In our busy and demanding world, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Take a moment and read the following prayer. In this moment, know that God is here.
Thank you for being the God who never sleeps.
Thank you for always being here for me, even when I’m not always here for you.
Thank you that you are Love and that you want the very best for me.
Thank you for your promises and that you never change.
I am feeling totally overwhelmed.
Please help me.
Help me to rest in the fact that you know what is best for me.
Forgive me for turning away from you and trying to control the outcome in situations in my life.
The Bible says that you are not the God of confusion but of peace.
Help me to rest in your love and to feel the peace which surpasses all understanding.
Help me to feel your love and comfort.
Help me to be still and know that you are God and that you will take care of me, just like any loving parent takes care of their children.
Your Word says to cast all of our anxiety on you because you care for us.
I turn all of my burdens and concerns over to you.
Please guide my every step and help me to be attentive to your loving direction.
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It’s probably safe to say we’ve all felt overwhelmed at work at some point. Whether it’s from a meeting-obsessed boss, too much busywork, or colleagues constantly asking you to help them out, our default state has become ‘busy’. And while this is now commonplace, it’s not sustainable.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed with work, we end up stressed, confused, and at risk of burnout. Everything feels important and we don’t know which direction to start digging to get out of the hole we’ve found ourselves in.
There’s a fine line between “I’ve got everything under control” and “I’m in way over my head.” And sometimes, all it takes is one extra task on your already stretched to-do list to let the stress and weight of feeling overwhelmed take over.
So while learning to say no is one of the simplest ways to deal with feeling overwhelmed at work, what can you do when you’ve said yes for too long?
It all comes down to communication, prioritization, and delegation.
Step 1: Understand what triggers your feeling of being overwhelmed
It’s easy to blame others for how busy you are. And oftentimes it is other people’s fault. However, this isn’t always the case. To start dealing with feeling overwhelmed, you first need to shift your perspective from being the victim to being in control.
“Feeling overwhelmed is actually a stress response when we feel the demand on us outweighs our resources,”
Says Diana Dawson, a psychologist and owner of Working Career.
Start by asking what has become so demanding in your day-to-day. Is your boss piling on too much work? Are you spending too much time in meetings and feel like there isn’t enough time in the day? Do coworkers drop projects in your lap that you feel you can’t say ‘no’ to?
Simply writing down everything you have to do is a good place to start. Create a list of everything that’s expected of you this week. And pay special attention to the tasks or projects you’ve been putting off each week. What’s causing you to procrastinate rather than get them off your list?
Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking we want to do things when we really don’t. But our mood rarely lies. The more your gut tells you not to do something, the more likely you are to push it aside and let it become a source of stress and overwhelm.
Step 2: Take a break and plan your strategy
With your list of expectations and triggers in hand, it’s time to start working through them, right? Not yet.
According to psychologist and author Gary Wood, stress actually closes off the more creative parts of our mind and can distort our perception of time. Which means diving into your looming list of jobs will only be detrimental to the end result. In other words, when we work when we’re stressed, tasks take longer and the work suffers.
Instead, you should take a break to regroup and strategize your plan of attack.
There are huge psychological and health benefits to taking a bit of time off. And so you really need to fight the urge to dive right back into your growing to-do list. Instead, take a 10-minute walk, eat something healthy, and get some fresh air. This should help knock your brain out of ‘survival mode’ so you can plan a proper way to deal with feeling overwhelmed.
This calm before the storm is also a good opportunity to bring other people in for advice and perspective.
If you’re worried about bringing these issues up with your boss then talk it out with a coworker. Tell them what you’re working on, what’s stressing you out, and ask what they would do in your shoes. Sometimes simply saying these things aloud can help clarify what’s important and what can be dealt with in some other way.
If you can talk with your boss, however, you can potentially be in a better position to take action. Approach the conversation from the perspective that you’re being proactive about your workload. For example, “I feel like I have a lot on my plate right now and would love your help figuring out the best way to tackle it all.”
This not only shows you’re concerned about the quality of your work. But also makes them aware they shouldn’t be asking more of you right now.
Step 3: Prioritize the 1 thing you have to do today
What comes next is the pivotal moment in making sure you go down the right path and not just back to feeling overwhelmed again.
You most likely got into the situation you’re in now because it felt like everything carried equal importance. Which is natural. In a lot of situations it’s hard or uncomfortable to set priorities. However, when you try to make progress on everything at once, you only end up thrashing and wasting your time.
Instead, you need to force yourself to prioritize tasks. One of the simplest ways to do this is to use what’s called the Ivy Lee method.
Here’s how author James Clear explains it:
- At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance (If you’re unsure what this means, try using something like the Eisenhower Matrix).
- When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every working day.
Depending on the nature of your work, you’ll probably want to start with less than six tasks. In fact, even just prioritizing the single most important task to do each day is a good way start.
According to Dr. Alice Boyles, the things that add stress to your day are most often tasks that aren’t objectively hard, but psychologically hard. Like writing an email you’ve been dreading or giving someone bad news.
When you start prioritizing your tasks, make sure you commit to one of these tasks per day. It might not seem like much, but dealing with easy, yet stressful work in a systematic way will quickly get rid of some of the stress that’s been hanging over you.
Step 4: Delegate and ask for help
Now, what about the rest of the jobs spilling off your to-do list?
Again, to come back from being overwhelmed, you need to fight the urge to just plow right back into your bad work habits. By its very nature, prioritizing work means certain things will be at the bottom of the list. In Eisenhower Matrix terms these are the tasks that are “less important and less urgent”. Or, as author John C. Maxwell says,
“If something can be done 80% as well by someone else, delegate!”
A recent study by Julian Birkinshaw of the London School of Business found that on average, most knowledge workers spend 41% of their time on jobs they could easily pass off to others.
But how do you know what you can and should delegate to others? And how do you go about doing it? Delegation is a skill that takes time to master and depends on the people you’re surrounded by. One method is to use writing coach Christopher Sowers’ Delegation Matrix:
To use the matrix, take the task you think you’d like to delegate and the person you’d like to give it to and see what quadrant they end up in. Are they capable and willing? Then go ahead and delegate. Are they less capable but willing? Pair them with someone else and help support them as the learn.
The goal here is to get rid of the sense that only you can do the work and recognize the support you have around you. So, before you get back into working through your overwhelming to-do list, ask what you can pass on to others – and what you can outright drop.
Asking for help or delegating isn’t admitting defeat, it’s simply showing you know what work matters and where you should be spending your time.
Step 5: Singletask your way through your list
At this point, you should have a challenging, yet manageable list of work to do. But we’re not quite out of the woods yet. As social psychologist Dr. Alice Boyles explains:
“One of the biggest self-sabotaging thinking habits for anxious perfectionists is overcomplicating solutions to problems. You imagine that what’s necessary to move forward is something more complicated or difficult than is reality.”
As you work through your list of tasks, it’s important to stick to the simplest solutions so you can more onto what’s next. Start with a single task and then ask “what’s next?”
As writer Kara Cutruzzula wrote in a recent edition of her Brass Rings Daily newsletter, “It’s hard—maybe impossible?—to be overwhelmed when you’re simply doing one thing at a time.”
Working through your tasks in a systematic way like this builds confidence and puts you in control. Instead of worrying about the 478 things you need to do, you only have to think about what can be done now. And what comes next.
Feeling overwhelmed with work is one of the worst things that can happen to us. Instead of feeling empowered by doing meaningful work, we end up drowning in our to-do list.
But there is a way out. Just remember to take a step back, recognize what’s triggering your stress, and work steadily and systematically through what’s truly important.
Have you dealt with feeling overwhelmed at work? How did you get through? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
You know the feeling. It’s not just way too much to do. It’s more than just not enough time. It is a feeling that you will never, ever get out of the hole you are in. You don’t just have a few things to do, you have many things to take care of – and they are all a big deal. Let’s find out how to deal with feeling overwhelmed.
Sometimes just waiting changes everything. You can’t fix everything now. Time tends to help clear up any mess or at least reveal the correct path to take. We often make a mistake speeding ahead only having to waste time backpedaling. Stand fast and wait.
Write Things Down
Make a list of your routine activities. Take a minute and look at your list. What is essential? What isn’t? You can’t be everywhere all the time. Think wisely about where you are needed, and recognize your limits. If you get burned out you won’t be of use to anyone. Have the courage (and humility) to remove yourself from non-essential tasks or ask for help.
Making a list helps put your thoughts in order. Write things down so you don’t feel like you have to remember them all the time. Scratch off with glee the tasks you accomplish.
Do The Hard Stuff First
When we put off the unpleasant chores, they eat away at our peace. When you get the hard chores out of the way, you feel light and free. Clear the big stuff first.
Talk To Someone
Find ONE person (not necessarily someone who will give you advice) that is a great listener. The person should be extremely trustworthy. Don’t go around telling everyone your worries, and make sure you protect your heart. Just letting it all out helps relieve emotional pressure.
Put It Into Perspective
Will it all matter in one year? Five? Remember, most problems do not last forever, and we learn to cope and live with the ones that last a long time. Look back on your life and recall the problems that are now just memories.
Sleep and rest well. If you are tired, you make more mistakes. Force yourself to take a break. That way you can focus better and not waste time fixing errors. Sleep at least 7 hours a night.
Throw Stuff Away, Recycle, or Donate
Are too busy cleaning and organizing stuff? Then get rid of it. Recycle or donate if you can, but the less stuff you have to take care of, the more time you have for other things.
See Yourself As You Are
Sometimes feeling overwhelmed is due to perfectionism. Does this sound like you? Then cut yourself some slack. Don’t try to finish everything today, and enjoy the freedom to make mistakes and finish things later.
Ask For Help
No matter what the problem is, there is someone that can help. Be prudent, but never be afraid to ask for help. Also, delegate jobs to others who can pitch in.
Do One Thing At A Time
This might sound impossible since you are working on multiple projects at once. Or you are cooking while prepping the kids for school and suddenly have a dirty diaper to change. But the idea is to focus your mind on one task at a time. You might have to switch gears frequently, but try not to work your mind on multiple levels.
Feeling overwhelmed is just that: a feeling. Your time spent with God gives you clarity to see past your feelings. Some think that prayer is a waste of time, but the truth is that prayer saves time. All the advice above will be much more fruitful if your efforts are saturated with prayer. Let God show you what’s really important and what you must let go.
In Isaiah 7 the Lord tells the prophet to give the king of Judah this word of advice:
“Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart…”
The enemy is looking to bring you down with the only weapons he has against you – lies and temptation. The lie is that you are stuck facing the tsunami of life with no way out. The temptation is to lose hope in response to that lie.
It’s okay to be weak sometimes. But never forget where to get your strength again. So when the enemy says he’s going to tear you apart, remember:
”This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘It will not take place,
it will not happen.”
Stand firm in your faith. Build your character through prayer and God’s Word. For there is a promise…
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
God is with you. Do not be intimidated. Take real steps to get organized. Christ is forever your strength and defense.
Read this prayer card when you feel overwhelmed.
Let us pray for you.
Man image source (modified). Beach image source (modified).
I lift up my husband and his job up to you. I ask that you be with him while he is at work, and bless his efforts. Give him strength, patience, and wisdom in the situations he faces and the tasks he completes. I pray he feels Your nearness and your peace each day.
When he feels stress or is overwhelmed with anxiousness, I pray You calm him and give him peace. When he feels like the pressure is too much, let him lean into You and find rest. I know you love him and have good things in mind for him. In spite of the difficulties he faces each day, You are there.
Thank you for the blessing of a job. Thank you for his willingness to serve You and provide for his family. Help us to be good stewards of the many blessings in our lives. Guide my husband in all decisions, and develop his skills as he continues to work hard. When he encounters failure, help him to see your grace. When he makes mistakes, draw him close with your kindness and forgiveness. He has so much to offer and has many talents, but I pray it would all be done for your Glory. Help us to look for ways to bless others with our time and resources.
I ask that you protect him from harm. Surround him, lift him up, and keep his eyes on you each day. Help him to excel and enjoy the success that comes from hard work, without overdoing things. Help him to balance his time between work, spending time with his family, and most of all seeking You. Bless the relationships he forms at his workplace, including co workers, friends, and those he interacts with regularly.
I pray his boss will appreciate his efforts. Help my husband to persevere with joy, knowing that it’s all for You. When he is tired, frustrated, and wants to give up, remind him of Your great love for him. Let my husband recall your promise to never leave him. I pray he feels your presence each day.
In your name I pray,
Nice to “meet” you! I’m Michelle, a wife of twenty-three years, a mother to five, a homeschool mom, and a classical education tutor. I want to use this space to share with you the good, the bad, and the ugly that is my life. Maybe it will encourage you. Maybe it will inspire you. Maybe it will simply amuse you. Whichever it is, I am thankful you are taking time to be here.