You Don’t Have to Feel Overwhelmed at Work. Here are 5 Ways to Cope

A couple months ago, I attended FinCon, a conference for the personal finance media community. My team and I spent a few days exhibiting and networking in sunny San Diego.

After long hours on the floor, I squeezed in much-needed time with some friends in the industry. One thing I heard time and again was how busy everyone was.

Even when you love what you do — and maybe especially when you love what you do — it can be hard to pull away from work.

Feeling behind? Feeling like you’ll never get to inbox zero or an empty to-do list?

Me too.

My favorite part about FinCon was the reminder that, for some of us, the feeling will never go away. We’re wired to keep putting new things on our lists every time they finally get shorter. And the worst part is, the better you are at your job, the more likely your colleagues or supervisors are to add work to your plate as well.

I understand how you feel. Here’s what works for me:

1. Acknowledge how you feel. Recognize that your feelings are valid, and you have a right to feel stressed. But also ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen?

I’ve accepted that I’m wired this way. However, I also try to remind myself that my imagined worst reality for not getting to inbox zero is probably an exaggeration.

The process of playing out the worst-case scenario usually helps reduce my stress level, and more than once I’ve burst into laughter at my own ridiculousness. (For example, is the company really going to go bankrupt if I don’t reply to the 40 unsolicited pitches in my inbox? Nope. Hello, Delete button.)

2. Write everything down that you need to do. Seriously… Write. Everything. Down. I often feel overwhelmed because my mind exaggerates the scope of my workload.

3. Take a break. Take out your calendar right now and make sure you have something fun planned for this week. I have a weekly game night with friends to help me unwind, and we make it a point not to talk about work.

Also, make sure you have at least two hours scheduled in which you do nothing but think — go for a walk, take a shower, drink a cup of coffee, etc. I LOVE my lists, but rarely do I have a good idea while I’m working on other tasks.

4. Organize your tasks. Find a system for breaking down your list into smaller tasks or sections. I’ve taken some hints from the Pomodoro Timermethod, but find a system that works for you.

On my desk, I put four to five tasks in a column. A couple of them are usually easy or something that I look forward to doing, while the others may be an email I’ve been procrastinating on or a task that is part of a larger project.

I don’t use a timer every day, but I do mindfully break up the columns into sections that shouldn’t take more than 20 to 30 minutes to complete. I’m a recovering multitasker and procrastinator, so this system helps me stay on one task at a time and cross things off my list that I don’t enjoy as much.

Finally, I reward my brain with a short break after the column is finished. I’ll watch a clip from Fallon, or read my favorite political blog for five to 10 minutes, and then start my next column.

5. Ignore or delay the small stuff. What on your list is going to make the biggest impact right now to you and your team?

Start with that.

This might mean disappointing someone else, but all those small tasks keep you from getting to the things that really matter.

I’m a work in progress, and I have days where I’m not successful at any of this. But we owe it to ourselves to keep trying!

Kyle Taylor is the founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder, one of the largest personal finance websites with 19 million-plus monthly readers. In 2016, the Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder the 32nd fastest-growing private company and the No. 1 fastest-growing media company in the United States. You can read his latest article here: “Here’s Exactly What We Did to Improve Our SEO in 2016… and Beyond.”

Image credit: Tina Russell, The Penny Hoarder