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Overwhelmed and overloaded at work

Updated on January 28, 2012

Stress can paralyse you. When you’re at work there could be many stressful factors. But I’m going to focus on the one thing I can relate to. I’ll call it the overload. This is when you are overloaded with work and you become too paralysed to stop it. It could come to the point where you burnout. It happens even to the most organised of individuals.

Have you ever come into work only to be greeted by an inbox full of emails? It’s a long list of can you do this? Will you have time for that? We need ABand C…blah, blah blah. It’s like tiny little voices buzzing in your head. The one way I know I’m on overload is when I get pain down the left of my neck to my shoulder. The tension in that area can become so uncomfortable and I know that it’s time to take action. What signs does your body give you that lets you know you’re taking on too much than you can handle?

There was a time when I went through this situation. The problem was that I was unable to clearly show or state that I needed help. To the people looking from the outside in took it as a sign that I didn’t want to do things. It became so bad that it led to a very unpleasant meeting with management. But it was handled well, I was sent on a course to help me identify what I was doing wrong so that I could correct it. At the time I didn’t think much of the course but after a full day with one to one training, it was one of the best course I’ve attended. I felt empowered and more in control, it was really worth it. So here are a few things that helped me, hope you find them helpful

Aggressive vs. Assertive

Aggressive says ‘What do you think I am, a machine? You should get these things to me on time or else I won’t be able to do them!’

Assertive says ‘When you give me things at short notice, I feel (put your own words). It would be helpful if you could get these things to me on time.’ Or you could say, ‘When did you know you needed this? It would be helpful if you could give me two days notice so that I know this needs doing.’ Or you could also say, ‘I really have a lot on today, when do you need this for?’

Being assertive brings about a win/win situation whereas with aggressiveness there is only one is a winner. Once you learn how to be assertive you will stop reacting and will get things across better.

Use your outlook diary to organise your time

This has come in handy for me as it flashes up things I need to do. Sometimes when you’re so busy you can forget to do certain things. If you have it in your calendar it will remind you. If you set time and order in which you want to do tasks, this would be the best way to do it.

Deal with the problem, don’t be the problem

Sometimes you can get overloaded with work and when people don’t see or understand it, they tend to see you as the problem.

With me it was beginning to look as though I was the problem. People began to assume I didn’t want to do things because I wasn’t always able to deliver on time or I seemed reluctant because I was overwhelmed by it all. Unless someone walks a mile in your shoes, they will never know all the things you have to do.

If your manager or one of your colleagues came up to you and asked you to do something and you had two other things to do at the same time. Instead of just taking it on and letting it pile up on your desk, make sure you take control of the situation from the beginning.

Ask theses questions

  1. When would you like this? If the person says as soon as possible ask:
  2. How long have you know you need this? This way it will take away the attention from you and onto the situation. It’s not that you don’t want to do it; you just need to know how long the person has known about it. When you do this, you put the problem in the middle, you don’t become the problem.

If the person say’s, ‘I just got it now, could you please have it done soon.’

The next thing you do is show them exactly what you need to do first. I love this because this way you still don’t take it on as a problem because this is not what you want.

This is what you do

You show this person either by form of email or physical evidence everything you need to do for someone else or work you have to do first. This way a person can see what you need to do rather than assume you don’t want to do work for them, because that’s not what you want to put across.

You let them know that the work will go in order in which it came. You will let them know a time and or a date when you will be able to complete their work.

If on the other hand the person feels that what they need is urgent, then all you need to do is ask them to have a word with the person you’re doing work for first. Let them take on the responsibility of jumping the queue, if that’s what you call it. You can say something along the lines of, ‘I could do it first if you have a word with (put the person name) and ask them if it’s alright that I do your work first.’ Nine times out of ten they will say, it can wait. If it’s really that urgent then they will have to take on the responsibility to ask to jump the queue.

By doing this you don’t take on the extra load with the added pressure and you don’t become aggressive. You also don’t come across as not wanting to do the task, because you do, but you are only one person. Instead you shift the responsibility back to the person who needs the urgent task.

Once this has been sorted always ask them the exact time and date they would like the task completed. This way you will be able to see if this is a realistic time frame or not. I found out that I never had a clear idea as to when something was needed. It’s no good someone saying they need something as soon as possible. That’s not a time or a date. Always ask them to specify and back it up with an email so that you have a record of it. You both take the responsibility to make sure the task can be completed in a realistic time.

These are just a few things I really found useful and have really changed my working life. Once you become more assertive, clearer and don’t take on problems things will run a lot smoother and you won’t get overloaded.


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