Constantly overwhelmed: It’s not entirely your fault

Over the years, work has become even more complex. Knowledge workers are expected to do a lot more than they used to. A hundred years ago, a person could train as an accountant, do the same job for 35 years and retire in peace. Now, the average job has so many responsibilities and “Other tasks assigned” that our minds have not been able to keep up. The result of that complexity is constant overwhelm. If you have felt like your job was becoming a never-ending series of tasks, you are probably right.

It’s not just a bad day at work

When faced with more complexity at work, our response is often to work longer hours and sleep less. Those solutions were never meant to be anything more than short-term. They are measures to be taken at a delicate time for a project not an everyday thing. Many people have been working late hours and not getting enough sleep for so long that their default mode is constant overwhelm.

Feeling overwhelmed all the time has been shown to contribute to cognitive fatigue. Due to having too many things on our mind, we make poorer decisions, become more irritable and distracted. This can become a vicious cycle as more cognitive fatigue leads to more feeling of overwhelm.

Vicious cycle
Overwhelm can lead to frustration which leads to more overwhelm

Start by identifying the source of your stress. What are two tasks that if taken off your plate today, would reduce 80% of your stress. You may not be able to delegate those tasks but if you can identify them, you can take action. If your tasks are related to a project that is almost complete, for example, you could make those your priority and work to finish them before taking on any new projects.

Set boundaries. Boundaries are necessary for a healthy work environment. These include things like deciding how many hours a day to spend working on some tasks, what time to leave the office, what time to go to bed and what time to stop responding to official emails.

Boundaries are necessary for a healthy work environment

It doesn’t have to be perfect. While it’s good to hold ourselves to high quality standards, the aim of any successful project is to deliver what the client wants not the best that can be delivered. The price of perfectionism is often more time spent on a task than allocated. It’s better to finish on time than to spend many late hours adding extra features that the client never asked for. Let go of some tasks. Outsource and delegate as much as you can. If you have subordinates, make use of their talents. Are their meetings you have been attending for which an update will be sufficient, ask a subordinate to sit in for you.

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