Guest Post: Taking Control: Strategies for Battling Workplace Overwhelm

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Everybody’s been there – that gnawing anxiety that won’t go away when your workload feels like it’s way more than you can handle. The good news is that you’re not alone. You’re overwhelmed, and that’s normal.

Here’s the bad news: prolonged anxiety caused by workplace overwhelm not only reduces productivity, but can also lead to depression and burnout. The World Health Organization recently classified burnout as a mental health syndrome. The leading health watchdog defined it as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Managing workplace overwhelm is all about taking back control. Whenever you feel like your anxiety from your job is spiraling downwards, try these strategies to regain your confidence and help you feel more settled and secure.


Fizzle it out

Getting trapped in an anxious mood due to your workload sometimes feels like you have too much nervous energy. This elevated state can upset your emotional balance and make emotional regulation increasingly difficult. This energy, when left unchecked, can manifest into self-loathing, or worse, as aggressive anger which can lead to losing your temper, which we covered in ‘Are You the Office Ogre or Silent Assassin?’

To reduce this excessive energy and calm down from a high-strung mood, try doing breathing exercises. You can also control this energy by going to the gym or taking a walk right before you work.


Write it down

Most people who feel overwhelmed feel confused on where to start or which deadline to beat first. Listing down the work that needs to be done can ease the load off your mind. Visualising what you need to do and assigning hierarchies to tasks aid in managing your own expectations and can help objectify the workload.

This doesn’t mean that you have to make a long and engulfing to-do list. Try grouping similar tasks and creating mini tasks under heavy loads to make your list more meaningful and helpful.

Focus on the work

Distracted and procrastinating behaviour at work is often blamed on smartphones. However, Fast Company highlights that it’s actually the act of trying to multitask that distracts us more. When we work in a pace of constant half-attention, unfinished work keeps popping up in our heads and robs us of focus. Instead of ditching your phone completely, an article on ‘How to Work Smart’ by Verizon Connect suggests making technology work for you as it can help you become more organised and less distracted about your overall workload. Using task scheduling apps or productivity timers can improve your habits and allow you to focus better on more immediate tasks.


Know and improve your rhythm

Taking back control means knowing yourself and your own working pace. Some people just thrive best in certain environments and working at certain times of the day. Knowing and understanding your personal work rhythm can help you take advantage of the times when you’re at your most productive.

To take it a bit further, Life Hack advises taking advantage of Parkinson’s Law, which states that your work will naturally take up whatever time you have allocated for it. This is why most tend to start chipping away at tasks slowly, which usually ends at a rush to meet deadlines. To avoid panicky sprints to the finish line, you can trick yourself into finishing tasks faster by reducing their estimated completion time – instead of allocating three hours into making that presentation, try your best at finishing it in two. Once you get used to doing this for every task, you’ll be able to accomplish a lot more, and possibly even have a bunch of free time at the end of your workday.

If you find yourself being regularly overwhelmed at work, these strategies can help you manage your daily workload in a much more efficient manner.


Words by April Brent


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