How To Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed At Work

  • Posted by Steve Goldberg
  • |
  • August 17, 2015
Stress Management At Office

It’s Monday and you feel like it’s going to be a week with less stress, a good week. In Digital Media and Media Technology, you have to check your emails over the weekend, but that’s a given, and you have that under control.  As the week starts, it seems like it’s going to be a productive and low-stress work week. It seems like all “good” weeks start out that way, until they don’t—your calendar seems flexible, there are a manageable number of meetings to prep for and conduct and you feel like you might actually have time to get some of the less important, “housekeeping” issues settled.  Basically, it looks like a week you can handle.

Until it’s Tuesday – and you realize your calendar is now full, you have a few big deadlines or presentations, and it doesn’t look like you’ll be able to come up for air. These kinds of weeks happen more often than not, where one can easily get overwhelmed with the day-to-day. However, with the right planning and foresight, feeling overwhelmed can be reduced significantly. Here are some seemingly basic tips on how to avoid feeling overwhelmed at work.

Task Lists/To-Do Lists

Creating a task list has many benefits. Task lists allow you to organize your thoughts, clearly list out what is expected of you within a given time period, and visually see where you may be over-committed. A few tips in creating an effective task list:

  1. Choose your medium—whether that is using a great organizational tool like Evernote, or the old fashioned art of pen-and-paper to-do lists, finding what works best for you is step one.
  2. Don’t let the task list become a deliverable—don’t make writing your list a chore. This list should be quick: Task, subtask, and potentially a deadline.
  3. Set realistic deadlines—it seems like everything is due yesterday, but don’t feed into the frenzy. Prioritize your deadlines by assessing the expected time it will take to complete, and then add a couple of hours/or even a day as a buffer.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time—even if you cannot realistically do only ONE thing at a time, like answering emails in between finishing a deliverable, aim for tackling one deliverable at a time. If you don’t believe multitasking has some of its very own pitfalls, check out this great multitasking myth’s book by Dave Crenshaw.
  5. When you complete a task – check it off.  Get that sense of completion.
  6. When you do not complete a task – look at the item, and either carry it forward to another day and check it off your today’s list, or you might see a different way to accomplish that task.  Most of all, be at peace that you did not get it done that day.  New items could have surfaced that displaced certain tasks from a priority perspective.  Allow yourself to think, “what I got done today was what I was meant to get done”.


If you have people that report to you, delegation cannot be stressed enough. Of course, everyone has a packed schedule, but leaders cannot be expected to do it all. Becoming a “yes” person can help with career growth, but carries some negative aspects as well, one of which is the toll it takes on our ability to stay focused.  So, trust your team, and allow them to take on some of your projects when you need to focus on higher-level tasks. Delegating a higher-level task that you know you won’t be able to complete, within a given time period, is also a great time to assess your team and see who may be ready to take the next step in their career.

Setting Expectations

In a world where technology has set the bar for instant gratification, communication has never been so easy or important. Setting expectations with clients and your supervisors) is crucial to a successful career. Whether a deadline is delayed, because something more urgent has come up, or if there is an issue gathering the data, etc., communicating early and often is important for setting a clear expectation. This means allowing for adequate time to complete a deliverable, as well as communicating as soon as possible if there will be a delay on a deadline. This won’t always be met with approval, and sometimes you won’t be able to push the deadline, but in most cases, setting the right expectations early on, will be beneficial to your workload and sanity.

Other helpful Tips

  1. Prioritize – everyone is busy, but you have to look at each day from the perspective of what is most important to the success of my role, my department, and the company as a whole.
  2. Appropriate boundaries – don’t set yourself up for failure.  When accepting work at the start, have a sense of your ability to complete what you set out to do.
  3. Schedule time for interruptions – there are always unplanned tasks, calls, things to do that occur during the day.   Expect these interruptions, and you should actually set aside time for them in your day.  You could write in gaps in your timeline for the day to allow for these situations.
  4. Sleep and eat properly – getting enough sleep is a huge priority.  Also, eat breakfast and don’t skip lunch.  Both will allow for more vigor, energy, and clear thought.  If you are highly stressed in your job or overwhelmed, getting more sleep can help you be more productive and allow you to think clearly when approaching the day.  The same can be said for eating throughout the day.  The last thing you want to be is overly hungry in a potentially stressed environment.