6 Things to Do If You Feel Overwhelmed With Work

UPDATED: June 16, 2020
PUBLISHED: June 15, 2020
overwhelmed with work

It’s one of the best problems you can have: too much work. You put in the time, you’ve built your business or side hustle, and now clients are clamoring for your talents. It can feel like staring down a daunting ski slope. You can tell it’s going to be a fun ride, and it took a lot of time and effort to lug your skis up the mountain, but what if you fall?

I’ve been there. For three years now, I’ve been working a full-time job while building a writing business on the side. At 5:00, my second shift begins, and lately it’s been stretching into a third shift. When the clock strikes midnight, that’s when I usually admit it: I’m in over my head. Usually, I fend off a panic attack and try my best to keep working, but recently, I’ve discovered a better way.

This problem isn’t unique to solopreneurs and side hustlers. It’s easy to bite off more than you can chew in any job, especially if you have a great work ethic and like what you do. It can be hard to say “no” to work. So when you feel overwhelmed and notice your work-life balance is anything but balanced, here are six things you can do.

1. Take a break.

Working nonstop is a slippery slope, for your overall well-being and your productivity. So take a moment, a breath, or better yet, a small break when you feel fatigued, frazzled or stuck. Go to the kitchen for an afternoon snack, take a short walk outside, stretch. Taking a minute or five away from your computer to do something that refreshes you can do wonders for your energy, focus and productivity.   

2. Set your own deadlines.

It’s Monday, and your manager or client wants a project completed by Friday. It can be tempting to put it off until later in the week—after all, you’ve got four days to do it! Instead of procrastinating and building the pressure, though, try making your own deadline: like, Wednesday for part of the project and Thursday for the rest. Getting started is the best way to beat stress, and breaking up the task into less daunting to-do items will improve the quality of your work. And by developing a habit of setting personal deadlines, even last-minute assignments will become more manageable.

3. Give yourself grace.

It’s easy to let small setbacks get you down or one misstep leave you doubting your skills and talents, but everyone makes mistakes, even the most successful people out there. So while perfection is impossible, grace is not. If you sleep in one morning, miss a deadline you set, or get distracted and fail to accomplish everything you wanted to get done one day, don’t fret. No single day or deadline will define you, and dwelling on what went wrong will only hinder your goals. If you experience a setback, focus on what you did right that day, and give yourself praise when praise is due.

4. Make time for the essentials.

No project is more important than your family, friendships and health. Even when you face a daunting deadline and a mountain of work, it’s vital to take time for yourself and the people you love and who love you. It could be a five-minute phone call catching up with your mom, a short stroll around the neighborhood with your husband or wife, or a full-blown game night with your kids or your friends. Balancing your work with personal will 1) keep you sane and 2) remind you what matters most in life.

5. Cut out the non-essentials.

Many of us are still quarantined and working from our couches or our kitchen tables, and some of us will continue to work from home well after the pandemic has ended. The distractions are tempting: The TV is right there, so is your phone—but screens of every kind can derail your workday. A quick episode here and a scroll through Instagram there, and all of a sudden you’ve lost your afternoon. (See tip #1 for better ways to take a mental break.) Cutting down on screen time will help you be more efficient with your time, not to mention make you feel better about how you spent your day.

6. Remember what got you here.

It’s inevitable: Every time you bite off more than you can chew, you’ll get stressed. You’ll probably even forget how you got to this point. But your talent and hustle got you to the top of the mountain, and they can definitely get you down it, too—intact and ready for another climb.

Read next: 100 Simple Secrets of Productive People

Photo by @NataliaSolo/Twenty20.com

Tyler Hicks is a writer based in Dallas. His work has been published in Texas Monthly, the Houston Chronicle, D Magazine and The Dallas Morning News, among other publications. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading mystery novels and watching old movies with his wife.