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Careers

Take a step back to tame those 'overwhelm' gremlins Add to ...

THE QUESTION

I’m writing to you because I am feeling incredibly overwhelmed and it seems this has been going on for a long time. Work demands keep piling up and I feel bogged down every day without any reprieve. There used to be periods that were less busy and we could catch our breath but these days it’s go, go, go all the time and I’m feeling swamped. I’m losing my steam and feeling the stress of dealing with it all, and the stuff outside of work is becoming an issue. Help!

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THE ANSWER

I hear you, I feel it, and I get it! You are not alone. Most people I talk to in my coaching practice, my social circles and professional network are complaining about the same thing. And I personally relate too – busy seems to be the new normal for most of us these days.

Learning to deal with this constant pressure and manage that sense of overwhelm is crucial for our well-being both personally and professionally. A growing body of research demonstrates that our brains just don’t function properly when we are in constant overload. This is an area I’ve been doing a lot of work in, so let me share a few ideas:

Develop new strategies to cope

The external demands of work and life most likely won’t let up on their own so it will be up to you to deliberately plan new ways of coping with it all. And who wants to just cope? Don’t we want to thrive? It’s a meaningful goal indeed, but recognize that this won’t likely be a one-trick strategy. There are a lot of different things one can do to manage the loads, be more resilient, productive and maintain that sense of positive “mojo.” The key is to pull together the right mix of strategies that work for you.

Organize

If we were in a coaching relationship, some of the first questions I might explore with you are: How do you organize yourself? What are your systems to keep track of all your to-do’s for your daily, weekly and long-term priorities? How much do you keep in your head? Part of our “frazzle” is often because we keep our minds full of stuff that has to get done. “Mind full” is very different from being “mindful.” The former can be distracting, distressful and overwhelming – a showstopper to success. And it’s what can keeps us awake at night when we should be sleeping. Having a system that keeps you organized will help you feel in control – especially as the loads ramp up.

Triage

When there is too much on our plates, you’ll need to boost your prioritizing skills a notch and triage. Delegate smart – including stuff in your personal life. Learn to say no (when appropriate). If uncomfortable saying no – check out this recording of a webinar I presented called Addicted to the Yes Habit (it’s free). Create a list of “what not to do” during excessively busy periods and consider tasks that you can roll over or schedule for another time.

Clear your cache and refresh

Do you get a sense of “brain freeze” when you are overwhelmed, or that fuzzy-mind feeling? Although it seems counterintuitive, taking a break when you have loads to do can be the best thing for you. Herbert Benson, founder of the Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, is amongst many experts who have researched and validated the positive effect that taking breaks can have on our productivity and well-being. So, make sure your days include the right mix of breaks – whether they be short shifts in activity at work, or brief breaks like a walk, or heading to the gym after work. The key is to do something that takes your mind off of work.

Sleep

Sleep matters! It’s often the first to go when we feel time-crunched. We need those crucial quality zzzs for our brains to refresh and to consolidate our learning. Make it a priority to get a good night sleep regularly because lack of sleep is a huge contributor to stress and the sense of being overwhelmed. And if you have sleep challenges, make it a priority to find the right solution for you. Explore sleep-friendly nutrition, exercise, life habits and more.

Mindset

Managing our mindset is a significant part of dealing with stress and overwhelm. How we perceive ourselves and our workload can make all the difference. Do you procrastinate? Magnify modest tasks to be mountainous? Feel powerless? When tired and stressed we can default to a “‘can’t do” mode. We lose our sense of resourcefulness. Tame those gremlins and get unstuck by breaking down the big task into smaller chunks. When overwhelmed, ask yourself “What can I do right now?” Focus on just getting started. One small step can create a sense of action momentum which will get you going.

Happiness despite it all

When the going gets tough, there are many more small things you can do with just a few moments each day to boost your optimism, resilience and overall well-being. Studies have shown that taking just a few moments daily to practice gratitude, reflect on the good things that happened in your day, meditate, exercise and practice other positive habits can boost your heartiness significantly.

Eileen Chadnick is a career coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto.

Do you have a question on careers, labour law or management? Send it in to our panel of experts, which includes career coaches, a recruitment expert and an employment lawyer: careerquestion@globeandmail.com. Please be advised that while The Globe and Mail may publish your submission, your name and address will be kept confidential.

Online discussion

Are you bogged down by your workload? Feeling overwhelmed with work and life? Busy is the new normal and finding a way to cope is crucial to your well-being, says work-life coach Eileen Chadnick.

She'll be joining The Globe and Mail for an online discussion on Friday, March 23 at noon ET to answer questions and give readers tips on how to cope with the demands of work and life today.

If you would like to send in a question in advance please e-mail it to: careerquestion@globeandmail.com.

Click here if you need a mobile version.



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