In the age of work-life integration and remote work
2020 was the year of burnout. It’s true, burnout was the topic of the year and unfortunately, it looks like the trend is going to continue in 2021. Most of us have now been working from home for the last six months or more, and instead of getting used to the situation, and enjoying the time we save by not having to commute, we are feeling overwhelmed. Whether you have accidentally become a remote manager or a remote worker, your day seems to be filled with back to back zoom meetings, with no time to do actual work or think strategically. There are even studies saying that Women are enduring higher rates of anxiety and depression during COVID-19 pandemic which leads to burnout.
The truth is, everyone gets stressed from time to time when they are feeling overwhelmed! As a working woman and mother, I’m familiar with the feeling of being overwhelmed. However, the good news is you can avoid feeling and looking stressed if you know how to deal with those feelings.
Here are 8 tips on how you can avoid burnout and stop feeling overwhelmed at work.
1. Step out of the situation and look from outside
When you are feeling overwhelmed, the first thing you need to do is to calm down. Usually, this can be achieved by stepping out of the situation and looking at it from another person’s point of view. Sometimes, this needs to happen literally, by leaving your desk and going for a walk. Then ask yourself these questions;
Why am I feeling overwhelmed?
Do I have too much to do and not enough time?
Do I have a particular challenge in completing my work?
Do I find the work unexciting?
Do I not understand the purpose of doing the work?
Am I physically or mentally tired?
After knowing the cause, you can follow the rest of the steps and overcome the feeling of overwhelm.
2. Write everything down and priortise
A human brain is not capable of storing too much information, it’s a fact. When your brain has too much information to process or remember, then it tends to bring stress and anxiety. Therefore, write everything down and free your brain from information overload. Once you’ve written things down, it is easier to process them as everything is in black and white. Besides, you don’t need to worry about losing this information.
When you are reviewing what you have written down and prioritising, you might find that you don’t need to do anything with some of the information. For things that require action, apply Eisenhower matrix of getting things done. The following image is an example from James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, and his application of Eisenhower matrix. Whether you are trying to complete tasks at work or at home, we tend to overestimate our capacity and take too much on! By putting things in relevant categories, Do, Decide, Delegate and Delete, it helps ensure that you only do things that are important and have an impact on what you would like to achieve.
3. Be in control by giving up control
The art of finding a good balance and being at peace relies a lot on control — and surprisingly, it is not about having a lot of control. It is about giving up control and not trying to control what you can’t. There are some things in life that just cannot be controlled, such as weather. So for example, if you are organising a work event and are worried about bad weather or rain, then you are going to be stressed and overwhelmed. Instead, have a Plan B for when it rains.
Rather than trying to control what you can’t, preparing for what could go wrong actually puts you in charge of the situation. And when you know you are in charge of something, there is less chance of feeling overwhelmed.
4. Stop overthinking
Overthinking causes negative thoughts and fosters a pessimistic point of view. There was a cartoon that I saw somewhere that illustrated the negative effect of overthinking. The husband was not looking happy one day and the wife started silently worrying about it: is he not interested in me anymore? Is he going to leave me soon? Have I done something to upset him? And so on, and so forth.
But when a friend asked the husband why he looked upset, his answer was, “My bike didn’t start today, and I don’t know why.” It was spot on. Overthinking does more harm than good! It creates problems in our mind which are not even problems to begin with. The more you overthink, the further you are from making decisions or taking actions to resolve the issue as you become overwhelmed with unnecessary thoughts and worries.
5. Focus on the big picture
It is very easy to get trapped in daily tasks, feel overwhelmed with current issues that is in front of you and forget what really matters: The big picture! When you think about the big picture, maybe it no longer matters that each of us do things slightly differently, or that a few things didn’t work out as planned. As long as you achieve our desired end goal within your set constraints, that’s all that matters!
When it comes to your career, it pays to have a personal development plan so you are clear about what your short, medium and long term career goals are, and by referring to them often, it helps put situations in perspective.
6. Ask for help and accept help
There is a misconception that asking for help or accepting help is a sign of weakness. We, therefore, tend to avoid asking for help at work or at home. Maybe you don’t want to be seen as incapable. Maybe you don’t want to look weak. Maybe you want to show others that you can do it all. But knowing when to ask for help and accepting help is a strength.
But knowing when to ask for help and accepting help is a strength.
In her book Lean In, the author Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to support each other and lean in so you can achieve our full potential. I say, let’s take it one step further and lean in and get support from your colleagues, managers, partners, and people you deal with, regardless of their gender. Help them help you and return the favour when possible because there is no shame in that!
7. Choose your battles wisely
Sometimes, you have no control over a circumstance, but you always have control over how you choose react to it. Choosing your battles wisely applies not only to arguments and conflicting views but also applies to how you choose what problems to deal with. Not all problems need to be solved because they simply do not matter in the long run.
Rather than facing every problem so passionately, think of pros and cons and decide whether they are worth fighting over. After all, your time and energy is limited so don’t waste them!
“Choose your battles wisely. After all, life isn’t measured by how many times you stood up to fight. It’s not winning battles that makes you happy, but it’s how many times you turned away and chose to look into a better direction. Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most, most, most important ones, let the rest go.” ~ C. JoyBell C.
8. Take action
Last but not least, the most effective way to deal with overwhelm is to take appropriate action. Sometimes, you may be feeling overwhelmed about a small matter but when you go ahead and do it, you find that it is actually not that hard. To give you an example, there was one time I got overwhelmed with preparing and lodging a tax return. I spent many days and weeks thinking and stressing out about it.
But when I actually put a day aside, got all the receipts and documents and lodged the tax return on the same day, I realised that it was not that hard. Similarly, you could be reading many articles about how to overcome feeling overwhelmed at work or at home but if you don’t do anything or implement any of their suggestions, then you are not going see any difference in our lives.
So the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, simply take action. That action may even be as simple as deciding that you are not going to worry about the matter. An intentional inaction is still an action. There is a quote by Nelson Mandela which reads, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ I couldn’t agree more.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ~ Nelson Mandela
If you're a manager, you might find my following book helpful. I wrote it for managers who suddenly found themsleves leading in a remote-first world with distributed teams and were getting overwhelmed.