5 Steps to Handle Being Overwhelmed at Work


Sometimes, sh*t happens at work. We have too many things to do. We have too many people breathing down our necks. The best way to put it – we get overwhelmed, and it isn’t a good feeling.

So what can we do about it?

The original working title for this article was “How to Relax When Overwhelmed at Work” but that’s just silly. If you have even the tiniest amount of self-talk going on in your head, you can’t relax when you have 1,001 things to do and complete before the pressure starts lifting.

The only real thing we can do about it, is to handle it. And I’m going to show you exactly how.

1. Breathe

The first thing you want to do is stop and breathe. This is NOT the same as relaxing.

Just get away from your desk and breathe. Duck into the corridor outside, or go hide out in the kitchen. Get away from where people are doing work and where things are buzzing all around you.

You want to get both physical AND mental distance away from everything to reset yourself and prepare.

Simply put: Get away, and get a breathe of fresh air.

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2. Hydrate

Water is awesome. Scratch that – it’s probably the most awesome and amazing substance on the planet.

And sadly, most of us who work in offices walk around dehydrated because we’re too busy drinking coffee, sugary fruit juice or energy drinks instead.

The second step to handling being overwhelmed at work is to hydrate. Go grab a glass of water and drown it. You should feel a strange calming effect as all the organs in your body start to get the right amount of fluids that they need.

And remember to breathe. Just not at the same time as when you’re drinking – that could be bad.


3. Triage

Now that you’re physically and mentally reset, it’s time to start handling things.

The easiest way to prioritize in a case like this is to use a triage system.

Separate everything that’s coming your way into 3 categories:

  1. Things that will have catastrophic consequences if not handled. i.e., bad things that spawn worse things.
  2. Things that will have bad (but not catastrophic) consequences if not handled. i.e., bad things that just create more bad things.
  3. Things that can be safely ignored.

Sort everything you have into one of these 3 categories.

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4. Prep Your Environment

Before you can handle everything before you, you need to get your environment ready so you can turn “overwhelmed” into “no problem”.

Here’s what I suggest:


5. Handle It

Finally, take a deep breathe, and handle it.

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In Closing

And that’s 5 simple steps to going from overwhelmed to having everything handled and under control.

For more simple processes and structures that will make you more productive, check out the Asian Efficiency Primer.

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