Do you ever feel overwhelmed at work? Your symptoms may include anxiety, lack of focus, and a chronic habit of staying late or coming in on the weekends. You might find that your list of tasks goes on forever…because there’s too much to do, and not enough time.
Once you start feeling stressed at work, you’re more likely to make mistakes. You might even start resenting your team or manager. This can have lasting and negative ramifications on your career – especially if you burn out. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
With just a few actionable steps, you can become less stressed and more empowered in the office. Here’s how you stop feeling overwhelmed at work.
Start by writing every one of your tasks down in one central location that is easily sortable and accessible at all times. You can do this through any number of apps, but Todoist is my favorite.
Even if you use a notebook at work and in meetings, go back to your desk and type up your tasks in your preferred task manager. This counts doubly so for those who write all their tasks on sticky notes! By capturing everything in this way, you immediately relieve yourself of the mental burden of remembering WHAT a task is and WHERE you put that task. It’s all in one place.
When your task list is overflowing, you tend to focus on easier tasks to feel productive. It’s important to take a step back and determine which tasks are essential so that you’re not just spinning your wheels on the small things. You need to prioritize your tasks so you know where to start first.
Belle Beth Cooper suggests using the Eisenhower Matrix as a guide:
Evaluate your task list line by line – is it important, and is it urgent? From there, you can reorder your to-do list:
- Important and Urgent
- Important, but not urgent
- Not important, but urgent
- Not important and not urgent
Most task managers let you reorder manually, but Todoist helpfully lets you mark each item a certain priority from 1 – 4, which will then automatically sort.
Schedule your tasks
Now that you’ve prioritized your list, you need to make a game plan for how you’re going to execute:
- Defer your tasks that are important, but not urgent. Schedule these tasks for some time in the future.
- Delegate your tasks that are urgent, but not important. If you’re in the position to do so, pass these tasks off to another colleague.
- Diminish the task by only tackling the highest priority pieces. As a mentor once told me, don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. You decide when something’s good enough to count as complete.
By triaging your list and determining how exactly you’re going to cross them off, you’ll feel less stressed and more equipped to get started.
Eliminate common distractions like as social media by uninstalling the apps from your phone, and installing blocker plugins such as Leechblock for your browser.
Try the Pomodoro technique to break down your tasks into shorter bursts:
- Choose the top task on your priority list
- Set a timer for 25 minutes on your phone
- Work on your task until the timer rings, then put a tally mark on a piece of paper
- Take a brief break, up to five minutes
- Every 4 timers done, take a longer break (15 minutes)
What about the never-ending stream of tasks that come your way? As you get a handle on your task list and start to feel less overcommitted, you need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Have an honest conversation with your boss and peers about deadlines – always ask what their expectation is, and share your thoughts on how soon something can be realistically done given your current workload.
If there’s a set deadline, ask if there are certain deliverables you can complete within that timeframe rather than the whole project.
Estimate the time it takes for a task, and then double it. This allows for breathing room in case you run into any roadblocks.
Make your mental and physical health a priority
Your health is not optional! Even if your task list is overwhelming, don’t give up sleep or exercise to cross more things off your list.
Schedule time in your calendar to exercise – either before work, during lunchtime, or after the workday. You can fit a workout in as little as 20 minutes, but start integrating exercise into your workweek very gradually.
If you’re coming out of an intense meeting or interaction, take some time to clear your head. Take 5 minutes to breathe, inhaling for five seconds, hold for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds and relax. Be present and notice how your body’s feeling.
Even if you implement just one of these steps, you’ll start crossing off more of your tasks, getting better feedback from your colleagues, and maybe even leaving the office on time. Let me know in the comments what works best for you – and remember, you’ve got this.