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Overworked and Overwhelmed? Here's What to Do

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

woman looking stressed at desk

We spend more hours working than doing almost anything else. But the more time we spend in the (home) office, the less time we have to recharge our batteries. This means we are more likely to feel overwhelmed and even burn out.

So how can we have a healthier approach to work? We have some tips for feeling more in control and less overwhelmed with what’s on your plate.

What you can do

Though we may not have complete control over the demands of our job, we do have control over how we approach those demands to make our work life less stressful. 

Here are four areas you can work on:

  1. Time management. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the first area to evaluate is how effectively you are spending your time. To start, you need to know how many different work tasks you are committed to and how long each of those tasks typically takes. Note why you are doing each of those work tasks—having a clear “why” will help you with the next area. 
  2. Prioritization. Not every task has the same level of urgency or importance. It’s easy to be on autopilot and start your workday without deliberately thinking through the order of importance of your to-do list. Pay attention to which tasks are more time-demanding (e.g. project research) and which ones are just time-suckers (e.g. checking your email). Then devote most of your day to time-demanding tasks. 
  3. Collaboration. Did you ever notice that overwhelm is solitary? It isn’t something you necessarily experience when you work with others. Seek answers to your questions from the greatest resource at your fingertips: your co-workers. Sharing ideas can help you find solutions and regain control over your work in a more productive way. 
  4. Delegation. There may be tasks you believe you’re better off taking care of yourself, but there’s only so much time in the day. If you are in a leadership position, don’t be afraid to delegate. Pay attention to the strengths of the people on your team and how each person’s strength can be leveraged to produce the best possible results. In sharing the load, no one person needs to carry the burden of doing it all. 

Pro Tip: To get a comprehensive look at your schedule, do a time audit

Should you talk to your manager?

A fresh approach to work can combat stress and overwhelm. But you may find that even after making changes, you don’t feel differently. If that is the case, the challenge—and its solutions—may not be something you can come to on your own. 

If that is the case, talk to your manager. Even considering this option may be scary because you don’t want to give the impression that you’re incapable. But if you thoughtfully approach this conversation, you'll have no need to worry. When you broach the subject, make sure you:

  • Provide context. Start by giving your manager some background so they understand what you’re working with.
  • Mention specifics. Next, you want to directly highlight the challenges you’re facing. It’s important to not come up with a laundry list of complaints. Talk about no more than three challenges and how they’re affecting your performance.
  • Don’t focus on your stress levels. You may have a lot of feelings, but now is not the time to share them. It’s more important to paint as accurate and objective a picture as possible for your manager to relate to. 
  • Ask for suggestions. Lean on the expertise of your manager to see if there are tips or solutions they would recommend. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if what they’re presenting is not clear. 
  • Follow up. After your conversation, figure out how you can start putting your manager’s suggestions to work. Then, after about two weeks, follow up with your manager to let them know what’s working or not.

If after two weeks, you still don’t experience any difference, you need to take a step back and ask yourself some questions. Are you happy with the work you’re doing? Are you lacking a skill set that could help you do your work? Or is there something else that needs to be addressed, such as organizational fit or culture? 

Once you have more clarity as to what your challenges really are, it may be time to have a different conversation with your manager—one in which you directly broach your feelings, as well as any changes you need to make. These changes could include taking on a different role or project at your organization, working with a different team, or doing coursework to enhance your skill set. 

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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.

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