What Do You Do When You Are Overwhelmed?

The past few weeks have been quite stressful for me. I had some international travel with terrible wifi so I could not finish some planned work, a close relative died,  a ton more client work, and more international travel. When my relative died, it was clear to me that I was not going to finish everything I thought I could. It was clear I could not meet my client commitments when I was in mourning.

I felt overwhelmed by all my work and commitments.

What was I going to let go? How would I adapt my work to fit my new circumstances?

I had some clients in that interesting beginning discussion stage. I may have lost one client, but the other is willing to wait for me.

I finished the workshops for everyone because they were all close to being done.

I am so far behind on blogging and newsletters I might never “catch up.” I put those words in quotes because I don’t believe you ever catch up. You make decisions about what to do next. At least, I do.

When you are overwhelmed, what do you do? Do you try to do “everything” even though it’s impossible to do so? Or, do you make choices about what you will not do or postpone? Or, do you imagine a new way of working?

I realized that for my Pragmatic Manager newsletter, I have some alternatives, other than new content.

I realized that for the Create an Adaptable Life newsletter, I can postpone the newsletter for another week or so. (If you subscribe, you received the newsletter early this week.)

I postponed finishing my program management book.

I made choices about what work to do now, what work to postpone, what work to not do, and what work I could adapt.

It’s unfortunate, and it’s necessary. There is no way I could work when I was sleep deprived, in the middle of grieving, or worried about how to manage my life.

You might be thinking, “Oh, this is a work-life balance issue.” There is no such thing as work-life balance. There is only life. I have to take care of myself so I can be effective in all my roles: consultant, wife, mom, and being my own person.

That meant I let some things slide. I might pick them up again later—I hope to—and if I don’t, I can reinvent how I do them.

How about you? If you are like most of the people I know, you have too much to do. You might not have my specific stressors, but you are overloaded. What will you keep? What will you postpone? What will you let go?

You don’t need to make yourself nuts with all your work. If you take care of yourself, you can then take care of the work.

How will you adapt to your new circumstances?

That is the question of the week: What do you do when you are overwhelmed?

12 thoughts on “What Do You Do When You Are Overwhelmed?

    1. johanna Post author

      Clarke, thank you. Yes, I have discovered that “slowing down to go faster” works. For me, it’s all about making progress, one small step at a time. Thanks for the pointer to the video.

  1. Jim Grey

    First, I’m sorry for your loss.

    Second, I find that when overwhelmed I need a few hours alone doing something I like to do, such as taking photographs. And then as I come back into the world after that, it usually seems clear what things are most valuable to do, and I do them, and when I run out of time whatever’s left just doesn’t get done and I accept the consequences.

    1. johanna Post author

      HI Jim, thanks.

      I’m a little surprised you spend time doing “something else.” I can see where, depending on the kind of person you are, that would calm you and give you some “head-space,” time to think before acting. I agree on the time thinking before acting. I was feeling so time-constrained that I could not imagine doing anything other than work. Literally could not imagine. (Maybe I should.)

      I think the place we both agree is this: take time to consider your next action. What makes sense for you to do now?

      1. Jim Grey

        It took me a long time to figure out that because of the way I’m wired, this is what I need. I’m a little type A, so it was hard for me to build a habit of unplugging for a bit when overwhelmed. But when I do, my mind figures out the value priority list on its own somehow. It doesn’t have to be as long as a few hours, actually; sometimes 30 minutes does it.

    1. johanna Post author

      Hi Henry, what do those folks play? I am a fan of baroque music–that’s what I write and work to. I’ve been “stuck” for a while now on Yo-Yo Ma’s Suites for Solo Cello… I put that playlist on auto-replay.

      I’m always looking for more good music to write by.

  2. Rebecca Wirfs-Brock

    My condolences, Johanna. Losing someone close to you can put everything else out of focus for a while. And what I realized when that happened to me is that there is no accurate timeline/ prediction about when you will be back to not grieving. It is totally reasonable to take time to become underwhelmed with work for a while so you can readjust. I am happy you managed to meet some client commitments head on. But don’t always expect that everything will just pick up and you can move on predictably, getting back into the “full swing” of things. When my mother died, I found that I could work…but I wasn’t that creative for a while. And that was OK. So writing about new ideas and things on my todo list took a back seat to other things in my life. It is all about doing what is moving you forward, and remembering that although we are creatures of habit, sometimes the “habit” of trying to do everything well (even under great stress) is not reasonable, realistic, or healthy.

    Take care.

    1. johanna Post author

      Thank you, Rebecca. Yes, I have noticed that some things I can do. Others? I put those back on my list. “Not now.” Thanks.

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