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The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: This series of articles supports the award.

How overwhelmed do you feel at work on a typical day?

Most of us can relate to and have a frame of reference for what feeling overwhelmed is. The word overwhelmed is generally perceived as a negative – something we’d rather not feel.

However, we each may have a different definition: feeling defeated, buried or hopeless. The formula for feeling overwhelmed often includes one or more of the following:

  • Confusion
  • Conflict about priorities and what to do next
  • Feeling like we have more to do than time to do it
  • Concerns about failing to achieve an outcome
  • Stressed by perceived workload
  • Experiencing increased interpersonal conflicts that make it harder to get things done

This micro skill explores what you can do to move from feeling overwhelmed to being more in control.


The first step is to admit your feelings. When asked how they are, some people often respond with, “I’m super busy.” That’s not the question. It’s “How are you?”

Those who provide the “I’m super busy” response often do so by default. This may be a sign that they’ve learned that feeling constantly busy is a positive sign, when, in fact, it may be an early indicator of being at risk for feeling fatigued, frustrated, on track for burning out or on the verge of becoming sick.

Deflecting and not tapping into your true feelings can block you from pausing to self-evaluate how you’re really feeling. If your superbusy state has you feeling overwhelmed, this likely is a risk factor rather than a badge of honour.

Taking control and feeling less overwhelmed begins with recognizing some of the key factors that are having you feel overwhelmed.


Once you’re aware of those key factors, your next action is to determine what’s within your control. Many people get caught in self-imposed routines that may include overcommitting and trying to do more than is realistic in a set time frame. This pattern often leads to rushing, stress and regret, because something typically gets dropped or doesn’t get the attention it requires.

The next step is to recognize that something will need to change. It may mean you make some tough personal decisions.

Using daily self-monitoring of what you’re trying to do is a way to uncover opportunities to make changes as well as to catch yourself if you tend to add things to an already-full day. This can help you develop more personal accountability for what’s within your control. We can only control what we do; we have little or no control over systems or other people’s decisions.


Some have learned how to take on many things and rationalize why they needed to do so. But there are only so many hours in a day, and each of us has a set capacity. Learning how to take better control often means learning how to reduce the demands we put on ourselves. This positions us to have the mental space to better manage the demands others put on us.

Coaching tips for learning how to become less overwhelmed:

  • Get second opinions – Like the frog in the water that’s slowly heating up, you may not notice you’re at risk until it’s too late. You can end up committing to take on too much. If you feel overwhelmed, share with a trusted colleague what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Listen to their response. They may see something you’re not seeing, and help you decide what you can do.
  • Put things in writing – Our minds can jump around when we’re feeling stressed. One way to slow things down is to write down what you have on your plate so you can focus on the list. This can help create an objective perspective as to what you can stop or delay.
  • Use maybe versus yes – Many of us are pleasers and will automatically say yes so not to disappoint another person. Practice replacing “yes” with “maybe,” with your qualifier.
  • Do your daily priorities first – Tend to your first things first before you agree to take on more, unless it’s an emergency, not a preference. When it’s a real emergency, be willing to take something off your list.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2018 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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