Guest Blog: Overcoming Overwhelm: Discovering More Ease At Work

Guest blog by Laura Howard, Founder and Psychologist at The Contented Workplace Company

If you are a small business owner, the chances are you feel overwhelmed from time to time. Feeling regularly overwhelmed is likely to impact our well-being and damage our performance. There are some effective ways, however, that we can overcome overwhelm and discover greater ease at work.

We can all miss deadlines and struggle with decisions occasionally but if you find this happening regularly, you are likely to be facing overwhelm. Perhaps you feel you are drowning in work or making limited progress on tasks. These are signs you are overwhelmed.

Overwhelm is often caused by our environment. For instance, you could be working in a fast-changing industry or you may have too much work due to a colleague being off or are bombarded by notifications on your laptop. Similarly, you could have growing expectations of yourself to advance your business quickly or others may place excessive pressures on you.

This high-alert status we find ourselves in causes overwhelm. It originates from our ancestors’ survival instincts. We underestimate our ability to cope and overestimate threats. In life, however, threats are seldom as bad as we imagine, and we are resilient when they arise.

As a child, we were told to “do our best” or “try as hard as you can” but this is next to useless advice when completing tasks as an adult. We have multiple priorities and commitments each requiring different levels of effort and energy. Imagine if I put the same level of effort into a shopping list as I did a multi-million-pound pitch. Instead, we need to predict how much effort an activity takes, what goals we are aiming for, what preparation we shall take and any likely setbacks.

Consider a runner preparing for a big race. They will have clear goals of 8-minute miles and have the correct footwear, diet and nutrition. They may have a trainer and study the course route and gradient. These are all good preparations to ensure adequate task goals and resources.

Let us consider goal setting to tackle overwhelm. Ask yourself:

  1. Am I committed to the goal?
  2. Do I accept the goal?
  3. Is the deadline close by?
  4. Is the goal clear?
  5. Am I receiving adequate support?
  6. Is the goal sufficiently challenging?

If I created the goals myself and have a close deadline, I am predicted to meet my goals more than if someone else set me the goal and the deadline is far away.

Additionally, resources help us overcome overwhelm. For instance, I ensure that I receive family or social support when I am handling a large project or task. I access regular support, training and feedback to help give me a sense of accomplishment and competence. I execute my work with autonomy creating greater intrinsic motivation. I work collectively as a part of a team or affiliate network to get a sense of shared community even in my small business.

My takeaway tips are, therefore, to first, recognise the symptoms and causes of overwhelm. Second, to ensure you set sufficient goals. Third, ensure that you have adequate resources for what you are about to do.

Laura Howard

Laura Howard

Team Effectiveness Expert and Adviser

Laura Howard MSc is a team effectiveness expert and adviser. She is best known for her ability to transform underperforming teams into high-achieving ones. Specialising in working with disorganised, demotivated, poorly communicating or under-aspiring teams she directs them to overcome their problems and perform successfully. She is entrusted by CEOs and HRDs to consistently produce great teams.