Don't-overload-your-trailerOrganizations pride themselves on being “lean and mean”. Shareholders love it. For the people working there however, it often boils down to meeting higher targets with fewer people and less resources.

If this applies to you, let me guess:

  • You receive way too many e-mails?
  • You feel compelled to take on even more work?
  • You start the week determined to get your work load under control, only to end up with more items on your “to do” list?
  • At home you can’t switch off?

You end up overcommitted and overloaded.

Here’s the interesting thing: everyone complains about this overload and overstress! So is this the so-called “new normal”, and do we just have to accept it?

To answer this question, let’s put stress in perspective. We do need some stress in our lives. It’s exciting, energises us, it puts sparkle in our eyes and zest in our steps.

Too much stress however, is unhealthy or even dangerous. Persistent overload and overstress shows up in several ways:

  • In your body: tension, raised blood pressure and heart problems, illness, poor sleep
  • In your mind: poor concentration, anxiety, depression
  • In your soul: feeling lost, deep weariness

If any of this applies to you, you really should do something to prevent things from spiralling further out of hand. Simply hoping the pressure will reduce, is unlikely to work out.

I recently coached a senior manager who suffered many of these symptoms. She pictured herself as a duck, swimming in a fast flowing river. On the surface, she was serene with not a feather out of place. Below the surface was a different picture, with her legs paddling like mad to keep her afloat and crocodiles eyeing her hungrily. She was completely overloaded and overstressed (more here).

To deal with the situation, she undertook a self-observation and a practice. The self-observation was designed to assist her become more aware of what was creating the overload, and the practice designed to change the way she dealt with her work load and tendency to make over-commitments:


This self-observation requires you to observe yourself in life when you make commitments and take on new work:

1.       Stop three times a day and reflect on the following questions:

a.       Am I working on my most important items, or have I got caught up in breakdowns and crises?

b.      What new work have I taken on?

c.       How did I feel emotionally when I took on that work?

d.      What bodily sensations did I experience when taking on the work?

2.       At the end of the day, spend five minutes reflecting on the following, preferably writing your thoughts in a journal:

a.       What patterns am I starting to notice?

b.      What would I like to do differently tomorrow?


This practice is designed to help you focus on achieving results during the working day and making commitments only often thinking through the impact on you:

Before the start of the day, spend five minutes planning for the day ahead:
a.       Reflect on the successes you had competing work the previous day

b.      Reflect on the additional work that might come your way. Make a brief list of the work you need to compete. Try to limit it to the three most important items, the way a hospital uses triage to prioritize patient care after a big car smash.

2.       During the day, focus on competing the three important items. Once they are complete, put your attention on competing the next three most important items.

3.       Catch yourself and pause before you commit to taking on new work. Do this by:

a.       Taking a breath before you respond,

b.      Or ask if you can get back to them later today,

c.       Or ask if you can get back to them after you have checked your diary.

d.      Only give your response when you have considered the impact on you and your potential for burnout.

4.       At the end of the day spend five minutes reflecting in your journal on:

a.        “I completed my three most important items by …………………………………………..”

b.      “The commitments I made to take on additional work were appropriate because……………………………………………”


These self-observations and practices helped the manager I was coaching reduce her overload and overstress. Would something similar work for you?

Check out an article I recently wrote on how to develop Resilient Leaders. It describes the training process in some detail and is based on the training workshop: Resilient Leadership Workshop

Mental Strength training

NEW! Mental Strength Training!

Mental Strength training helps people keep task-focused and persistent. Mental Strength training teaches the process and tools to remain composed under pressure and less vulnerable to emotional slumps at work and at home (read more here).

Building Resilience workshop

Building Resilience Workshop

Team members and specialists learn how to bounce back from difficult organisation and life events, such as significant change, setbacks and hardship. The outcome is they are able to resist stressful experiences impacting on their job productivity and stay calm and healthy (read more here).

Resilient Leadership WorkshopResilient Leadership Workshop
Leaders learn how to keep stress positive. They assess their Team Members strategy-fitness and learn three resilience coaching techniques. The outcome is the leaders are better able to deliver organisational strategy and coach their team members when their resilience lags (read more here).

Image Dont Overload Your Trailor licensed under Creative Commons