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How to survive being overwhelmed and get back on track quickly

By 17:45

Do you feel like you're buried in tasks to do, projects to plan, calls to make and e-mails to send? Do you feel you're drowning in a growing list of postponed to-do's? You could be overwhelmed.

There are many ways to prevent feeling overwhelmed at work. But if you're reading this post you probably already are. It’s okay though, EVERYONE's been there. That's why I wrote this post to share what I learned about how to survive being overwhelmed and get back on track quickly.

how to survive being overwhelmed and get back on track quickly

This feeling of overwhelm is caused by confusion. You've somehow lost control of your workload and now it's attempting to swallow you. Think of it like a dam that's been built between your incoming tasks and your productivity. We need to let the work flow and it will follow it's course naturally.

Following this lines I have explained 3 easy steps to get started. The only rule is not to get stuck in any of them aiming for perfection. Whatever it is the cause, you can stop being overwhelmed by realizing you just need to get things done.

1 Prep the field to build productivity

Where you are, and the condition this space is in causes a major difference. It can either impair or boost your ability to focus and get things done. Like in gardening, we need to prepare the field for the seeds to grow well. This step is a cleansing one, so you want to focus in clearing your mind and space, to be able to focus in one thing at a time.

Reboot your work environment

Be careful here, I’m talking about minor tidying and cleaning. This is not a major spring clean, this is not a purge. We’re trying to make your environment nice so you can focus, but by no means should it take more than 10 minutes.

  Reboot your workload

We’re going to use the “bucket list” technique to empty your head. Write down anything you need to do. Write for a couple of minutes (don't let it be a time waster). I know you're missing something important, we'll get to it. You should now have an idea of what's bugging you.

2 Learn to budget some time

We’ll put in action some time management technique. Creating a time budget for each task will help you decide when it's best to handle it. It will also help you establish a period of time in which ask your coworkers not to interrupt you.

Look through your list and pick the easiest thing to do. Be honest, not the one you like the most. Pick the one you honestly think it’s gonna take you less time/effort to finish. Now make an honest but challenging time estimation.

- A what??
- Let me show you how. 

My time estimation for the task I picked is 1hour which divides in:
  • Contextualization 15min
  • Project layout 15min
  • Layout description 15min
  • Review and completion 15min
As you can see, the reliability of this estimation lies not on inflating it. It lies on breaking down each task in manageable portions. It’s also important that you include contextualization and review in your time estimation.

To make sure you know what’s expected, and to make sure what you did is what you were expected to do is essential. If I didn’t do that, I would have estimated 30min of work for this task which would have let me feeling frustrated or perform poorly.

Learning to do a Time Budget is a training most of us don’t get before our incorporation to the workforce. It’s a valuable thing to learn to do though. Only when you figure out what your possibilities are, you can make a realistic approach on what you expect to get done. This is the only way I know to prevent being overwhelmed.

3 Get in the mindset to beat that frog

Productivity experts and sports-wear brands have it figured out: just do it.

Now you’ve prepped the field, and identified the time window you’ll need to succeed. You might have even noticed that your overwhelm balloon is kindly deflating. That is because you managed to make decisions and act on them. It’s simple as that.

Behind the famous “eat the frog” mantra of the overly productive, is a mystery solved by psychology.
Let me explain. All us humans (and some animals too) work on the combustion of achievement and reward. Remember that feeling that comes after you close a project? That feeling is the reason you feel happier when you’re productive and you feel you’re on top of things. It's also the reason you feel stressed and depressed when you're overwhelmed and paralyzed.


Work unplugged 

Now you’ve settled your mindset and prepared the field for productivity to happen. But nowadays productivity has an arch-enemy: social media and communication. You have to learn to be unplugged for periods of time to be productive.

Within the time you’ll need to dedicate to your project. You want to silence distractions for it, or all the planning will have been useless.
  • Close all your browser tabs (In fact close everything you don’t need to use)
  • Hide e-mail (none should get mad you’ve been off email for 1 hour)
  • Silence all alerts (you can just ignore them but I find it easier if I turn them off)
  • Set a timer and get started. 

Don't forget to celebrate! 

Once you’re done, take some time to celebrate. Do not skip this, it’s important, it's part of the whole achievement-reward combustion thing. Now you've finished with the celebration, take a deep breath and pick another item on your list.

Like in yoga, perfection comes from practice. Your performance might not be perfect the first time but don’t quit, try again with the next task. Embrace step-backs as a reminder that you need to keep practicing. And remember, the main purpose of all this is to make you work wiser therefore happier.

Congratulations, you just did it! You survived being overwhelmed.

I hope you found this post helpful! Let me know if it worked for you :)

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