When you’re overwhelmed and overloaded at work, it can be easy to feel trapped. When everything comes at you at once, it can be hard to know what to do first. Here is a guide on how to tackle an overwhelming workload.
Best ways to tackle an overwhelming workload
1. Download it all from your brain
The human brain is an amazing organ, but there are limits to our short term memory. Scientists differ as to how many things short term memory can hold, but it’s somewhere between four and nine. Once we exceed that amount, the brain tries to hold onto it all by cycling through the items. That’s why, when we’re overloaded, we find ourselves going over and over our to-do list in our head.
Writing down the tasks acts like a file download. Once they’re on paper, your brain no longer needs to worry about forgetting them, which helps to clear the mind. The act of writing them down also helps to embed them more firmly for double security. Consider using a visual planner or color-coding system so that you can see what there is to do at a single glance.
2. Take time to plan
One of the best ways to tackle an overwhelming workload is to spend time planning. Using your precious time to plan may seem like a rookie move—you could be using that time to, you know, work!—but actually setting aside some time to create a plan of action will make the rest of your time working much more efficient.
Even just writing down what needs to get done and deciding what order you’re going to tackle it in can be pretty powerful. Why? It takes all the things flying madly around your head and puts them into an actionable list. It makes you stop having to think about how you’re going to do your work and lets you just think about doing it.
3. Take a break
This break looks different for everyone. You could listen to music, do breathing exercises, read a book, play with your kids or pet, or go for a walk around your block. If you don’t know what’s most effective at cooling you down, try different activities. See when you feel most relaxed so you can do those things more frequently.
Having these relaxing activities, even if it’s just for a few minutes, can be a great way to eliminate stress and get back on task.
4. Prioritize your list to tackle an overwhelming workload
Which items are more urgent or more important and must be completed first? We know that things will happen which need our immediate attention and plans don’t always go to plan. However, if you have prioritized correctly, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that what needed to be done was done and other tasks on your list will now be carried over to the following day.
This is an effective way to tackle an overwhelming workload you should know.
5. Talk about sharing
If you start to realize that some of your mini-goals aren’t getting done because there isn’t enough time, because other projects are taking priority, or because new responsibilities keep landing on your desk, it may be time to talk to your supervisor about redistributing some of your work.
This is another reason having a detailed schedule of your projects planned out by day and week is crucial: If you have a clear idea of what needs to be done and in what timeframe, your boss can easily see what’s on your plate. Then, together, you can determine what’s most important to stay on your immediate to-do list and what can be pushed back or delegated to someone else.
Yes, it can be hard to let go, but it’s always more important to share the workload with the rest of your team and make your deadlines than try to prove that you can handle it all and not quite get there.
6. Work on the weekends to tackle an overwhelming workload
When you’re feeling stressed and overworked, it can feel like you should covet your free time like someone trapped in the desert would covet water. And while, no, you absolutely should not work the entire weekend in order to try and stay on top of your work, it can be worth carving out some very specific and limited time to work. It’s a great way to get a head start on the week.
During times of extreme overwhelm, I have been known to work half days on the weekend (doing so at a coffee shop, to at least make it feel a little fun), but generally I think even that’s a bit of overkill.
7. Resist perfectionism
If you’re regularly commended for the quality of your work, it can be seriously hard to forego your attention to detail when there are competing priorities and looming deadlines. While attention to detail is an admirable quality, there is also skill in knowing when something is finished and resisting the urge to fidget with additional details.
Identify the priorities that require your strong detail-oriented approach, and for the remaining tasks, assign a finite time frame to complete them (less time than you’d normally invest). If your teammates could possibly assist, ask them to do you a favor and pitch in. Resist trying to unload entire tasks on them though – that rarely goes down well unless directed by a leader.