Being overwhelmed at work isn’t a nice feeling.

If you’ve experienced it, you’ll know it makes you feel stressed, like you’re in above your head and – even worse – not up to scratch. And that’s deeply annoying when you know, deep down, you’re none of those things. Work has simply got on top of you.

Unfortunately, there’s no one to whom you can point the finger of blame than yourself. If you’re overwhelmed, it’s probably because you have bad (or a complete lack of) productivity habits. But don’t worry – that’s not unusual at all.

The more productive, organised and efficient we are as human beings, the less likely we are to feel overwhelmed.

Common problems that make us feel overwhelmed

We’re an easily distracted bunch, us humans. It really doesn’t take much to divert us off course and straight into a cul-de-sac of unproductiveness.

These are the most common problems that lead to people feeling overwhelmed

Open plan offices

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with an open plan office. It can foster greater teamwork, cohesion and productivity. The problem lies in the distractions it creates.

If you work in an open plan office, you might be familiar with the inability to get to the bottom of your to-do list due to consistent noise from the desks surrounding you and the ever-present threat of idle employees interrupting you with chitter-chatter about last night’s episode of Love Island.

Poor planning

If you head into each day without a care in the world, you’ll quickly become unstuck. Without a solidly thought-out to-do list and the correct approach to email consumption and diary planning, the hours you have available each day will quickly evaporate.

A bad set (or lack) of goals

What do you want to achieve tomorrow? Where do you want to be with Project XYZ in three weeks’ time?

If you don’t have clear goals set, how can you feel anything but the deeply unpleasant sensation of being overwhelmed? You can’t!

Similarly, if your goals are either unclear or completely unachievable (you’ll know, deep down, if that’s the case), you won’t last long.

Too many notifications

Think back to how many notifications you’ve received today. Was your phone constantly pinging you to the point of distraction? If so, you’re not doing yourself or your work any favours.

Notifications are important. If a loved one needs to chat or there’s a key date you need to be made aware of, they can be potential lifesavers. However, inane, pointless notifications will simply put you off course.

For instance – do you really need to be informed of every email that drops into your inbox?

Bad email management

Email isn’t a way to get hold of people quickly, and that’s why it’s something that shouldn’t dominate your day.

Think back to how many times you’ve checked your inbox today. If it happens every few minutes or even every hour, you’re spending time doing something which is best spent on more productive tasks.

Try and treat email like regular mail and check it only two or three times a day.

No to-do list

This one is super-simple. If you’re not operating a to-do list, you will quickly reach the point where you feel completely overwhelmed with the work you have to do.

man with to-do list.

How to combat the feeling of being overwhelmed

Now we’ve identified the many ways you can be distracted in modern-day life (and, to be honest, we’ve only scratched the surface above), let’s consider how you can combat the feeling of being overwhelmed. We’ve got six brilliant strategies for doing just that.

1. Don’t mess about; take action

It’s best not to bury your head in the sand throughout life. There’s nothing wrong with taking time out to be away from any issues you’re experiencing, but too much will only make the problem worse.

Good news: you’ve accepted you’re overwhelmed (if you haven’t, skip to tip 6). That means you can start to take action by continuing with this list of tips.

2. Practice deep breathing

Deep breathing is a tactic that has been around for many years. It’s a brilliant way to centre oneself, focus on what matters and remove complicated thoughts.

All you need is a few minutes each day to breathe deeply. And if you feel like you need some guidance, head to your smartphone’s app store – there are tonnes of apps out there to help you with this form of meditation.

3. Focus on what’s happening NOW

What happened yesterday and what might happen tomorrow really doesn’t matter. If you’re spending your time focusing on events past and possible eventualities, you’re avoiding focusing on what really matters: the present.

The more time you spend taking in your surroundings and current task, the more likely you are to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

4. Start focusing on completion – not multitasking

There’s nothing wrong with multitasking, but you need to do it properly. That means avoiding the temptation to pile multiple to-do items and projects on your desk without any thought for how on earth you’ll get them all done in time.

Try and focus on one task at a time and keep in mind completion of that task at all times. You’re not superhuman!

5. Change your working location for a while

You’d be surprised by how much of a difference a new working location makes to your productivity.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, your surroundings might be to blame. Up sticks and try somewhere else. The local coffee shop, home office or park on a sunny day might be all you need to rid your mind of overwhelming thoughts.

6. Accept that feeling overwhelmed is fine

This is the most important tip in this list.

If you feel overwhelmed, accept that it’s ok to feel that way. It’ doesn’t make you different to anyone else. In fact, it makes you just like every other human on this planet.

Like any challenge in life, accepting overwhelming thoughts is the first step to combating them.

Wrapping up

There’s no need for anyone to feel overwhelmed. If you follow our tips above and make sure they remain a consistent strategy throughout your working life, you’ll slowly start to see the wood for the trees and enjoy becoming super productive.

The best news? As you’ll hopefully have noted, it really isn’t rocket science; anyone can avoid feeling overwhelmed, no matter their age, skill set or the industry within which they work.

Don’t let work defeat you; become the master of your to-do list!