Dealing With Overwhelm At Work
I attended a Columbia Business School reunion of sorts last week where a professor talked about how being busy related to productivity. He assuaged our alpha minds. He ultimately proved that genuinely busy people were actually more productive because they were forced to be better stewards of their time.
However, the trick was to manage overwhelm. A longer and longer to-do list can cause many a busy person to shut down. The professor advocated for meditation and mindfulness.
I knew a marketing executive who filled his schedule with fake meetings so that he looked “busy” on Outlook. He garnered more respect for his time because of it. Whatever works.
But what do you do when you’re already engulfed in the depths of stress? Telling myself to meditate can sound like telling someone who’s drowning to just swim back to shore. Easier said than done. And a little annoying.
So here are some specific suggestions to stay sane in the midst of overwhelm:
1. Call It Out
Literally set a timer to a minute and call out what is overwhelming you. Typically it’s one of confusion, doubt, or worry. Be specific and write it down. For example, “I am confused about why my boss keeps asking the same question.” Or “If I do this, then he won’t call me back and then I’ll be single forever!
2. Unpack It
Now look at what you wrote down. What is really going on here? Fear of __________. Common responses include fear of rejection, financial stress, or not being yourself. What does this fear remind you of from your past? Is this related to something else happening in your life (work or personal)?
3. Anchor With A Goal
Remind yourself that just because something happened before, does not mean it will happen again. We often find ourselves trapped in patterns that disappoint us because it feels familiar. It doesn’t have to be that way. Set a goal: if I weren’t afraid of _________, then I would ___________. For example, if I weren’t afraid of my boss, then I would ask for a raise. The goal is asking for raise.
4. Break It Down
Identify tasks that help achieve your goal. In our example, this could include searching for salary data online, talking to headhunters for current market ranges, or having lunch with a trusted mentor.
I had lunch with a co-worker to ask him about his experience at a previous company that had reached out to me about an open position. Without my knowledge, he mentioned our conversation to my boss’s boss who immediately set the compensation conversation in motion. Initially, I felt betrayed, but was eventually thankful for the nudge. You never know who is looking out for you.
5. Expect Resistance
For every kismet encounter, there are many thoughts and emotions that will be stirred up about giving up and giving in. Ignoring these thoughts do no good. For me, the suppression only seems to enlarge their mental real estate. The only antidote is the opposite.
Draw two columns on a sheet of paper. In the first column, list out all the negative thoughts. Leave no stone unturned. Then in the second column, push yourself to write an opposite thought that negates the negative. This might feel silly or self-indulgent. Do it anyway.
As humans, we have a tendency to over rotate toward the negative as if it’s reality. In this vein, our minds think they are protecting us from what we anticipate other people will do to us – always worst case, amiright? This requires drastic rebalancing with the opposite and hanging out with people who reflect a positive self-image to you when you can’t.
Dealing with overwhelm head-on restores the balance you need to do what needs to get done. Meditate. Know that you are capable. And envision the goal complete.
Then tell everybody you’re busy.