Overwhelmed at Work? Read This.

This week I received this gem in an email from a client, who said, “I’m concerned because I actually  may have more work coming in than is possible to deal with in a 40 hour work week; when I’m out for a day, things quickly spiral out of control and that’s frustrating.”

Ever feel like this is your story?  I’ve seen statistics stating the average worker has about 40 hours of work on their desk.  And we know you aren’t average.

Overwhelmed by paper or information

If this is your situation, when you run up against a few days of disaster (and you will) when you are sick, must travel, have a major deadline project placed on your desk, or (gasp!) take vacation, then you can feel even more out of control. Any time you get behind, you are likely to get really behind because you are already carrying a heavy workload.

So how do organized people cope?  They develop systems to help manage daily work so when overwhelm happens, they can rely on their systems to take care of the regular stuff, while they can focus on the extraordinary for a while.  Good systems include a good planner that incorporates a highly functional calendar, 80/20-based to do list, contact list, and projects.

This is where a diet metaphor comes in handy.  Even if you don’t diet, it’s a good metaphor.  Just because I’m going to eat
more than a healthy share of sweets on, say, my birthday doesn’t mean I can’t also eat the good stuff…well rounded meals and plenty of veggies and fruits.  In other words, I’m not going to blow my entire day by ONLY eating junk.  I’m  going to eat well and pack a few extra calories with the goodies.  In other words, organized people keep doing the good stuff.  But at the first sign of anxiety and overwhelm,  instead of reaching for chocolate (or in our work owrld, facebook, IM and other distractions), they do one more thing on the top of their prioritized to do list instead.  Keep doing the good, even if you do a little bit of the not so good.

If you get behind for any reason, it can start to feel really out of  control, but it’s really not.  Usually, a day or so of focused work, and possibly even some overtime, will allow you to get back in control.  I don’t mean to say just work harder and things will be OK, but if you’ve got extra work for a short period of time, you may have to just buckle down and plow through it.

If you absolutely can’t dig yourself out and your workload is unsustainable, it’s making you sick, and you can’t find time for the things that make you happy in life beyond your paycheck, then you need to start building your case to delegate some work or bring in reinforcements (an assistant, someone to split your job with, or a professional organizer to improve your workflow and highlight inefficiencies). If you are working at capacity and the department or company is suffering, the professional thing to do is to discuss the workload with your boss.  Acting like there isn’t a problem – if you are working at capacity – won’t make it go away,
and will ultimately reflect badly on him or her.  Bosses hate that.  The worst case is he ignores you, and the best case is that he does something to help you (like telling you some things you think are high priority are really low priority, yippee!).  This is sort of like asking for a raise, but usually has a MUCH higher probability of a better outcome.

So if your overwhelming situation at work is a new, short term experience, be sure you have good systems in place to stay organized, even when chaos hits.  If you are living in a constant state of overwhelm, start thinking about strategies to discuss the situation with your boss or bring in additional resources to your small business if you are self-employed.  Clearing your desk and calling your job done at the end of the day just doesn’t happen anymore.

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