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How to Stay on Track When You’re Overwhelmed

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We all know what it feels like to be overwhelmed. As an administrative professional, you probably have a never-ending to-do list. Projects and other assignments get tossed your way from all directions, all day long. People constantly interrupt with last minute requests and “emergencies.” It’s enough to drive a sane person crazy!

When it all feels like too much and you’re overwhelmed by everything in front of you, most people have a tendency to go in one of two directions: Some folks run around like headless chickens, trying to get everything done without any real strategy or direction. They end up exhausting themselves and spinning their wheels in the process. Other people simply freeze. They become paralyzed by stress and anxiety. They can’t figure out what to do, so they procrastinate and distract themselves with unimportant activities.

Both responses are counterproductive. When you’re overwhelmed with work, you can’t afford to let things fall apart. You have a lot to do and no time to waste. To help manage that feeling, you have to get ahead of it. Create a proactive plan for staying on-track if and when overwhelm strikes. Here are 4 key components everyone should include in their plan of attack.

Manage Your Expectations

First and foremost, you have to manage your own mindset. There’s always too much to do and not enough time; that’s just the nature of the modern business world. You can’t do it all, and that’s okay. No one expects you to be perfect or achieve truly impossible things. Don’t place those expectations on yourself.

In terms of what you can realistically achieve in any given work day, you have to be reasonable. Take into account the meetings, appointments and other scheduled items already on your calendar and remember that unexpected things will crop up each day. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment.

Break It Down

A big, complicated project always feels daunting when you look at the whole thing in its entirety. However, once you break it down into smaller pieces, it tends to feel much more manageable.

The big picture is still important, of course. You don’t want to completely forget about the overall purpose of what you’re doing and the goal you’re trying to achieve. But you can only take it one step at a time. So, when you’re starting to get overwhelmed, just keep your focus on the immediate priorities and what’s coming up next—not on what might or might not happen 10 steps down the road.  

Clear Your Space

You’ve probably heard the old saying that “a cluttered workspace creates a cluttered mind.” This is especially true when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Too much physical distraction will only add to your stress. Clear the space around you, and you’ll immediately feel a sense of control. This will help create more mental clarity and peace of mind so you can give your work the true attention it deserves.   

Follow Your Known Systems

As mentioned previously, when we feel overwhelmed, we tend to do counterproductive things. One of the most common is that we stop following our known helpful practices, often because we worry that they take too much time.

For example, we may decide to work straight through lunch, even though we logically know that taking a break away from our desk will help re-energize us and keep us clear-headed. We stop taking the time to plan our days and organize our paperwork, even though we understand these things will help us be more productive.

We sacrifice the processes and systems we’ve successfully relied on in the past, simply because we don’t have any time to “waste.” But this is exactly when we need these things the most!

Don’t allow being overwhelmed to push you into bad habits. When you sense that things are getting a little crazy, it’s time to double-down on those practices that you know, deep down, are worthwhile. Commit to them in good times and bad.

Take it from me, these strategies work. I have very consciously been using them over the past few years. The last time I was facing an overwhelming workload, I suddenly realized I didn’t actually feel overwhelmed. For a minute, my anxiety kicked in and I started wondering, “What am I forgetting? Why am I not feeling it?” And then I realized: I was just managing it better. I was mentally and physically on track. I could face whatever came my way, because I knew I could handle it. You can too, with the help of what you’ve learned here. 

About the Author:

Chrissy Scivicque believes that work can be a nourishing, enriching life experience – and she loves helping professionals discover exactly what that means for them and how to achieve it. Her popular website, EatYourCareer.com, is devoted to this mission. As an award-winning writer, certified career coach and experienced corporate trainer, Chrissy brings a unique perspective to the world of professional development. She is the author of the “Build Your Professional Development Plan” workbook and, “The Proactive Professional" (both available on Amazon).

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