, however you can. After writing my list of projects, I look at the deadlines to see if I can reasonably get them done, while thinking about how much time, attention, and energy I’ll have to dedicate to them. If I noticed a shortage of these ingredients, I try to shift a few deadlines, or think about whether it’s worthwhile to hunker down for a few extra, focused hours to finish them. Sometimes, I spend less time on projects that won’t provide as much return. Writing less for this website while hunkering down on the book was one such unfortunate tradeoff.
  3. Block off time in your calendar. After determining which of your projects are the most important and urgent, block off a few hours in your calendar to work on them. Scheduling blocks of time to dedicate to specific projects lets you make more significant progress on them.
  4. Reduce chronic stress, however you can. As I’ve written about before, chronic stress causes burnout. For this reason, during stressful times, I cut back on stress however I can—like by reading less news and not checking social media.
  5. Schedule scatterfocus time. Scatterfocus is what I call deliberate mind wandering. On the surface, mind wandering sounds like a waste of time, but research suggests the opposite. When our mind wanders, we think about our goals 14x as often as when we’re focused. Intentionality matters more when we’re at capacity because again, not all projects on our list are created equal. On top of this, scatterfocus lets your mind recharge (which makes you more productive later) and gives you the mental space to generate more ideas.
  6. After minimizing your workload, decide whether you should clock longer hours. When at capacity, a combination of the five strategies above lets me get things under control without working longer hours around 90% of the time. But if I don’t have the time to get everything done and I figure it’s worthwhile to work longer hours, I’ll do it.

Keep in mind that a large workload is a significant contributor to burnout. If you’re feeling some combination of exhausted, unproductive, and cynical—the three characteristics of burnout—try cutting back on how much work you have, however you can. Investing in the strategies above can help.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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