First a short disclaimer:
It’s going to be okay. Okay is relative term, but the world won’t end because you didn’t finish a project on time and the best thing that you can do as soon as you finish reading this is manage your HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired). So, finish this blog post, make sure you have lunch, take a walk to calm down, text someone you love and get home early enough to go to bed at a reasonable hour.
No matter whether you are an intern or a CEO, all of us have moments where we feel overwhelmed at work. Whether we blame it on our cultural obsession with being “connected” or our collective inability to unplug, when we feel overwhelmed it can be paralyzing. The trick is to know what to do when you feel this way so that you can make smart decisions that are intentional and not based merely on alleviating your discomfort.
Have you ever found yourself sitting at your desk and it’s 3 p.m. and you haven’t had lunch yet and there are 68 emails that all claim to be urgent and your supervisor has a question that you need to answer and you find your breath getting shallow and your chest getting tight as you think about the projects due at the end of the week and all the exciting ideas you had are now just toxic thought clouds that you can’t wait to get away from.
In this moment of dread, the answer isn’t quit your job or throw your computer out the window. You aren’t failing; you have simply reached a decision point, or more specifically a prioritization moment. Before doing anything else, you need to step away from your desk and grab a quick bite and a short walk. When you return, try the three steps below to ground yourself and get practical.
Step #1: Make the Invisible, Visible
Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed, taking the time to write down the tasks in front of us allows our minds to slow down. Writing down the projects that you need to complete takes your stress that exists in some amorphous shape in your mind and translates it into something that is literally visible. When things are tangible they are much easier to organize.
Step #2: Pile It
I’m an advocate what I call the “Post-It method.” Write your projects down as single items on individual Post-Its. Once you have your stack of Post-Its create three distinct piles (“Today”/“This Week”/“The Future”). By creating time boundaries based on “must do” rather than “should do,” you are one step closer to getting back in control.
Step #3: The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow
When you feel overwhelmed, it’s because your mind is fatigued, and when you’re fatigued, the answer is always rest. Your mind is attempting to manage a lot of information and having taken a moment to organize and prioritize, don’t re-escalate your panic by plunging back into to work. Clean up your desk, set everything up for a successful tomorrow and log out of Outlook.
And remember, every project starts one step at a time.