Career Advice

Buried Alive? What To Do When You're Overwhelmed At Work

We’ve all experienced it: your boss walks into your office and hands you a new project, just as your phone rings about a daily deadline and an email pops into your inbox about meeting in five minutes. Your heart starts to race, your palms start to sweat, and it’s hard to catch your breath. You’re just getting your work day started and you’re already totally overwhelmed.

With so much to do and so little time to do it in, feeling overwhelmed, and the sensations of stress and anxiety that accompany it, are common to most workers. But the question of how you deal with it can determine whether your day is a success or a total feeling.

Here are some of our top tips for dealing with an overwhelming day at the office:

Make a list
When you’ve got too many things to do, one of two things can happen. Either you become so overwhelmed by your work that you freeze, or you start trying to tackle 8 projects simultaneously, which means that nothing ends up getting done.

Before you go into full on crisis-attack or panic-stricken mode, stop to make a list. Make one for what needs to get done today, one for what needs to get done tomorrow, and what needs to be done by the end of the week. Taking 20 minutes to review all of your projects can really help you prioritize your thoughts and plans (and help you realize that maybe it’s not so overwhelming after all.)

Talk to your boss
Sometimes you really do have too many things that need to be done at once. That’s why, in these situations, you need to talk to your boss. Sure, it’s tempting to tell yourself that you can get everything all done, if you just sleep at the office and don’t go home for the next five days. But is that realistic?

Rather than find yourself totally overwhelmed and behind on your projects, talk to your boss. Explain the situation, and that you need some help determining which projects to address first. By keeping your boss in the loop, you’ll be able to manage their expectations of what they expect you to have done, and also give them a heads up on projects that may need to temporarily move to the back burner.

If you’ve got people who report to you, or others on your team who are helping you out, now is the time to delegate. You might want to think you can do it all yourself, but chances are that you can’t, and even if you could, you’re much more likely to make a mistake if you’re completely overwhelmed.

As you look over all of your projects, check to see what parts you absolutely need to do yourself. Then divide up what’s left, and give them to your team members who have the skills to deliver.

Turn off your email, voicemail, and all other sorts of mail
How many times are we all interrupted by phone during the day? How many times have you said “oh, I’ll just answer this one email” to look up and see you lost two hours to Outlook? Answering a call or writing an email might only take a few minutes here and there, but when you add them all together, it can be a major drain on your day.

While most of us like to be accessible throughout the work day, on certain crisis days it is perfectly acceptable to send your calls directly to voicemail or put an out-of-office notice on your email. This will free your schedule to focus only on what needs to be done. And all those voicemails and emails? They’ll be there when you get in tomorrow.

Say no
The truth of the matter is that many of us become overwhelmed because we just don’t say no. And in this economy, with many worried about heir job security, it’s only become more and more common to take on extra work. But as much as you want to please your boss, co-workers, and board of directors, stop the next time someone asks you to take on an additional project. Evaluate your workload and see if you really have the space on your calendar to take it on. If you don’t, be honest. Your co-workers and supervisors would rather have you tell them the truth about your workload than deliver an incomplete project because you didn’t really have the time to do it. – By Noël Rozny, myFootpath Web Editor & Content Manger

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