Updated: Jun 26, 2022
My mind is processing information by making connections, extracting patterns and identifying opportunities in the patterns. This is a great gift until too much information overwhelms me.
I have learnt that I need time to stop and give myself the space to make sense of the information in order to make the best impact I can.
Being overwhelmed is not fun. Unless managed, it leads to job dissatisfaction and low engagement. Prolonged overwhelm can lead to burnout.
So yes, managing overwhelm at the right time is really important, both for the short-term and long-term consequences.
One major cause of overwhelm is having too many responsibilities, all top priority:
Reporting to multiple managers
Running too many projects in parallel
Consolidating data from too many hard-to-access sources
Providing status reports to too many people
Working in isolation, without the proper support network and colleagues that have your back
A few potential solutions:
Keep track of all activities you perform in a week and whom you do it for. List everything.
Prioritise the list with what you see important
Talk to your line manager. Be open with them and create a safe space to discuss the challenges with empathy. Remember that your line manager can also be overwhelmed.
Negotiate with your line manager the priorities and timelines.
Prototype changes - work on top priorities, eliminate tasks, get more support, and delegate tasks.
If you delegate, don’t expect the same standards as if you would do it yourself - be flexible where possible.
Explore if you can receive a consolidated view of the multiple sources of information to make data processing easier and more accurate.
Change reporting format, frequency and audience.
Establish your support network with your co-workers: regular Friday morning coffee, walking meetings or other creative get-togethers.
Identifying solutions will help you personally, your team, your line manager and the organisation.
While not everything may be in your control, you have the agency to make small changes. And small changes can make a big difference.
Credit goes to Bill Burnett and Dave Evans for the research, teaching and solutions they create for Designing Your Work Life, including managing overwhelm.