What to Do When Work Leaves You Overwhelmed


Ever feel like projects keep kicking off but never seem to end? Has working from home blurred your workday boundaries, making it impossible to unplug at night or on weekends? Are you already exhausted just reading those two questions?

You are not alone. That low-buzz anxiety may seem alienating, but it’s actually extremely common, even if your Instagram feed tells a different story. Throughout the pandemic, at home and at work, we’ve all been asked to do more with fewer resources. And business-as-usual? That’s long gone, baby. Even prior to the upheaval of 2020 that we are still navigating today, we’ve become an always-on culture, where work permeates every aspect of our home lives and vice versa. So, what steps can you take to better limit stress, work more efficiently, and reclaim that precious work-life balance?

Here are a few small strategies you can implement right now:

Establish Boundaries on New Work

If your project list is so daunting that it’s paralyzing your productivity, with new items continually added to your plate and seemingly none of them getting completed, take a breath. Cut yourself some slack. And most importantly, ask whoever’s moving the work your way to assign urgency levels to each task to help you better prioritize.

We all know how it gets to this point: Everyone wants their project to be at the front of the line. But when each task is hot, and all projects are emergencies, you’re being set up to fail. The best way to dig yourself out of a hole is to go to your boss with your project list and politely ask for their help. Be sure to get clarity on your role and boundaries for each task, discuss specific urgency levels, and ask them to assign each with High, Medium, and Low priority.

This helps in multiple ways: First, you’ll leave with an action plan—which is way better than a non-action plan, like idly watching your inbox as it slowly spirals out of control. Second, seeing your task list laid out helps your supervisor notice how much work they’ve directed your way. You might be their go-to person (take it as a compliment, you’re probably killing it!), but actually seeing the weight of your list can serve as a wake-up call for your boss.

And finally, simply identifying which tasks aren’t a priority is extremely valuable for your mental state. Remove those from your list and set them to the side. Sure, you’ll need to do them eventually, but it’s one less “today problem.”

Give Yourself Small Wins

Do you sometimes have such a large, complicated project that even thinking about it makes you irrationally tired? Step away from the couch and put down the blanket – this is no time for a procrastinap. We’re going to get through it together!

  • Break big projects down into several smaller tasks

Sometimes the phrase “small wins” seems interchangeable with “low-hanging fruit.” But when you’re working on something large and complex, breaking it into smaller pieces is a very valuable win. Start by outlining the work and defining its stages—that little act of project management results in something extremely valuable: a plan for success.

  • Get directional feedback early

On larger projects, it’s very tempting to make your idea bulletproof right out of the gate. We’re all guilty of this: You want to blow it out, shave down the rough edges, and make it stakeholder-ready before you share anything. But what if your vision isn’t their vision? Rather than backtracking later after hours of work, seek gut checks early in your process. Make sure your idea and plans are clearly defined, then share them in broad strokes. Once you get a sign-off, you can build out the next step. Then, the next.

These agile check-ins save you time overall, and they give your boss or client confidence in the project’s progress. 

  • Find a small task you can complete in under 30 minutes

Completing small tasks is a proven psychological motivator. What if you blocked off half an hour to clean out your inbox, organize your files, or wrap up a loose end? Once you’re done, you can cross that off of your list, giving you a much-needed sense of accomplishment. Cross a few more off at different intervals throughout the day, and guess what? You’ve set an avalanche of productivity in motion. Way to go! You’ve eliminated a few tasks, cleared some physical and/or mental clutter, and now you can better focus on the larger tasks at hand.

Reward Yourself – You’re Worth It

In this work-from-home era, it’s tough not to overextend. Remember to reward your accomplishments. Did you finish a draft? Take your dog for a short walk, fresh air will do wonders. Did you respond to a mountain of emails? Have a light snack and scroll through your social media for a few minutes – you might need to set a timer for this one so you don’t go overboard. If you’ve just finished back-to-back-to-back Zoom meetings, run a quick errand or start your dinner meal prep and save yourself time later. Taking intermittent breaks will allow you to come back refreshed and ready to tackle your next task.

Over time, implementing these small strategies will help you get your workday back under control. In the interim, if you want to reward yourself with a few more minutes of reading before you get back at it, check out these other productivity tips on the SAGE Blog: Improve Your Time Management Skills With SAGE Project Management or 10 Products to Help Boost Your Work From Home Productivity.

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