liquidplanner blog graphic

The blog for passionate planners

Tips, stories, and insights to better manage work, improve productivity and enhance collaboration.

How to Get Started When You’re Overwhelmed at Work

business woman feeling Overwhelmed at work

Feeling Overwhelmed At Work?

Feeling overwhelmed at work can happen suddenly. You’re having a perfectly good morning. A warm cup of coffee is in your hand, and you think you’ve got your workload under control when suddenly it hits you—

You actually have a growing avalanche of prioritized work to get through within the next two weeks, and it doesn’t help that your to-do list is lengthening by the minute.

Having a lot to do and having too much to do are very different things. No matter how you define them, a lot can be motivating, but too much can make you freeze in your tracks, resulting in you doing a whole lot of nothing. No matter how well prioritized your tasks and projects might be, when you have too much to choose from, you often simply don’t know where to start.

Here are eight task management tips to calm your mind and help you dive into your projects when you feel overwhelmed at work.

1. Know Your Reaction Is Normal

Don’t beat yourself up about a stressful and daunting workload. Feeling overwhelmed from work is normal and, at times, can even give you the extra push to focus on your high-priority work and meet the challenges of the workplace. Center your feelings of being overwhelmed into energy toward strategic solutions to chip away at your work. 

Try giving your mind a set amount of time to wander or deflect. Set a timer for ten minutes in which you can surf the Internet, stare out the window, go on a walk or even freak out a bit if it will help get the anxiety out of your system.

2. Take A Deep Breath

Actually, take five. Breathing exercises like diaphragmatic breathing help balance the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. This triggers internal mechanisms that promote feelings of relaxation in the body.   

The military uses tactical breathing when faced with critical situations, and this technique is proven to help people handle work stress and feeling overwhelmed. This method focuses on slowing down your breathing rate by breathing through the nostrils and counting to four for each inhale and exhale. Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four, breathe out for four, and repeat.

prioritize overwhelming tasks with to-do lists

3. Write Down Everything You Have To Do

Writing a to-do list can reduce feeling overwhelmed with work and minimize the stress of a busy day. Some people find comfort in handwriting their to-do list and seeing their nonthreatening penmanship on a sheet of paper. Infact, the act of writing by hand has proven stress-relieving properties as you work to get your thoughts on paper. Lists also help with information overload. 

By creating a space for you to select and prioritize what needs to be done, you’ll be getting much closer to feeling less burned out and overwhelmed.

4. Prioritize And Then Creatively Prioritize

Start with prioritizing by deadlines. For tasks with shared deadlines, order them by magnitude, putting the bigger items on top. You can even incorporate color and design into the outline of your list to make the process more fun and organized. Once your priority list is final, step back and see if this gives you a sense of order and direction on where to start. If you still have a hard time getting motivated, pick the task you most want to do. It’s better to do something than nothing.

Be sure to check out our article, How to Prioritize When Everything is # 1, for helpful task management techniques. 

5. Start With The Easy Stuff

What can you knock off in the next 15 to 30 minutes? Make your list more manageable by determining simple tasks like phone calls, email correspondence, etc. By creating a smaller list of quick tasks on your to-do list, it will help your anxiety and decrease the feeling of being overwhelmed. Then, attempt one of your beefier tasks.

6. Use Your Teammates

It’s ok to ask for help! Working with colleagues has a lot of benefits—use them! People love to help others solve problems. When feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry about looking weak or perceiving yourself as incompetent. It’s likely the person or team you’re reaching out to has also dealt with task management challenges. 

Share your project challenges with a coworker or see what a teammate does when she has too much on her plate. See if you can do some delegating or buy someone a coffee to give yourself a break. Talking to your manager about your daunting workload and priorities is also a great way to gain some perspective and guidance. You’re not in it alone.

clock timer for task management on work desk

7. Use Timers As You’re Working On Tasks

Give yourself set periods of time to work. Set a timer for 30 or 40 minutes, something you can commit to. “Working within a specific and limited timeframe is important because the race against time keeps us focused,” writes Peter Bergman in his Harvard Business Review article “A Practical Plan for When You Feel Overwhelmed.” You may be surprised how much work you can get done in the limited work time.

Timers help you commit to a task. Focusing your attention will increase your motivating stress and decrease your paralyzing stress. The contained time periods will also give you a framework that will help you chip away at the important work. Be sure to take some breaks in between tasks once the timer is up.

8. Take Five—Or Twenty

Sometimes you just need a break from all of your busy work. Whether it’s a walk, a coffee break, some quiet meditation, or a moment to read an unrelated article, take some time to truly disengage your brain from the work you’re doing. You’ll be amazed at the focus and brilliance you bring to your big list of tasks when you’re feeling refreshed.

The best project managers are masters of dealing with overwhelming workloads. Planning Intelligence is how LiquidPlanner supports overwhelmed project managers with predictive scheduling, smart prioritization and intelligent insights. If you still do not have LiquidPlanner, get a free account today.

Start small then grow

10 people can plan 3 small projects on the FREE PLAN

More Articles