I would say it happens to the best of us, but let’s be honest: it happens to all of us. No matter where you live, what your home life is like, or what you choose to do for work, there are bound to be moments where it all just feels like too much.
As much as we may try to keep things simple (Marie Kondo, anyone?), unforeseen issues can arise, circumstances can be out of our control, and we can take on too much without realizing how it will affect us in the long term. Our lives are busy and so is the world — but what is the best way to react when we start to get frazzled?
Reevaluate your capacity and utilization
For the sake of simplicity, let’s talk about this topic in the context of work, as I’m sure we can all relate to feeling stress in our careers. I’ll give a personal example.
Over the past several months, I have felt quite overwhelmed and started wondering what possessed me to take on so much at once. I started remotely working full-time for a company in California while continuing to work with all four of my long-term clients — and then I signed two more.
Because why not?
As a freelancer, the volume of work I receive tends to come in waves, so it can feel impossible (and irresponsible) to turn down any project that I can theoretically handle. I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by others who work in less stable careers like myself (anything where pay is inconsistent and dependent on how much you choose to take on). When the opportunity arises to accept more work and boost your income for the month, how can you say no?
The thing is, we all have a finite amount of capacity. Yes, there are 24 hours in a day, but realistically you probably don’t want to work for all 24 — believe me, I’ve tried. When we come to terms with these limits, it can help us to set realistic expectations for ourselves and trim the excess, whether that be dropping a client, setting a hard cut-off time for work each night, or not accepting projects that lack clearly defined scope.
We’re all human, and we all have the same number of minutes each day. The way you choose to use that time — especially pertaining to work — can have major effects on your stress level and the long-term sustainability of your career.
Take a break and “chunk it up”
I love a good To Do list, and I bet I’m not the only one. Everyone has their own specific type of list that works best for them. Up to 50% of people — including me — will even write down tasks they’ve already finished so that they can triumphantly cross them off and feel more productive. To Do lists can be a great way to stay organized, but they also tend to end up much longer than expected (and much longer than necessary).
When this happens, just looking at the list can transform you into an anxious mess.
In those moments, the first thing on your mental destress checklist should be to breathe. Eventually, somehow, everything will get done — and it doesn’t have to be right now. Once you’ve recognized this, it can also help to “chunk it up.”
Rather than looking at one ultra-long list of every task, meeting, and project for the week, break it down into bite-sized pieces that are easier for your overwhelmed brain to digest.
For instance, although my To Do list for the upcoming week would likely take up several pages in a word document, my “first thing Monday” list is much more manageable (and doesn’t make me want to scream):
· Clean out weekend emails
· Publish article to Once Upon a Site on Medium
· Finalize list of beta directories for our new Monitive testing phase (currently running —join our beta crew here!)
All this can be completed in a few hours while I drink my morning coffee, and it doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out and cry over my laptop. Once I realized how much these smaller lists could minimize my stress level, it drastically altered my approach to work overall.
Use your “team”
The whole “one man show” thing is completely overrated. While there are most likely pieces of every career that involve solo work (for instance, me writing this article at 2am on a 14-hour flight), we never really have to be alone. There are always endless opportunities for collaboration — whether it’s with your direct team, other professionals at your coworking space, or even between client and contractor — and utilizing those openings can majorly improve any sense of overwhelm you may feel.
While asking for help directly is certainly an option, it’s not the only way to make your burden feel less heavy. Even just talking about a project out loud and asking for feedback can help you work out some kinks and breathe a little easier. If there really is more work than you have capacity for, delegate to someone with more time (or hire a freelancer to take it over). There are endless channels to decrease your work load and get back to a place of sanity — you just have to make the proper effort.
We’re all in the same boat
Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes, and everyone can use these strategies to decrease their stress. Anytime work begins to feel like too much to wrap your head around, remind yourself that most people have been through some version of the same thing before — they survived, and so will you.
Take a hard look at your capacity, split your To Do list into manageable “chunks,” and reach out to others for support.
You’ve got this!