Tackling the feeling of being Overwhelmed At Work

July 5, 2022

Posted by Lai Han Sam (Ms), PCC

Recently a client showed up at our coaching session frustrated and burnt out. She was working all hours and to catch up on her workload. She has no free personal time as she was also the main caretaker in her family. 

In her words, she was working ALL the time, with not much time to rest and do things that she enjoys.

She came asking to work on her procrastination problem. As we talked, it was evident, there was simply too much on her plate and she was unable to work productively. She was in firefighting mode all the time and procrastination was just a coping mechanism to relieve her stress levels temporarily. She noticed that she would feel better for a while, but the outstanding items would sit mentally in her mind, constantly nagging and adding to her feelings of guilt. When things come to a head, she would then use the adrenaline rush to complete her work.

I asked her – if it still delivered what she needed, why do you think it is a problem? She knew it was not sustainable and she is now feeling the pain after years of working this way. She was concerned about the status of her health and mental exhaustion. She wanted to solve this permanently or at least, have strategies that would help her tackle her work and not have to bring back the stress into her personal life. She also wanted more time to do the things that would energize her.

Sounds familiar?

Either you or someone you know is probably going through this. Instead of finding temporary ways of dealing with the challenge, why not start implementing measures that would permanently change the way you work? 

Audit Your Work

Is all the work on your plate really your responsibility? Many of us want to be supportive, cooperative and liked. We say yes to work that are not really our responsibility way too often. It is of course good to help our coworkers when we can. However, it would be counterproductive if you help others but not able to complete your work in a timely manner. Which leads us to the next point…

Learn To Say No

Saying no is not as scary as we think it is. Often, it is not a straight “No”. This can be use in conversations with both your coworkers and your reporting manager. 

It could be in the following responses:

  • I have work that I have planned to complete these 2 weeks. While I can’t do this by the end of day but can help by end of next week. Would that work? If not, I think I will not be able to do this.
  • I can see this new task is important. As you know I have 5 other projects on my plate. Can we talk about priorities and timelines? This will help me plan my work better. (this is especially with your reporting manager)
  • I can’t take the call at 9pm. Would 9am tomorrow morning work? I can see both of us are available. (no apologies or explanations please, it is your personal time)

Set Your Boundaries

During the coaching session with my client, we talked about her boundaries and how she is managing them. She observed that whenever she had a dinner appointment with her friends, she is better able to manage her work to finish on time so she can spend time with them. She explained that she really wanted to go and so it was a push to complete her work. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact, a lot of us do so. This shows that whenever she holds firm her boundary, she can complete everything on time. If her coworker asks her to help with some work just before she needs to leave, she negotiates. 

We don’t have to wait to have a dinner appointment to do this. What are your boundaries when it comes to work and balancing your life? Set some rules on how you operate. Here are some to inspire your thinking.

  • I take lunch breaks away from my desk every day.
  • I leave at 6pm and do not work late every Friday. (even better if you can do it daily!)
  • I block out focused working time and let nothing interrupt me.
  • I do not say yes to everything asked of me immediately. I spend time thinking things through before answering.

Do Not Apologize

Apologies are given when you do something wrong and want to make good with the other party. In the case of not being able to do work that will take up your personal time or attend a meeting that you know have nothing to do with your role or other similar scenarios, you can say no without apologizing. 

In times like this, the word “sorry” is used not to make the other party feel better – it is used for us to feel better about saying no. We need to be able to say no and hold our boundaries around what we can and cannot do. We can take on more work than we can handle, but should we? 

Remember, every time we say yes to something, we say no to something else. So use your yes’es wisely.

If you think implementing these boundaries may result in negative consequences, do it in small steps over time. It is also worth asking yourself if this is the environment you want to work in if everyone is not respecting others’ boundaries and needs. After all, shouldn’t your loved ones and friends have the best version of you instead of what’s leftover?

Reach out to us to speak to one of our qualified coaches - connect@boldly.app.