“I’ve got too much work”, “I’m in over my head”… When the workload increases and the pace speeds up, it’s easy to quickly feel overwhelmed. These rush periods can be hard to manage and can have an impact on both our professional life (stress, exhaustion, and even burnout) and personal life (irritability, loss of self-confidence, social isolation).
So, how do you anticipate, manage, and learn from these rush periods? Here are 6 pieces of advice for getting your head above water and keeping it there!
1. Don’t dive in at the deep end!
So, your manager has announced a busy period, fast-approaching deadlines, and deliverables to produce within a short amount of time. Don’t just dive in without thinking, as you could end up wasting time and spreading yourself thin by getting stuck on unimportant matters. Give yourself some time to think and ask yourself some essential questions:
- What are the objectives of this new project (for the company, client, your colleagues)?
- Are you sure you have all the necessary information?
- What is particularly expected of you?
- What is your necessary level of involvement?
- Can you collaborate with anyone else from your team?
- What will be judged during this period?
- What will you get out of it: More responsibility, the possibility to manage a team, gain expertise, and more visibility within the company?
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2. Organize and plan ahead
As soon as you have your objectives in mind, it’s time to tackle the project.
- Start a to-do list: List each task in as much detail as possible. Don’t hesitate to break it down into micro tasks—this will give you a feeling of accomplishment and also stop you forgetting anything.
- Prioritize each action: To do this, use the Eisenhower Matrix as an example. Using the four quadrants of Do, Decide, Delegate, and Delete, put the most urgent and the most important in the top boxes; this will show you which ones need to be dealt with first and keep you from losing sight of the goal.
- For each action, set a deadline: Quantify the number of hours that each task will take, then think about breaking the day into blocks of half-days or even quarter-days. Buy stay realistic! Don’t plan two hours for a task that you know very well will need more time than that.
- Put everything in a reverse-planning schedule: At one glance, you’ll be able to see the project’s advancement day after day and identify any possible delays. Reverse planning is a good tool for communicating with your team or your manager. If you’re managing a team, be clear about the date for the end of the rush to avoid having your team lose motivation. To share this schedule with them and for better organization, use work management platforms such as Trello, Monday, or Asana.
3. Accept imperfection
Once you’ve figured out your schedule, you’ll realize certain actions might not get done perfectly within the given timeframe. But trying to accomplish everything perfectly could be a source of additional stress. Speak to your manager or your team to determine which tasks can be put off until later and what level of quality is expected for each of them.
Does work keep getting added? If it’s not urgent, assert yourself and refuse it. Learn to say “No!” This may be a difficult word to say, but it will allow you to set limits and protect yourself from being overworked. To do this, first imagine what saying yes would add to your workload. Then list the reasons for refusing. You’ll also see that saying no will allow you to assert yourself and show others that you are in complete control of your project.
During a rush period, we have a tendency to put on blinkers and just give our all to our work. But don’t forget that you’re part of an organization as well as a team! Don’t hesitate to speak with your manager and your colleagues—they can help you to both find priorities and come up with new ideas.
- Are you a manager? A rush period presents the chance to give your colleagues more responsibility and to have them participate in the “war effort.” Delegate actions based on each person’s skills. Identify the most essential tasks and keep them for yourself, delegating the secondary tasks to your team by trying to get the team members involved in the project.
- Do you have a boss? Great! A rush period is the chance to test your communication with them. Keep them up to date on progress and any problems, and let them know when things get too difficult. They’re also there to help and guide you.
- What’s happening at home? A heavy workload in the office can have an impact on your personal and emotional life (stress, fatigue, irritability, and so on), Yet even after a long day at work, sometimes a different kind of job begins: That of home-project manager. There is grocery shopping, housework, and laundry to do, all of which can be an extra source of stress. Multitasking between work, family, and your social life is called the “mental load.” So try to delegate as many tasks as you can to the people you live with. Talk to them about your current work situation—this will also help you to decompress and rationalize your stress.
5. Find your balance
Long days, late nights, work encroaching on your lunch breaks… Your personal life can quickly feel the impact of this rush period, so here are a few tips to help you survive:
- Stay physically active. The benefits of exercise during a stressful period are numerous. Firstly it positively affects your psyche, letting you think about something else and be in control of your body (and thus boost your confidence). And then there are the physical benefits, thanks to those famous endorphins, which are released after 30 minutes of physical activity. These “happiness hormones” reduce negative emotions as well as stress, and they fight off fatigue. No time for it in your schedule? Go home by foot, walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, stand up frequently and take a few steps.
- Take the time to relax during your day. Have you ever tried meditation? This increasingly popular practice reduces stress, anxiety, and the risk of depression. In fact, a study by Harvard researchers found that practicing meditation 30 minutes a day for eight weeks allowed the rebuilding of gray matter, the part of the brain that deals with memory, self-confidence, empathy, and stress management. Anyone can find 30 free minutes in a day!
- Try to eat a balanced diet. It’s tempting to have coffee and energy drinks during a rush period, but they can also make your stress worse. Try to limit fatty and sugary foods, which need more energy to digest and can make you sleepy, especially after lunch.
- Keep taking breaks, especially at lunch. They can help to reduce stress and relax, and thus be more productive. On top of that, it’s a sociable moment that plays an important role in team-building. And you end up walking and getting some air!
- Sleep! According to an OpinionWay poll carried out in 2016, 80% of workers felt tired during their workday, but only 26% take naps in their workplace. However, power naps in the office have numerous advantages: They help you avoid feeling sleepy and working inefficiently. Nasa has long been recommending them! A 1995 study carried out by the agency found that a micro nap (26 minutes exactly) can increase productivity by 34% and alertness by 54%. So there are as many advantages for the employee as for the employer. Not convinced? Know that napping makes you happy! According to researchers from Hertfordshire University, in the UK, people who took naps were happier (66%) than those who didn’t (60%). Here’s to “nappiness”!
6. Learn from this period
So you’ve managed to keep your head above water? Take a little time to learn some lessons from this period by asking yourself the following questions:
- What were the reasons for it? Was it due to delays? Bad team organization?
- What can you do to keep this from happening again? Or at least anticipate it?
- What did you learn about yourself? Your capabilities? Your limits? How could you have been more efficient? Or did you waste any time?
- What did you learn about your company? About how your team functions? Did anyone truly stand out?
After all is said and done, you can celebrate the end of this challenging period with your team or your friends and family. And then thank them for their support!
Translated by Kalin Linsberg
Photograph by WTTJ
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