If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. People working in organisations today seem to be increasingly stressed, having to achieve more with fewer resources. In a recent Knowledge Resources survey, 80% of the respondents said their workload had increased substantially and most felt overwhelmed. This is in line what I have also found (more here).
You know feeling constantly overwhelmed is an indication of a dangerously high level of stress. You also know that high levels of stress will have severe negative impacts on you, affecting your productivity, your colleagues and your loved ones.
But if you’re like so many others, understanding the negative consequences of feeling consistently overwhelmed doesn’t automatically translate into knowing what to do to change.
Fortunately there are things you can do to help. Here are seven things that have helped leaders and managers I coach and may help you too:
1. Ask yourself: whose life you are living?
It’s easy to get sucked into trying to meet everyone else’s needs and live up to their expectations. For example, trying to be a perfect leader; a totally supportive colleague; the ideal mother or the best partner in the bedroom. Trying to fulfil expectations like this is exhausting and will leave you feeling overwhelmed.
The solution is to reconnect with that which is really important for you. Ask yourself what brings you joy? What makes you feel complete? What helps you live the life you desire? If you had the courage and means, what life would you create for yourself?
The answers to these questions will help you regain your focus and perspective on what’s really important in your life.
2. Ask yourself: what is not important in the long run?
Make a list of the issues that are stressing you. For each one, ask yourself if they give you value in life and if they will matter in three years time. Mark each one that fulfils both these criteria with a tick.
Most overwhelmed people are amazed that while they have very long list, very few of their items have ticks against them.
The items with a tick are those things that you need to spend time on and ensure you don’t neglect, despite all the demands on you.
3. Take off your Superman/Superwoman cape
Multitasking is another name for doing many things poorly. Delegating and saying “no” are powerful shields against feeling overwhelmed.
We are often however, reluctant to say “no” because we feel it might be disrespectful and we don’t want to be unhelpful.
Saying no gracefully and respectfully is much better than committing yourself to more than you can reasonably accomplish, and then letting the other person and yourself down. Even if you bust a gut trying to meet the needs of others, but fail, they will remember your failure rather than how hard you tried.
You can respectfully decline a request by saying something like: “With my current priorities, that would be difficult. I don’t want to make a commitment to you and then let you down. Is there another way we can do this?”
4. Change with baby steps
Business encourages us to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals. In your personal life however, it’s much more effective to take several incremental small steps, right now. Taking several small steps prevents being paralysed by indecision and procrastination waiting for the ideal solution to come along.
To start, break down the goals, changes or tasks into smaller, bite-sized chunks. Accomplishing a single small change will make you feel good and encourage you to take a second step, and then a third, as you move towards reaching your bigger goal.
I frequently felt overwhelmed trying to write my 140 000 word Building Resilience Handbook (more here and here). The breakthrough was realising that the solution lay in writing 500 words a day for 280 days. The small goal of 500 words a day felt doable, and with persistence, my goal was reached.
5. Make meetings worthwhile
I have yet to find someone who says they attend productive meetings! Given the huge amount of time everyone spends in meetings, you could perhaps insist that your meetings discuss topics that:
· you have being notified of in advance, so you can prepare
· have a specific purpose, such as “For information” or a “For a decision”
· have a person assigned as responsible for introducing the topic
· have a time allocated for the discussion
6. Ask for help
It’s difficult to ask for help if you feel you may expose personal vulnerabilities which could later be held against you. So unsurprisingly, we delay asking for help, and with time the problem gets worse.
The solution is to identify a colleague at work and a close friend outside of work whom you can trust, and ask them if you may use them as a sounding board. Take your problems to them and ask for their ideas and comments on your solutions. Remember, strong people ask for help; weak people hide.
7. Schedule self-care
You know you should rest, take time out, spend time rejuvenating with friends and family. And yet for many of us, our personal needs and even health are the first to be sacrificed when under pressure to meet the needs of others.
Establish a self-care schedule, making time for friends and loved ones, making sure that you eat regularly and healthily, exercise, and have sufficient hydration and sleep. Allocating blocks of time in their diary for leisure, recreation and family works for many people.
Reduce your exposure to the social media. Decide beforehand how many times you will check your e-mails and Facebook in the evenings and over the weekend — and then stick to it!
Oops! I need to end this to rush off to another meeting……….