How To Be Free Of Overwhelm At Work

If you feel overwhelmed at work, you’re not alone. A recent survey revealed that 50% of worker feel overworked or overwhelmed. Surprisingly, those of us who manage our own time and tasks, far from living the centered, focused lives we dream of, experience overwhelm of our own making. Here’s how to be free of overwhelm.

We try to work harder to gain some measure of control. We try working longer, putting in more hours to get it all done. We try working smarter by delegating tasks, but they seem to come back to us in new forms of problems.

Actually, working harder or longer or smarter adds complexity to what you are doing, further intensifying your feeling of overwhelm.

You don’t escape being overwhelmed by working harder, you get free by doing less, better.

Doing Less, Better

Work has a multiplying effect. Opportunities and problems are everywhere. The more I dive into them, the more they show up in new forms. I try to tackle those tasks, working more efficiently, but they multiply again.

The key is doing less. You have to know your Main Thing. Here’s how to find out:

  • Know your why. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What are you trying to achieve? Why are you trying to achieve it? Get clear on your motivations and zero in on the most important.
  • Know yourself. What are you and your organization truly gifted in, passionate about, and motivated to do? Answering the opposite questions could be just as important.
  • Know your audience. What does your audience need and want that matches you and your Why?
  • Know your results. What product or service currently brings in 80% of the impact and income? Everything is important to someone, but what is it that stands out as the most impactful?

Most of us intuitively know this information. But we’ve been trying to meet too many needs, copy our competitors too much, or trying out too many new ideas.

Right now you should have in mind your Main Thing, your priority product or service or contribution. Write down your Main Thing. Keep it front and center.

You’re ready for the next steps.

For Tactical Help, Ask D.A.D

In order to focus on your Main Thing, you need to reduce all the clutter around you to the most important. Ask D.A.D. for help – Delete, Automate, and Delegate. 

Delete. Delete needs to be the first step. Don’t try to delegate or automate first or you’ll end up keeping things that should have been deleted. You need to cut. You need to prune.

What responsibilities, tasks, projects, services, processes, etc. need to be deleted?

Don’t worry about how you’ll delete them. They will be properly processed. Just decide what needs to be stopped. Chances are you’re going to have a pretty long list. Some responsibilities, some services, some processes. List them all up. Be brutal. They all are “good things” and relate in some way to your Main Thing, but right now they are hurting you and keeping you from achieving your Main Thing.

Automate. Take a look at the processes to do your Main Thing.

What steps in the process can be automated?

A few years ago, I found ways to cut our administrative processes by 50% by deleting some processes and automating others. Our professional coaching training program required 16 different sets of processes to run it. From recruiting to enrollment, to registration, to payment, to scheduling the venue, to ordering materials, to emailing participants, to running the event, to running the follow-up teleclasses, etc. We found ways to automate many of these processes. By doing so, our workload decreased while the number of people we served increased.

We use Wild Apricot for our registration system, Mail Chimp for email automation, free Google docs for sharing documents, Slack for team communication, and Trello for task management. Sure, it takes a bit of learning to use these programs, but once you’re set up they are massive time savers.

Delegate. A CEO friend of mine who grew his company from $2m to $50m in revenue told me one of his biggest challenges was to constantly learn to delegate at a new level.

Each stage of growth requires different delegation. Early stages you delegate tasks, but manage the project. As you grow, you need to get out of managing people doing tasks, so you delegate the projects and manage people to do them. The next level is to delegate strategies.

The stages of delegation are:

  1. Delegate tasks.
  2. Delegate projects.
  3. Delegate strategies.

At each level delegating is more difficult. You have to let go in new ways. Emotionally, we’re often attached because it’s what we used to do.

What tasks, projects, or strategies need to be delegated? 

Delegation always requires you to manage the person to whom you’ve delegated to. It’s not completely off your plate. You need to supervise and coach the person to complete it. Otherwise, if it doesn’t get done it lands back on your plate a bigger mess than before.

You can never work your way out of the feeling of overwhelm. You’ve got to do less, better, by deleting, automating, and delegating.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    3 thoughts on “How To Be Free Of Overwhelm At Work

    1. I just finished my third quarter progress report of ministry activities and sent it off, thinking, wow, I need to get some clarity on what is the main activity that makes sense of all the other priorities. Then I open your article on getting “Free from overwhelm at work”. It is timely and appropriate reflection that encourages me to keep focused on what is my biggest passion and priority in ministry. Thanks

      • I’m beginning to think the 2 things leaders need the most are Clarity and Curiosity. Clarity produces focus work on the right things. And Curiosity helps the leader to be empathetic, empowering, and open to what’s happening around him/her.