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  • Kimiko Ebata

Feeling overwhelmed at work? Here’s how to rescue yourself before jumping ship.


Sometimes, we enjoy the nature of our work; we are just doing too much of it. We love our jobs, but don’t love the situation that we’re in, because we’re dealing with to-do lists and inboxes that are invading our lives in every way. It feels as though we are getting swallowed up, and there is nothing that we can do to escape.


If this all sounds too familiar, know that you’re not alone. Research shows that 40% of professionals are actively looking even while employed, while a quarter of the workforce would give up their next raise (essentially they would pay someone!) to fire their boss.


According to Dave Evans and Bill Burnett in their book “Designing Your Work Life,” one of the most prevalent types of overwhelm that professionals experience is Hydra Overwhelm, which occurs for a variety of reasons, when you have too many responsibilities, you report to too many managers, you lack control and/or are micro-managed.


While most people experiencing these feelings can’t afford to completely start from scratch for financial or security reasons, every individual can take these small steps to increase their agency to make their work lives a little bit better.


1. Create a Motivation Log. Keep a daily journal of all of your work activities to identify the sources of your energy and where you feel most engaged throughout your work day. The purpose of this log is to help you drill down into the particulars of your day to determine which tasks energize and engage you the most, so you can adjust your schedule to surround the less engaging activities with more engaging activities to provide small rewards when you complete “energy-negative” tasks.


This activity is most effective if it's done over the course of three weeks. After each week, it is helpful to analyze the activities/interactions/people traits that enhanced your energy levels. Who was around you when you felt most energized? What type of person are they? What type of environment were you in? Were you interacting with people, information/data or things when you felt most engaged? The hope is that with these insights you can improve the way you build out your work days to make small improvements, while also learning things about yourself that will be inform your career decisions in the long run.


2. Determine your “Hell Yes” and “Hell No” Columns. Take a piece of paper and draw two lines to create three columns. The column on the left is “Hell No.” The column in the middle is “Maybe,” and the column on the right is “Hell Yes.” Write down every project that you’re working on and every activity that you engage in during the work day. If it fascinates you, motivates you, fills you with energy, place it in the “Hell Yes” column. If it absolutely drains all the living soul out of you, it belongs in the “Hell No” column. If it’s the type of task that makes you think, “Okay, I can do it all right,” it’s placed in the “Maybe” column. Once you have your “Hell No” column completed, think about those on your team who might consider these items to be in their “Hell Yes” column. Over time, the hope is that the bulk of your energy is being invested into the tasks that are a “Hell Yes” for you, so you’re able to maximize your potential throughout the day.


3. Stop ‘Shoulding’ Yourself. When I took a moment and looked at my full to-do list, I soon realized that many of the items on my list actually belonged to other people. Visualizing the list of tasks helped me to stop ‘shoulding’ myself because I was able to step back to differentiate the responsibilities that I owned and those tasks that I was helping with that were actually owned by other people. This exercise forced me to have some fierce conversations with those on my team at the time, but defining my responsibilities helped to improve our team’s outcomes and overall well-being in the long run.


In this economy, it can take longer to get a job than expected. Why suffer if you can find a solution even if it’s temporary?