A common topic for my coaching clients and one that has cropped up a lot during conversations this past week, including my recent (and highly non-scientific) LinkedIn poll, is overwhelm. Overwhelm in the context of their leadership and management positions.

Overwhelm can lead to stress and possibly even burnout if it’s not managed and dealt with. Symptoms of overwhelm include forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, disrupted sleep and fatigue, and constant worrying.

The impact of overwhelm can be material on our businesses, organisations and teams and of course, ourselves. Feelings of overwhelm can diminish our problem solving abilities, cause us to think rigidly, defaulting to habitual patterns that don’t always serve our best interests, and feeling overwhelmed impedes our judgement. All of this can result in important business decisions being made from a place of stress, and this can be detrimental for our businesses.

Recognising the symptoms of overwhelm is the first step in starting to overcome it. Here I offer 5 top tips for dealing with overwhelm.

1. Challenge your assumptions

Assumptions is a big one when it comes to overwhelm. Assumptions can of course be helpful, especially when we deal with complex, ambiguous and unknown circumstances, assumptions can help us to deal with unknowns and act accordingly. But unconscious assumptions can be damaging if they are running the show without you knowing it. Often, when it comes to work, we make false assumptions about consequence and impact. We over calculate likelihood or over compensate for impact. What will happen if X doesn’t get done by Y time? A classic example, which I learned the hard way, is to promise to a client I’ll get back to them within 24 hours. Only to find they are on holiday for two weeks and won’t have time to look at or deal with whatever I’ve sent them. Sound familiar?!

Of course there are always times when something MUST be done by a certain time, but rarely is that the case for all of a persons workload or all of a businesses tasks. So for assumptions, take a moment to assess your work, and consider: where have you overpromised that you’ll do something by a certain time and how necessary is it really, that you have to get it done by then? What will be the consequence if it doesn’t get done by then? Who’s expecting it and what do they think/what will they do with it when they get it? How do you know? How can you check?

2. Define the required outcome/set the “non-negotiables”

Similar to the point above, in the case of striving for perfection, we often over deliver on outcomes when the marginal effort to achieve a perfect result, doesn’t equate to the marginal value gained from delivering that result. That extra effort could have been expended on something more meaningful. Take time to understand what are the minimum requirements, and sure, you can overdeliver on these, but if you surpass by such an extent that this over-delivery becomes the new minimum standard, then all that’s been done is that you’re now locked into working harder to deliver that elevated expectation*. Find out where good enough really is good enough.

3. Know the difference between “Urgent” and “Important”

We all fall into this trap. It’s easy to get distracted by the list of all the urgent things that have to be done. Of course things crop up which are urgent in your business and have to be dealt with as a priority. But if everything in your business really is urgent, then you have a different kind of problem altogether. As a leader or manager, your time should ideally be spent on the important tasks. Because this is where you most add value. If you’re continually getting sucked into urgent tasks that are not important, then it’s time to engage someone that can you can delegate to.

4. Delegate!

Delegation is no silver bullet in the heat of the moment but when it’s deployed in the right way, in the right context, can be a very effective strategy to reduce overwhelm.

Read my top tips for effective delegation here: The art of letting go.

5. Be aware of the monkey

My coaching clients will all tell you that one of my favourite resources in coaching is Ken Blanchard’s “The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey”. Have you ever taken on the problem of a colleague who has come to you for help and advice? Have you ever assumed responsibility for solving a problem for someone else? As humans, we all have a natural inclination to help and take on the challenges of others. This is why I love coaching because we get to ask different and better questions to help you to coach your colleagues to find their own solutions, rather than you doing the doing.

In this situation, instead of saying, “let me help you”, try “what needs to happen for this to be resolved” and “what have you already tried to resolve this?”.

I’d love to know how you get on with these tips. Feel free to message me for your reflections and thoughts and you’re welcome to share to anyone you know who may be struggling with overwhelm right now.

*I’m not saying that aiming for minimum delivery is a good thing! This point is an economic one based on value judgements of time, not a moral point based on quality standards. But if you’d like to hear more on that, message me and I’ll happily do a point on it!

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