Life is tough for a leader these days. Many organizations are relying on smaller teams to get the same work done, technology connects us to our co-workers 24 hours a day and we are expected to spend an inordinate amount of time in meetings and conference calls.
Feeling overwhelmed is hardly unique to executives; yet leaders often deny, ignore or push away the feelings. They accept it as part of their role or assume that they “should” be able to power through it. As a leader, you’re the go-to person for others when the going gets tough. But what happens when the going gets tough for you?
Executive overwhelm manifests itself in myriad ways, from emotional volatility to an inability to concentrate or listen, difficulty making decisions, numbness or withdrawal from other people and activities, and even physical conditions — headaches, back pain, digestive issues, fatigue or insomnia.
Below are some proven hacks for dealing with the constant state of overwhelm in your work.
- Pinpoint the primary source of overwhelming.
In the moment, we tend to give everything equal weight, but that’s not reality. Something is stressing you more than other things. Is it a project? An aspect of your schedule? A personal issue? You may not be able to take it off your plate, but by identifying it, you can analyze why it is weighing so heavily on you, and maybe discover what can be done to reduce the stress somewhat. For example, if it’s a project, break it down into pieces so you don’t feel the weight of the entire thing all at once.
- Set boundaries on your time and workload.
This is hard for some. This can include “time boxing” the hours you spend on a task or project, leaving the office by a certain time, or saying no to specific types of work. If you’re a person who has not set boundaries before, one of the best first steps is to create a list. This means writing down every single thing that you are working on or that you are worried about. Getting things down on paper will help you see exactly what you are up against.
- Challenge your perfectionism.
Not everything needs to be completed to the same level of “perfect” whether it’s a display or end-of-day clean-up. If you are working at two (or more) projects, it can lead to procrastination and psychological distress. As things pile up, the sense of overwhelm grows, which can then lead to more procrastination and more overwhelming. Know when “good” is “good enough” by asking yourself, “What is the marginal benefit of spending more time on this task or project?” If the answer is very little, stop where you are and be done with it.
- Outsource or delegate.
This can be a challenge (but then again, what isn’t). Ask yourself, “What is the highest and best use of my time?” Activities that don’t fall within your answer can be taught and/or delegated to others. This can include managing selected projects, delegating attending certain meetings, having a team member conduct the initial interviews for an open position, or outsourcing the cleaning of your home and meal preparation.
- Challenge your assumptions.
What would happen if you didn’t do one of your jobs? If feeling overwhelmed is an ongoing struggle, you likely have assumptions that are keeping you stuck in unproductive behaviors. While these big assumptions felt real to each leader, these limiting beliefs were not likely 100% true and kept you stuck in old patterns that significantly contributed to your sense of overwhelming. By identifying and debunking these beliefs over time, you were able to broaden your previously contracted view of the world, which in turn allowed you to reduce overwhelm and provided you with a greater sense of agency.
While we may all feel overwhelmed from time to time in our demanding work and personal lives, applying the above strategies can help decrease the frequency and intensity to which we feel this way.
Do you think somebody else could benefit from learning about stress? Forward this to a colleague or friend. Most importantly, take good care of yourself.