5 Steps for Dealing with Overwhelm at Work
Do you jump from one meeting to another throughout the day?
Do you feel like there isn't enough time to take a break?
Many of the men I work with are sprinting through their workday and feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities. They feel that if they work through their lunch, get to work earlier or stay later, they will be able to create space later in the week. The problem is the work never stops. There's always more to add to the to-do list, and this way of working becomes the norm.
Eventually, the guys I work with get to a point where they can't cope anymore. Their stress and overwhelm spill over into their personal life, and they dislike the person they've become. This usually starts a chain reaction where they leave their company for another job, but they find themselves in the same situation. They feel like they have to prove themselves, so they fall into the same habit of working the extra hours or the lunch breaks.
The cycle of overwhelm keeps on spinning.
Covid and remote working have also compounded the habit of working more hours over the last few years. Very few people manage to balance their time at the computer and looking after themselves. There aren't work colleagues around to ask you to take a lunch break with them, for starters. Secondly, the fridge is in the kitchen, so it only takes a few steps to grab a bite and get back to your desk. Thirdly, remote workers struggle with permitting themselves to step away from their desks. An inner critic is screaming, "what if I get caught being offline? I could get fired!".
Another thing that remote workers forget is that their place of work is also their home, and it's their refuge where they should be able to relax and switch off. By working from home, there is no commute where we can decompress; it's just a few steps to the lounge.
If we feel overwhelmed by work and the proximity of our work station is within reach, it's human nature to think, "if we just do a bit more this evening, it will free me up tomorrow". In reality, your 37.5 hours contract becomes more like a 45-hour working week without lunch breaks!
So how do we get ourselves out of this cycle of overwhelm? I want to share with you the steps I take with my clients when they're in this situation:
1. Set your ground rules - Get clear on what you want your working day to look like:
When will you start work?
When will you finish?
How long will you take for lunch?
How long with your morning and afternoon coffee break be?
2. Be Vulnerable - Now talk to your boss about what you plan to do. "DO WHAT?!" I hear you say. Most of our fear around taking breaks is that you'll "get found out" or "you will underperform". Your boss is the person your inner critic is scared of, so let's put the stories to bed. Talk to your manager about the fact you have been working through lunch or doing extra hours and that you want to hold yourself to account by honouring your breaks.
If you have a good manager, they will want what's best for you and the company. Having an overwhelmed employee is not good for anyone. They make mistakes; they're not present, and they burn out.
Tell your boss if you're worried about taking breaks so you can honestly talk about workload. You'll soon see if the workplace culture expects you to work all the extra hours and if so, maybe it is time for a new job!
3. Schedule time - Put your breaks and finish times in your electronic calendar and set alerts 15 minutes before them. This reminds you that you have a break coming up and need to get your work in a position to transition away from the desk.
4. Do it - Take your breaks, start and finish on time, don't go back to your computer once the day has ended, and turn off the work phone. Take things a step further and incorporate a walk in green space during your lunch break. This will change your state, slow down your inner critic and give you a different perspective.
5. Stay strong - You'll experience a load of self-sabotage when you leave your desk or finish on time. Stay strong and stick to the plan. Creating new habits is hard. Remember the conversation you had with your boss; you've agreed this is ok, so do it!
There will be times when you may have to sacrifice a break or work your lunch, and that's ok. What's important is that this doesn't become the norm. If you miss a 15-minute break, leave work 15 minutes early. It's all about prioritising your time for your well-being. This will positively impact your performance at work as you'll feel less drained, be more resilient, and your organisation will have a content employee.
It's a straightforward process with one fundamental courageous step, talking to your manager to make sure you're on the same page. If you miss this step, your inner critic will take over, and you'll be back to overworking and overwhelm before you know it.
Time management, prioritisation and routine are the first things I work on with a client. Getting clear on what you want your week to look like and then having someone hold you to account is a powerful way to change your life. If you're struggling to prioritise your time and well-being, I'd love to help you. Please schedule a complimentary 30-minute call with me here.
Here's to your Journey.