10 Ways to Avoid Overwhelm at Work | One Step Ahead

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Sometimes it all gets too much (and that's OK)

One of the members inside The KAM Club posted the other day about feeling overwhelmed. About being so busy at work that they felt like they were drowning and wanted some advice on how to deal with it.

Well that feeling isn't new to me, and I'm sure it's not new to you either. Work goes from busy (no one said it would be easy) to out of control (HELP!)

In an ideal world, you'd have all the resources you need to succeed. But the reality is we work long hours, have tough targets and face high pressure situations.

Daily.

But when it all gets too much, you need to do something about it.

So let me share a few things that have helped me regain control and be able to breathe again.

How to avoid overwhelm at work

While I share this advice through the lens of a key account manager, overwhelm in all jobs is universal. These are all tactics I've used in my own career to deal with stress and workload and regain some control. I hope some of these are helpful to you.

 Morning pages. Every morning as soon as you wake up, write 1 to 3 pages, free hand. Whatever is on your mind. The pages aren't designed to make sense, be a journal or even kept. Just free flowing thought. The practice has helped declutter my brain and gain clarity on what's bugging me and what to do about it.  Learn more here

Deadlines. In the past I would say yes to a deadline without actually thinking about if I could get them done in the agreed time. My client would ask for a report, I'd say sure, I'll have it to you tomorrow. Then I'd look at my calendar and see it was impossible. I'd set myself up to fail or work late or get stressed. If that's you - be generous with your deadlines. Even if you can get it done today, tell them next week.

+ Meetings. I used to say YES to every meeting and never negotiate on the date or time. Especially with my boss. My diary was chaos. Even when I'd made plans to catch up and do admin etc, they'd fall by the wayside because I'd get invited to a meeting. If that's you, start negotiating times that suit you, so you can get important work done! It's surprising how little push back you'll get. 

Make a list. I used to keep everything in my head and never really felt in control of what I had to do. Everything was urgent. I wasted time working from my inbox, re-reading emails, losing them, filing and forgetting them. Then I started making to-do lists and using task management tools. ToDoist was the first one I used. It helped me prioritise what was important. Block time to get the big things done. Schedule everything else around that time.

Rethink the inbox. A major source of stress for me was my inbox and I needed to do something about it. I created a rule so anything where I was in the Cc field bypassed my inbox and went to a dedicated folder. Aren't they read only anyway? That action cut my inbox down by two thirds and I could focus only on the emails that I had to action.

I also created a rule so that my manager's emails were bold, and red. That way I didn't overlook them, and she stopped chasing me for replies.

(P.S. You can setup something similar to rules in Gmail using labels)

 I got rid of my complicated folder system and now only have two: Archive (everything I want to keep) and Hold (for pending stuff). I use the search when I need to find something.

And, if I'm really, really behind, I'll put anything that's older than 2 weeks into a temporary folder. The email is there if I need it, but I ignore it until someone chases me. Not ideal, but I figure if it's waited 2 weeks, it's not that urgent or it's already sorted out.

+ Take lunch. I would skip lunch or eat at my desk and never took a break. I forced myself to take at least 30 minutes for lunch and not work. I'd read a book, scroll social or listen to a podcast. Made a huge difference to my stress levels. Give yourself a break!

+ Compromise. When you're feeling overwhelmed you need to make some compromises about your output. Done, I promise you, is good enough. Are you wasting time striving for unachievable perfection? Are there ways you can reduce the frequency or quantity of an activity?

For example, my boss used to harass me to update the CRM every Friday. I was doing 3 people’s job (mine, an open role I was hiring for and someone from my team who got promoted #TrueStory). I asked what’s minimum you need updated every week? He said there were two fields he reported on weekly, everything else could wait until the end of the month. That conversation trimmed my weekly admin by over an hour.

+ Make changes. You need to get off the hamster wheel. What are some stop/start/continue actions that will help you out long term? Talk to your team and your manager about these and how to put them in place. You can't stop doing something until you find a new home for it or everyone agrees it doesn't need to doing.

+ Ask for help. Don't suffer in silence. I used to worry that people would think that I couldn't cope. That it would jeopardise my chances of promotion, or getting bigger more prestigious accounts if I admitted I was overwhelmed. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Talk to your manager and colleagues and see if they can help. They have a wealth of experience and might have good advice on how to approach your workload more effectively. Or how to prioritize tasks, give you some shortcuts or even take some of the work off you. Many times I’ve put my hand up and a kind colleagues has come to my rescue.

+ Write a letter to the future. Visit FutureMe.org where you can send yourself an email to arrive sometime in the future. I like send myself pep talks. It's amazing how motivational it is to get an unexpected email from yourself telling yourself you're awesome and you'll get through this. I have these drop in every two or three months. I always forget when they're due and what I wrote in them so it's a nice surprise when they land.

Coming Up

June 29th. Building New Client Relationships: How to Develop Trust & Credibility Fast. A one-hour workshop that teaches you how to quickly develop strong, trusting relationships with new customers. We're going in depth on how to set your new customers up for success before, during, and after their transition.

You'll also learn how to develop and execute a customer collaboration strategy that will make you an indispensable partner.

Tickets are only £5/$7 while they last.

Click here to save your place.

Suggested books

If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I suggest rather than another productivity system, you take a look at researching mindset. Here are some suggestions.

+ The Stress Code: From Surviving to Thriving. Disclaimer: I’ve not read this book, but my client has (and I intend to) and was raving about it. This book isn’t about stress avoidance, but stress resilience and provides tools to diminish the adverse effects of stress. It also discusses how intervals of stress provide opportunities for growth and to push past personal barriers, while ongoing stress compromises our physical and mental health.

+ Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. I LOVED this book. It explains through science why we keep doing the same thing, reacting the same way to the world, but expect a different result. It helps you choose the reality that you want and focus inwardly to create it, rather than relying on the external world to make you happy. There are lots of exercises along the way to reinforce the teaching of the book.

In other news

+ Manage your energy, not your time. The busier you are, the longer the hours you put in. But the problem is time is in limited supply and you’ll put yourself on the path to burnout. This HBR article discusses how to establish rituals that build energy, including taking breaks, mindset (hope vs energy-draining negative emotions) and purpose.

Are you Taking on Too Many Non-Promotable Tasks? I’m all for taking on extra work and pitching in when I need to, but at this stage of my life, it should be work that helps my career progression. I did my time doing the low value tasks. Let anyone do the stuff anyone can do. This is a brilliant article that explains how to avoid volunteering for invisible jobs (P.S. The article also says 48% more women are likely to be asked to do crap jobs and likely to say yes too!)

+ 20 Brilliant Calendar Management Tips. Check out this article I wrote with a bunch of useful tips to be strategic with your calendar and free up more time to do deep work.

+ Sleepcycle. I use this sleep tracker, monitor and alarm every single night. I go to sleep to the sounds of the ocean and choose the Wake-Up easy mode which gives me a 30 minute window to wake up when the app detects I’m at my lightest sleep (rather than waking up when your in deep sleep which makes you grumpy all day long). It also records sleep analysis like sleep quality, duration, snoring, coughing, talking and more and the results can help you adjust your routines to improve your sleep. I don’t know how it does it! Available for Android and iOS. There is a free version or you can upgrade to Premium (which I do) for $49.99 a year. Worth every penny!

+ RescueTime. I’ve been using this app for years. It’s a personal time management and productivity software (you need to download to your computer) that shows you how you spend your time and gives you the tools to build better habits. You can set focus time to block distractions, log work hours, track activities and identify patterns and trends. All useful insights to how you spend your day and (especially for me) where you waste your time. For example, I spent 5 hours on YouTube the other week, so if I was looking for extra time, I know what I could eliminate from my day to find it. 

+ ToDoist. The first task manager I ever used and still one of the best. It’s beauty is in its simplicity. It will help you become more focused, organized and calm. Over 30 million+ people who use the app can’t be wrong. Free and available on multiple platforms.

+ The KAM Club. Learn more about the world's most amazing community of key account managers and get access to tools, templates, guides, coaching and training, like How to Stop Being Busy and Start Being Effective.

Quote of the week

Why are you secretly expecting something different to show up in your life, when you think the same thoughts, perform the same actions, and experience the same emotions every single day? ~ Joe Dispenza

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Have a great week

Warwick Brown

Warwick Brown


Warwick Brown has led business development and account management teams in Australia and Europe for more than 15 years and worked with some of the world's most prestigious firms, including Merck & Co, Deutsche Bank, McKinsey & Company and Vodafone. As the founder at Account Manager Tips, his mission is to help organisations leverage the power of key account management to accelerate client retention and revenue.

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