Yes You CAN Manage an Unmanageable Workload – Five Steps to Creating Calm in the Chaos

Dealing with an Unmanageable Workload

We all know that organization is a key component of managing a heavy workload and chaotic life at work. As a great employee, maybe you’ve already covered the basics – organizing your files, organizing your computer, creating goals and prioritizing your to-do lists, etc.  If not, start with a good book on organizing like The One Thing.  

In this article, we are going to look at a few ways to organize that are a bit out of the box.

When clutter accumulates in our brains, on our desks, in our emails, and in our lives, our attention and ability to be productive goes downhill fast and we become overwhelmed.  It becomes an endless loop.  The more overwhelmed you become, the less organized you become, the more overwhelmed you become.  When your brain, time, and workspace are organized, it becomes easier to streamline both your thoughts and actions.

Option 1: A Date to Take Inventory. How organized are you REALLY? 

It’s been a crazy week and the last thing you want to do is stay late on a Friday, but let’s make it a date just this once.  Bring some chocolate, some flowers for yourself, your favorite music, treat yourself to a date night at work.  Take this time to reflect on the week, what tasks you completed, what you didn’t complete, and how organized or chaotic your desk is.  Can you remember a time you had to go looking for something?  How many meetings did you have?  How many times you were at the copier? What does your calendar look like? Your inbox? Take it all in. 

Look at the desks around you, are they neat and tidy or a crazy pile of chaos?  Think about the interactions you had with coworkers this week.  Are you constantly interrupting each other with questions, gossiping or whining?  Do they constantly ask for help with their projects?  Do you ask for help with yours? 

Take an honest inventory.  No need to make any changes right now.  No need to clean your desk or clean out your inbox right now.  Just relax and be the observer of your week.  Just becoming aware of where you’re starting, will create the space for change.  It might feel like you’ve done nothing, but come Monday you will remember this inventory and subconsciously start making some adjustments to create more time and efficiency in your day.

Option 2:  Don’t Fall for The Myth of Multitasking. 

While you may believe it’s one of your special superpowers, it’s simply not true.  Stanford researchers found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time.  Studies also showed that in addition to slowing you down and killing performance, multitasking lowers IQ and may even damage your brain.

Trying to do two or more things at once releases the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which can impact your cognitive abilities.   Can you say brain fog?  The next time you’re writing your boss a quick email while working on a project and eating lunch, with the added stress and brain fog caused by your “superpower,” you might as well let an 8-year-old write that email.

Focus on one task at a time and you will increase your productivity, which will help you manage that workload more effectively and efficiently. 

Option 3:  Time Block Things You Do Regularly

The concept is simple – create a schedule to set aside time each day for tasks you do on a regular basis. Keep these tasks within the scheduled time to prevent multitasking. 

  • Schedule 10 minutes at the beginning of your day to gather your thoughts and organize your day.
  • Schedule three 15-minute email sessions for the day. Morning, before or after lunch, and near the end of your day.  Stick to the schedule!  Most emails can wait a few hours for a response.  However, you can also let people know that to be more efficient with your time at work you only check email at (specific times), and if they have an issue that cannot wait, they can call you.
  • Schedule 15 minutes at the end of every day to review, clean & organize files, desk, priorities, and accomplishments.
  • Can you think of any others?

Option 4: Take HOURLY Breaks

Did you know that the brain can only maintain focus for about 45 minutes before it begins to lose steam? At that 45-minute mark, the brain has trouble retaining information, organizing thoughts as effectively, being creative, and solving problems.  It is a wise practice to work diligently for 45 minutes and then take a break. A REAL break!! 

Breaks consist of leaving the work area to go outside, talk to a friend on the phone, or get a healthy snack. Taking a break does not mean checking one’s email or LinkedIn account. A break is considered something that takes you out of the workplace and into a more relaxed state.  It is especially beneficial to find a way to allow the brain to daydream during these regular breaks – coloring and doodling are fun. These simple activities give our brains a boost which leads to higher productivity.

Option 5:  Map Out Milestones & Ask for Help

When you are handed a project one of your first tasks is to map it out.   Even the “easy” projects.  While This entails working the project backward to determine the steps it will take to complete it.  In the process it is helpful to create specific, timed milestones. This will provide you with vision, action items, a timeline, and a way to prioritize the steps. 

What this also provides is a tool you can use to ask for help.  Let’s say your manager gives you a project and a crazy deadline.  With a simple milestone map, you can see that it will take an extra day to complete the project and exactly where you could use an extra hand to complete it on time.  Instead of carrying the burden alone, missing the deadline and disappointing (aggravating) your manager, taking this information to your manager is a much more effective way to prevent frustration all around.

CONCLUSION:  Feeling overwhelmed by your workload is one of the fastest ways to become emotionally and physically exhausted.  Taking control of the chaos can relieve some of the burden, prevent a lot of stress, and actually help you get ahead of the curve. 


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