During recent discussions with clients and former colleagues, the topic of feeling overwhelmed has frequently emerged. It seems that everyone is feeling the pressure of trying to put 10 pounds of work into an 8-pound bag. It makes sense for you to be overwhelmed. Economic uncertainty is driving many employers to pressure employees to be more productive. Companies are reducing staffing levels but demanding higher levels of service and revenue growth. If you want to combat feeling overwhelmed, you need a plan. This article will provide 5 steps you can take this week to reduce your stress and anxiety around your current workload.
Five tips for overcoming the feeling of being overwhelmed?
The first thing to do is accept that companies constantly seek ways to improve their productivity. You should be nervous if you have been doing the same thing at your job for the last three years, with very little change. Companies must change to stay competitive, and those that fail to change put themselves at risk of going out of business. Companies like Radio Shack, Blockbusters, Toys R Us, Palm, and Compaq could not change as quickly as their competition, resulting in once-strong companies virtually disappearing. Alan Deutschman famously wrote the book Change or Die, and changing has been the choice many companies made over the last 12 months. Your ability to embrace change will help you to find solutions to bandwidth challenges. Test out new technologies, and experiment with new processes. New hacks are developed daily to help you prioritize, simplify, and be more productive.
Align on Expectations
The second thing you need to do to manage your workload is align with your supervisor on expectations. Your manager likely does not understand everything you do. Even if they know all of the tasks you complete, they likely do not understand the time and energy required to do them. As your manager assign a new task, they probably assume you have the capacity to complete it, along with any other previously assigned tasks. You know this is when you are given a new task without being told to stop doing a different task. You are responsible for providing visibility to what you do, how much time it takes, and your ability to take on a new assignment. If you feel overwhelmed by your current workload, you should ask your supervisor to help you understand how to accomplish everything. During that conversation, you and your supervisor might be able to identify tasks you currently do that no longer need to be completed. Or the leader might be able to teach you quicker ways of doing existing work. Fear of being vulnerable may prevent you from having these types of conversations. This fear is likely rooted in previous experiences or stories you have heard. But it is important to remember that your performance is evaluated based on your leader's expectations. It is better to have a difficult discussion at the beginning of a project than to suffer in silence, only to have a difficult conversation later when you cannot perform to expectations or become burnout because you were working beyond what was reasonable.
If others have a similar role as you, chat with them to see how they manage their workload. Often, your peers will devise innovative ways to simplify tasks or do things quicker. There might be a new app or other technology that you can employ to be better organized or execute tasks faster. Identifying best practices for improving efficiency is a great way to handle an increased workload better. They might also be able to guide you on managing expectations with your boss. Through your conversations, you can also identify tasks others have stopped doing. Divesting low-value activities can be another way to free up bandwidth.
Develop a Methodology for Prioritizing
There are a lot of best practices around prioritizing your time. One of the best is Franklin Covey's version of the Eisenhower Matrix, taught in their time management workshops. Another is Sally McGhee's approach to using Microsoft tools to plan and track work which is discussed in her book Take Back Your Life. Below is a system combining those two methods.
Do a brain dump: get out a sheet of paper or use an electronic device and begin to write down all the tasks that need to complete
Calendar Review: review the calendar, look at what needs to accomplish over the next 90 days, and add any incremental task to your list
Email review: review inbox messages, and identify if there are any tasks from critical stakeholders that are not already listed; if so, add them
Assign importance rank: give each task a value between 1 and 4. One meaning this task is of great importance, four meaning the task is insignificant
Assign urgency rank: give each task a value between 1 and 4. One means it needs to get this done today; four meaning is not necessary when this task gets done
Define tentative priorities: add the two numbers together and rank priorities with the slowest numbers at the top of the things-to-do list
Bucket things to do list: put the task into four buckets
Do it now
Plan to do it
Delegate or Outsource
Calendarize: begin to calendarize tasks so there is clarity as to when tasks will be completed. Make sure to include who will be responsible for completing the task.
This approach works because it lets you see everything that needs to be done. By slowing down to evaluate how important each task is, along with how urgently the task needs to be completed, you can determine which task needs to be completed first.
Going Beyond Urgent and Important
You will likely have items that carry the same prioritization score. When this happens, you must go a step further in deciding which task you will complete first. As a rule of thumb, go after low-hanging fruit first. Low-hanging fruit is a task that can be completed quickly and will give a good return. As you evaluate which tasks to tackle first, you should pick the ones from the "do it now" box that will take the smallest amount of time to complete. This will ensure that you deliver the most value possible quickly.
Another tactic for determining importance is considering the stakeholder that completing a task will impact. You should complete the tasks that best support the culture you want to build within your organization. Others look to you to help them define priorities. The functions you prioritize should send a message to others about what is most important. Review your company's mission, vision, and strategy to determine which task will provide the most long-term benefit to your company.
Being overwhelmed at work is becoming the new norm, but it does not have to be. In a recent HBR article, Executive Coach Rebecca Zucker shared these five tips for How to Deal with Constantly Feeling Overwhelmed
Pinpoint the primary source
Set Boundaries on your time and workload
Challenge your perfectionism
Outsource or delegate
Challenge your assumptions
Being less overwhelmed requires you to slow down, analyze your things-to-do list, prioritize, and take action. Company expectations are not going to change anytime soon. To succeed, you must continue to adapt, prioritize, build new skills, and seek ways to do more with less.
Thank you for reading this blog
Dorian Cunion is an Executive Coach and Business Consultant with Your Path Coaching and Consulting. He is a former retail executive with over 20 years of experience in the retail industry. He is a Co-Active coach who focuses on helping professionals and small business owners overcome insecurities, knowledge gaps, and lack of direction. He does this by assisting clients to tap into their values, recognize their strengths, and develop actionable strategies for growth.
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