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Sources of Stress: Overwhelm

OverwhelmWho doesn’t experience overwhelm sometimes?  Although it doesn’t happen to me often, when it does, it is as though I am driving in first gear, without my Satnav and only brain fog for company.  It is a sign I have left things too long and I need to start taking control now, if not sooner.  Is this something you recognise in your life?

If only we could have demands, duties and deadlines flow in at exactly our preferred work rate.  Enough to keep us engaged and feeling productive.  But not so much that the stress of it damages our results and sense of worth.

But this is the real world.  We can rarely control the amount of work and demands we experience, but we can control our response to them so that we feel more productive, more empowered and less stressed.  In this article, I share my top ten:  ones I use with my clients and also on myself when overwhelm strikes.

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7 Strategies for Dealing with Overwhelm (time to read 3m)

Overwhelm StrategiesWhether overwhelm is a constant feature of your life or something which you experience from time to time, the following can help you overcome it.

These strategies came from working with a client of mine who was so overwhelmed that he was in danger of imploding.  He was managing a team of people in the service industry and just felt bombarded by demands on his time from employees, customers, his bosses, suppliers, his email and he was a slave to his smartphone.  He had become ineffective and irritable and, not only was he suffering from insomnia but he was also eating and drinking too much.

These are the strategies which bought his life back into balance which I hope will help you too:

1. Prioritise

Not everything is important or urgent. I taught him to distinguish between the ‘noise’ of demands so that he was able to deal with the urgent and important first, and leave the non-urgent, not-important last.  For more information on this technique, see the time management section of An A-Z of Business.

2. Leave it 

Some things are so not urgent or important that not doing anything about them will not have a negative impact. I taught him to ask himself “What are the consequences of leaving this, today, tomorrow, next week?”  He learned that he could safely ignore some things which came as a huge relief.  A ringing phone is an example of something which can be left.  If it is really important, the person will leave a message.  But he had, like Pavlov’s dogs, simply reacted to every ring of the phone, which meant he was often multi-tasking like the proverbial plate spinner but with much less aplomb.

3. Delegate

Because he had become very reactive he had allowed his staff to delegate upwards to him which meant that the buck stopped very much with him. I taught him how to delegate:  what to delegate, to whom and when.  This meant that he freed up a lot of time, his staff were able to take more responsibility, took more initiative (they learned that he wasn’t always going to take up the slack), and their skills were improving.  Most of them liked the fact that they were trusted in this way.

4. Reschedule

His desire to fulfil on commitments (to be admired most of the time) meant that if priorities shifted, he was under enormous pressure. He learned to reschedule tasks or meetings where other priorities came up which were more pressing.  He also learned to build contingencies into his day so he wasn’t so engulfed with commitments.

5. Saying No

He learned that saying ‘no’ did not make him a bad boss, a bad employee or a bad person. He was not the do-er of all things.  It was OK to say ‘no’ sometimes and it was not a rejection of the other person.  I taught him how to say ‘no’ without saying ‘no’ too.  For example “I would be happy to help you with that.  My time is committed at the moment and I will be free next Wednesday for an hour.”  This was saying ‘no’ to now, not the favour.

6. Setting realistic expectations

When you are racing from one emergency to another, it is easy to fall in with other people’s emergencies when they are not your own. It is also easy to provide timelines based on hope, a fair wind, and no mind to the realities of life.  This creates unnecessary pressure and is a setup for disappointment.  I taught him how to always build in contingencies to any commitments which meant that when curve balls came his way, he could navigate them with greater ease.

7. Smartphone management

It is all too easy to become a slave to your smartphone and for my client, the strategy which worked was to have times during the day where he was switched off. This enabled him to focus on what was going on and not have to react to every ping, ding and ring.  The relief was immense.  He also stopped using it as his alarm clock and left the phone downstairs when at home.

These are the main strategies which worked with this particular client.  The result?  Less stress, greater productivity, a more empowered workforce and bosses who didn’t take him for granted.  He started enjoying work again too.  I hope they work just as effectively for you.

If you would like help in your specific circumstances to manage time, stress and people, do give me a call on 0845 130 0854.  Everyone’s situation is different and sometimes working through challenges with an impartial expert can be the difference which makes the difference.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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