time for a break concept

There are just so many responsibilities we can take on our shoulders before the burden starts to overwhelm us. What overwhelms you is probably different from what causes me to feel taxed. Some of us can handle more than others. Some of us thrive on having a full plate; for others having too much to do removes us entirely from our comfort zone. Triggers are different: is it family, work, social obligation or a combination of factors that contribute to the feeling “It’s all just too much; I’m going to explode”?

Whatever your trigger, be aware that it happens to every one of us from time to time and each one of us has different techniques for shaking free and getting back on a productive track.

Lately, I’ve been either going for a run or taking a yoga class. One friend finds that cooking a complex recipe works for her. One of my executive coaching clients calls her daughter at college. The New York Times crossword puzzle breaks the tension for my cousin. Other techniques: massage, a personal guru, a hard work-out at the gym, a beauty make over, shopping, calling your best friend, getting a coaching session, the list is endless and personal.

Those are certainly divergent ways of handling the feeling of being overwhelmed. But, they all have a commonality: they take us away from the immediate problem and give us a moment to breath. Once we have removed ourselves, once we take a moment to ourselves to sort out the underlying reason for the feeling, we can start thinking clearly again. Then, we can get back to the tasks at hand with renewed vigor and energy.

Mark Twain said it very clearly for me:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Here are some helpful coaching steps to follow the next time you feel overwhelmed at work.

Ask Yourself Why You are Overwhelmed
This isn’t a deep analytical task, but an administrative one. Simply list everything that you have to do that is making you feel overwhelmed. Automatically, you are breaking the list of tasks down into small, manageable, pieces. Once you see the myriad of things you have to accomplish as individual items, your mind will start taking them one at a time and release some of the tension.

Prioritize the Tasks
Instead of your mind perseverating on “work is too much for me” your mind will be thinking “I can do task A, then B, then C.”

Accept That There are 24 Hours in a Day – And Use Them
If you have more work to do than can possibly fit into a set time frame, then you have to get help. If, however, the work can be done but it’s going to take longer than you wished, reset your clock. Part of not feeling overwhelmed, for me, is realizing that work doesn’t stop at a particular time of day and doesn’t have to be performed in a certain place – like my desk in my office. This allows me a lot more freedom. Suppose I have a proposal to write that is due at 9:00 a.m. and it’s already 4:00 p.m. but I have a business dinner scheduled at 7:30 and promised a friend I’d go to yoga with her at 5:30. I’d be really stressed if I put myself on a schedule to finish the proposal before leaving the office for the day. Instead, I tell myself that after dinner and early in the morning there are additional hours available. Big deep breath – I’m not under such a terrible time crunch after all.

Ask Whether You Can Get Help
It’s not terrible to ask for help – co-workers, supervisors, outside contractors are available. If it costs a little money to move some of your tasks to someone else, to hire someone to help write a grant proposal or job bid, do it anyway if it frees up your mind to focus on more important things.

Give Yourself a Break
Make eliminating the overwhelmed feeling from your life a priority. Seriously, why should you feel that way? You are one person and you can do just so much. So, give yourself a break and don’t over commit.

Applying the Guidelines in Real Life
I recently coached an executive client who had pushed himself to the brink of exhaustion. When he was transferred to another country to take on a new assignment, he was excited and gratified for the promotion and opportunity. But there were layers of feelings that existed beyond that. After a short time, he started feeling overwhelmed due to a myriad of things: his assignment required him to speak another language and get familiar with a different culture, his team was twice as large as before, he hadn’t had a vacation in six months as the company was experiencing financial challenges, and he missed his family. This are all real and legitimate reasons to feel overwhelmed and even to question whether taking on the new assignment was a good use of his judgment. But, he hadn’t legitimized these feelings to himself, instead feeling that he wasn’t “good enough.” Together we talked through the situation and discovered that one of the biggest mistakes he was making was to pretend to the outside world that he wasn’t experiencing these difficulties. Our executive coaching sessions helped him realize that it was okay to ask for help, take a break and perhaps most of all, talk about his feelings.

When you feel overwhelmed remember:
• Take things one task at a time.
• Stop and smell the roses – appreciate the world around you
• Acknowledge that stress is normal and temporary
• Recognize the blessings in your life.
• Take a break and walk away giving your mind time to refresh.
• If you can’t leave to take a breath in the very moment, then promise yourself a reward as an incentive as soon as you have completed your tasks and take that reward because you earned it.
• Set reasonable expectations for yourself.