5 ways to reduce feeling overwhelmed at work

For a few years during the mid-1990s, Greg Norman (aka the Great White Shark) was considered the best golfer in the world, yet he constantly didn’t do as well at the majors. His most infamous performance occurred in the 1996 Masters when the Great White Shark entered the final day with a 6 stroke lead over Nick Faldo. Norman had a poor final round shooting a 78, while Faldo shot a 67 to win the green jacket by 5 strokes.

Was Norman unlucky, beaten by a better person on the day or did he not perform to the best of his abilities when it mattered the most? I’m not an expert at dissecting elite athletic performance (and Greg Norman was an incredibly successful golfer) but popular view is he didn’t do as well as expected in not only this event but also a number of the majors also.

At work we don’t always perform to the peak of our powers and I wonder if there’s a similarity to two-thirds of today’s employees feeling “overwhelmed.” (Source: Deloitte 2014 Human Capital Trends Study). So if feeling overwhelmed is happening to you at work then rest assured you’re not the only person. 

Reasons for feeling overwhelmed can include:

  • Enormity of the task – whether that be importance or volume
  • Complexity of the task – particularly if it’s something you haven’t done before
  • Don’t have enough time – even if you’re capable to perform the task it might seem insurmountable if you’re already too busy
  • Don’t have the skills – this could be a real situation or just self doubt
  • Having to work with difficult people – that could be due to the person’s mannerisms, inflexibility or a level of confrontation between the 2 parties

What we do know is remaining in a sense overwhelm is exhausting and almost paralyses making progress. And when this happens it’s likely we’re virtually “spinning wheels” and not achieving our targeted outcomes.

The good news is there’s actions we can take to minimise or eliminate feeling overwhelmed. Five strategies to apply are:

  • Have a plan – identify where you are, where you need to be and what needs to be done to move from Point A to Point B
  • Chunk it down – there’s an old saying “how do you eat an elephant – 1 mouthful at a time” (of course we don’t condone eating elephants but the idea is to chunk big things down into manageable pieces)
  • Focus on small wins – winning gives us confidence, momentum and helps us to see there’s light at the end of the tunnel
  • Be realistic – at what can or can’t be achieved. There’s no point being a hero in the planning phase if the plan is completely missed. Conversely wildly underestimating what can be achieved can convince ourselves the situation is just too difficult to overcome
  • Seek help if need be – from talking about it in confidence (sometimes we get clarity just by talking about it) through to seeking expert advice

It shouldn’t be underestimated how the factors outside of work can have in leading towards overwhelm. And if this is the case then seeking help by your doctor might be appropriate.

With regards to being overwhelmed due to our work the emotion reduces dramatically when we have a sense that we are on top of things. What can you do differently to get back in control?