Woman with head in hands looking at laptop to represent how to deal with feeling overwhelmed

We all feel overwhelmed from time to time. How do you manage your overwhelm whilst maintaining your performance at work? Throughout this article, we will discuss how to deal with feeling overwhelmed whilst continuing to perform in high-pressure industries such as law, accounting and consultancy.

How to deal with feeling overwhelmed 

Woman with head in hands looking at laptop to represent how to deal with feeling overwhelmed

The first lesson in how to deal with feeling overwhelmed is to understand that working harder won’t necessarily make you feel better. In fact, it will usually make you feel worse. 

You see, growing up, we were always taught to work harder. But once you’ve reached the point of overwhelm, you become susceptible to brain fog, cognitive fatigue and confusion. Needless to say, none of these traits makes for a happy, healthy or high-performing employee. 

So, now that we know working harder won’t resolve the issue, let’s explore how we can deal with feeling overwhelmed. 

Find the root of the problem

The best way to deal with feeling overwhelmed is to identify and address the source of your stress. Now, this could be because of a particular client, account or colleague. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how you reduce or remove that primary source of anxiety.  

You can do this by writing down the actionable steps you need to take to distance yourself from that primary source of stress. For example, can you express your concerns to your managing director? Can you delegate this task to someone else? Once you have an action plan in place, it’s much easier to handle your stress and regain control.

5 strategies to manage your stress

1. Start by addressing smaller tasks

a man with a magnifying glass

For some reason, we all believe an insurmountable to-do list is necessary for us to successfully (and simultaneously) exceed our targets, win new business and expand our network. But this simply isn’t true! You CAN maintain your performance without becoming overwhelmed by your to-do list. All you need is some effective organisation. 

To avoid feeling overhwlemed, we suggest ranking your tasks by difficulty and duration. Remember, 80% of the items on the list only take up 20% of your time. So focus on getting short tasks out the way first. That way, you can eliminate the majority of the items on your to-do list in just a couple of hours. In turn, you can instantly reduce any feelings of stress and clear your head in preparation for larger, more challenging projects.

2. Stop working on the weekends

It can be tempting to view the weekends as an opportunity to catch up on admin, boost your LinkedIn profile or get ahead of the coming week. However, working seven days a week is neither sustainable nor conducive to producing your best work. 

Therefore, if you want to learn how to deal with feeling overwhelmed and perform to the best of your abilities, you must start taking time off. Time away from work allows you to have fun and recharge your batteries. So, when you reenter the office on Monday morning, you’re well-rested and raring to go. (Discover How to properly switch off from work at the weekend)

However, if you feel that your current workload doesn’t accommodate any time off, we strongly suggest you start delegating lower-value tasks and turning down additional responsibilities. Remember, you can’t do everything alone (nor should you). So it’s okay to say no! It’s better to maintain your performance than drown trying to take on too much. (Plus, your employer and clients will value your transparency.)

3. Don’t hold yourself to impossible standards

yoga pose

If you have ambitions of becoming a star player or partner at your firm, you probably set incredibly high standards for yourself and your work. Now, neither qualities are bad – unless they begin boarding upon perfectionism. 

When people are self-proclaimed perfectionists, they often wear it as a badge of honour – a symbol of their hard work. But, the truth, perfectionism can be really detrimental to your performance. You see, people who suffer from perfectionism often:

  • Take longer to complete tasks (often delaying starting or finishing projects).
  • Avoid taking risks or experimenting with processes for fear of failure.
  • Frequently feel stressed and overwhelmed.

Therefore, it’s in your best interest to lower your expectations slightly. Not only will you feel relief from putting less pressure on yourself, but you will also be far more productive.

4. Determine which tasks require urgent attention

There will be times in your career when you stretch yourself too thin. And so, you cannot fulfil all your tasks in your proposed timescale. Whilst this isn’t ideal, you shouldn’t allow it to overwhelm you. 

Instead of surrendering to feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, try and take a proactive approach to your problem. Start by prioritising your tasks. You should be able to identify which tasks require your immediate attention, but if you’re ever in doubt, ask yourself:

  • How often have I made the wrong call when previously prioritising tasks?
  • How often have I received reminders regarding the urgency or importance of each task?

Once you accept that you cannot meet your original timeline, you have the space to take action. So remember, instead of wasting your time worrying, start reprioritising your to-do list and working towards a solution. 

5. Don’t be afraid to delegate 

two business women to represent how to deal with feeling overwhelmed

As you work your way up your firm, there’s often a temptation to accept as many responsibilities as possible. However, this attempt to prove your worth can actually be counterintuitive, causing you to be less productive and significantly more stressed. 

Therefore, if you’re looking for additional methods in regards to how to deal with feeling overwhelmed, we strongly suggest you start delegating some of your lower-value tasks. Whether you delegate to junior fee earners or start outsourcing freelancers, the less time you spend on low-value tasks, the more time you can focus on your clients. 

Unsure which tasks to delegate? No problem! Try creating a job description for yourself (either for your current role or where you want to be in a few years). Then compare that description to your current workload. Usually, you’ll find there are several activities that fall outside your current role, so that could be a good place to start. 

Read: 3 easy but powerful delegation tips for senior associates

Feeling overwhelmed is not a sign of weakness

When working in high-pressure environments, we often minimise our stress. We convince ourselves it’s no big deal and that we can’t possibly progress to be a partner or firm owner if we’re already overwhelmed. But this simply is not true. 

The key to success is learning how to deal with feeling overwhelmed, so you can continue to perform to the best of your abilities, no matter the circumstances. So start incorporating these five strategies into your life and see how much more peaceful and proactive you become.

We have a great course in our subscriber-only site Progress to Partner  called How to put together a development plan to achieve your career goals.  The course gives you the structure, clarity, and guidance to gain the skills, knowledge, mindset, and experience to take your career to the next stage or level – whatever you want that to be.

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