Well, I thought that January was crazy, and the end of April was exhausting, but it turns out that I hadn’t seen anything yet. This past week, circumstances created a workload the likes of which I haven’t seen in a very long time, and I quite literally did almost nothing but work, sleep, and work. I’ll share more details in my upcoming month in review post, but today I’m thinking about those times in our lives when our to do lists become Herculean.
The next time you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, here are some things to keep in mind:
Set realistic expectations
Unless you have superpowers (and if you do, I’m jealous), you’re always going to be constrained by the time you have. When everything comes crashing down, it’s time to really focus on acceptable outcomes (see this post for more on that). This past week I was doing the work of two people, and while I wanted to apply my usual high standards to all of it, that simply wasn’t possible.
Communicate with others
First thing Monday morning, I told my boss what I could do, what I couldn’t do, and what I now needed other people to do. Some deadlines had to be pushed back, some of my work had to be delegated to others, and someone else definitely had to lead a few training sessions I had scheduled for Friday.
When you have too much to do, you need to make the situation clear to everyone around you. Give a heads up to those who are affected, so they know the situation and are prepared for you to be stressed, or unavailable, or asking for their help and support.
Take care of yourself
Sleep. Eat. Drink water. Take a break. No matter how busy you are, you have time to see your needs. If you don’t, you won’t be very effective anyway. This Wednesday, for example, I called it quits by 6:00 and slept for ten hours. I had two insanely busy days behind me and two more ahead, so I didn’t feel the least bit guilty about saying, “I’ll figure it out tomorrow”.
Celebrate your accomplishments
At the end of the day on Friday, I walked into my boss’s office, threw my arms in the air, and shouted, “I’m amazing!” I also texted a friend and asked if we could have dinner because I was on a total achievement high and wanted a metaphorical gold star. Was I bragging? Yep. Did I feel ashamed of that? Nope. Often, if we wait for other people to notice and congratulate us, we’ll end up waiting a long time. No, I’m not suggesting that we go around constantly talking about how awesome we are, but there’s nothing wrong with occasionally drawing attention to yourself. I wanted my boss to acknowledge what I had put myself through over the past five days, so I made sure he did. I wanted a reward, so I arranged my own celebratory dinner. At a bare minimum, when you achieve something you should look at yourself in the mirror and tell that amazing person they did great.
When things start to slow down, let them. It can be hard to change gears, but continuously running in overdrive is a very, very bad idea. Once you’ve handled the craziness, it’s time to sleep in. Watch a movie. Read a book. Give yourself some time before dealing with anything else that’s piled up. Write a shorter blog post because you’re still tired on Sunday.
Trust me, you’ve earned it.
How do you handle being overwhelmed?