On the one hand, junior professionals crave responsibility, and want all the experience they can get. On the other hand, as companies strive to do more with fewer resources, it is not uncommon to feel overworked, overwhelmed and under-appreciated.
When you’re starting to feel overloaded, keep these tips in mind for managing projects, priorities and higher-level managers:
1. Determine What Can You Do Differently
Even the most disciplined folks know there is some timesuck we can leave behind. Some processes we know could be improved with just a little foresight. So, when you begin to feel overwhelmed, look inside first. Figure out what you can do differently. Or better.
If nothing else, when the time comes to talk to the boss about being overloaded, you can say, “Boss, this is what I’ve done to improve my work habits and productivity, and I’m still falling behind. Tell me what you see… what suggestions do you have?”
2. Set Boundaries
The more your boss thinks of you, the more they will expect of you. Soon, you’ll begin receiving early morning emails and late evening texts. You begin working through lunch. You never get a break.
You’ll feel needed… and important. You’ll just know the big promotion is coming. Soon, however, you’ll learn that being “on” all the time isn’t healthy–nor sustainable.
When this happens, look at your manager right in the eye and say, “Boss, I am all yours from 8 am to 12:30 and 1:00 to 6:00 pm. And when you yell ‘All hands on deck!’ I’ll come running. After that, though, I need downtime to refresh and stay creative.” Not too many bosses will say no to such a straight-forward commitment. (And if they do, do you really want to work for them long-term?)
3. Dump the Multitasking Mindset
So many of us are proud of our ability to multitask. Trouble is, many studies have shown that multitasking is a myth; that we do much better work when we’re focused on one project at a time. We plan and execute better. We delegate more. And we achieve at a higher level. All because we work in “start-finish-start-finish” mode instead of “start-start-start-finish-start-start-finish-kinda’-finish-sigh-start…”
Go ahead. Take on that next big assignment, like this: “Boss, the project I’m working on now is scheduled to end Friday. How about we start this next project Monday morning?”
4. Work with the Manager to Prioritize (and Re-Prioritize)
You know that boss who keeps asking you to take on more… the one who doesn’t seem to know how to say “no” herself? Well, chances are that boss has too many “this is a top priority!” assignments she’s thrown on your plate. She has no idea how overworked you and your team are, right now.
Here’s how to fix this – and to make her aware she can only delegate so many “top” priorities all at once. Set up a 10-minute meeting, and then say: “Boss, here are all the high-priority assignments I have on my desk now. Here is the status of each. And here is the new project you just asked me to take on. Now, let’s go through all these top priorities and decide which to tackle first, which we can delegate and which will just have to wait until the real top priorities are done.”
5. Learn to Say ‘No’
We all want to be the team player our resume says we are. We want to contribute. And frankly, we want the attention. So we say “yes” over and over again until we explode.
Saying “no” once in a while – especially when the ask is outside your core responsibilities – will not kill your career. It will not mean you don’t get the promotion, or the raise. It will mean you get to occasionally sleep at night. And keep your sanity.
6. Celebrate Every Win
When feeling overwhelmed, nothing puts a smile on our faces like a win. Even the smallest win, as long as it is sincere and mission-oriented, can turn an entire day around. And don’t keep it to yourself. Make sure your colleagues know something positive did happen today.
Do a happy dance. And ride that momentum.
For bigger wins, make sure your boss knows what you and your team has accomplished this day or this week: “Boss, it is 6pm and I’m on my way out, but wanted to let you know that we finished the ABC project right on schedule and also managed to make progress on XYZ’s and 123’s accounts. See you in the morning.” Yes, bosses love that stuff.
You will not be the first young professional to feel overworked, overloaded and overwhelmed… or the last. You can, however, be one of the few careerists, at any age, with the emotional intelligence and guts needed to identify this feeling just as it starts. You can choose to effectively manage the projects, priority and people contributing to this anxiety well enough to at least minimize the feeling. By doing so, you’ll start be productive, creative and happy again.
Be aware that this possibility exists. Co-manage the solution. In the long run, everyone around you – including that demanding boss – will thank you.