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How to manage and overcome work overload

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Time management
Work overload is a situation that can arise in various ways, catching us completely unprepared. When faced with this situation, it may seem challenging to figure out where to start in order to regain some order in our work life, and the risk of getting stuck in a difficult-to-escape loop is high. In this article, we will explore a step-by-step method to manage and overcome work overload.


As professional, punctual, and organized as we may be, it happens, more often than we'd like to admit, to find ourselves in one of those situations where, without any warning, the number of tasks to handle begins to grow. Along with it, anxiety and stress exponentially increase, reaching a point where, without knowing exactly why, we realize we are stuck. Just like quicksand, every action we take to try to get out of it seems to have the opposite effect.

When faced with a moment of work overload, we end up feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed. The days become a race against time, and we feel like we can't keep up with the demands and deadlines. The longer we remain in this state, the more ineffective and unproductive we become, falling into a vicious cycle that feeds frustration, irritability, and a sense of powerlessness.

We are all too familiar with this situation, and even though each time we manage to get out of it, we promise ourselves to be more careful in the future and not let it happen again, sooner or later, we fall back into it.

However, this doesn't mean that we should simply accept the situation and do nothing about it. Instead, we should develop the awareness that it can happen and will happen, but the fact that it can doesn't mean it should become the norm.


Here is a step-by-step method to be promptly used when we feel overwhelmed by work, which can serve as a lifeline in moments of crisis and, equally, help us prevent overload situations if used cyclically as a habit:

  1. Stop and breathe
  2. Observe and prioritize
  3. Plan
  4. Execute with focus
  5. Rest

Let's explore them in detail:

1. Stop and breathe

The first fundamental step is to stop and take a few deep breaths: by pausing, you give your body and mind the chance to relax and recover, reducing stress and realigning the nervous system.

When constantly overloaded with work, the brain can enter a "survival" mode, limiting the capacity for creative thinking, problem-solving, analysis, and making well-considered decisions. By pausing, you break this vicious cycle and create space for clearer thinking and a broader perspective.

Take a moment to breathe deeply and calm your nervous system. This will help reduce stress and restore your cognitive abilities. Stop and do nothing until you have regained a functional level of calm and tranquility.

During this phase, the only goal is to "loosen the grip," reducing stress. The effect will be regaining a sense of control over the situation.

Important note:
This first point is crucial for the subsequent steps to be effectively addressed. Do not attempt to solve a work overload crisis before calming your nerves; you would only worsen the situation!


2. Observe and prioritize

Once we have allowed ourselves to pause, it's time to assess the situation with regained clarity.

If you don't have a task list and keep everything in your head, it's time to grab pen and paper and write down a list of everything you need to accomplish. If you prefer not to use pen and paper, you can use any other system, as long as you can physically see the set of tasks that need to be completed.

Carefully observe your list and identify the key activities that need to be addressed immediately, those that can be postponed, and those that are not truly important. Evaluate what is expendable, what can be deferred, and what needs to be completed urgently.

This will allow you to lighten the perception of the workload and focus on the activities that have a significant impact. Postpone anything that can be delayed and, if necessary, soften the deadlines for tasks that are not essential.

The goal during this phase is to regain a positive perception of the tasks at hand and find relief from the feeling of overload.


3. Plan

At this point, the situation should be clearer, and it's time to create an action plan to overcome the crisis.

Once priorities have been identified, it is important to plan the activities in order to act effectively. A well-structured and comprehensive plan will help you visualize the direction to follow, gain greater control over what is happening, and ultimately overcome the tendency to procrastinate that often arises during chaotic moments.

Try to build a plan that is clear and sustainable, leaving nothing to chance. It is important to find a way to allocate a timeframe for all pending tasks.

The goal during this phase is to create an action plan that provides a clear sense of direction and mastery of the situation.


4. Execute with focus

Great! We have calmed down, got togheter again, and know where we want to go and how to get there.
Now, there's nothing left to do but... take action!

Working with focus means dedicating your full attention and channeling your energy into a specific task until it is completed. This allows you to achieve results more quickly and effectively.

Free yourself from distractions and thoughts that can divert your attention from your main task. Focus on one thing at a time, follow your plan, and strive to eliminate any distractions. Go straight for the result, without compromise! Give it your all, without thinking about anything else other than the task at hand.

After all, at this point, you shouldn't have anything else to think about other than executing: you have already addressed the mental and emotional aspects of the work overload crisis in the previous steps. Now, all that's left is to work while staying focused, tackling the tasks one by one. 

The goal during this phase is to focus exclusively on one task at a time and regain a healthy and effective level of productivity.


5. Rest

This is not exactly a step to follow, but an aspect that must be remembered and considered: never underestimate the importance of rest!

Work overload can easily lead to a sense of mental and emotional fatigue and, when prolonged, can result in burnout.
Take the time to rest adequately, both during the workday and outside of it, especially if the period of overload has been going on for a while. Make sure you have good sleep quality, dedicate time to relax and engage in activities that rejuvenate you, such as leisure activities, meditation, or physical exercise.

Rest is not optional: it's a fundamental component for optimal work performance. Investing in your well-being and dedicating time for recovery will enable you to be more productive and focused when you return to work.


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In conclusion, work overload is a situation that requires patience and calmness to untangle. However, by following the steps we have discussed in this article, there is a high chance of restoring a healthy and productive daily routine in a short time. The next time you find yourself in difficulty, you will know what to do!

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, if we develop the habit of regularly pausing to observe and prioritize our tasks, carefully planning them, and executing them with focus while minimizing distractions, we are unlikely to end up in crisis situations.

There are many ways in which we can become overloaded with work, but they all share the same root cause: a lack of awareness of the bigger picture, which is difficult to maintain without the appropriate tools.



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