I’m Overwhelmed

In our latest leadership report, we discuss the challenges of overwhelm in our second challenge facing leaders today, “I’m Overwhelmed.”

No one is coming to save you…

Since I began coaching leaders almost 15 years ago, there are many things about the world of work that have changed – but a few that have stayed consistently the same. The most notable one is the never-ending complaint of “I just don’t have enough time to get to all the things I need to do”. Overwhelmed leaders are not a new phenomenon, and unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a silver bullet solution on the horizon.

The impact of overwhelm isn’t simply unfinished tasks and burnt-out leaders, although both of those things are certainly true and important. The less visible impacts we see in the leaders we coach at The Roundtable include: chronic stress, inability to focus, guilt over unmet expectations, imposter syndrome (everyone else seems to have it figured out), inability to provide direction to their team and disengagement. Leaders often feel very alone in navigating a never-ending priority list that they feel handcuffed to.

While there is no cure-all for overwhelm, here are some Do’s and Don’ts that have emerged from conversations with the leaders we coach.

Don’t

  • Wake up earlier to add more hours to your workday. Rest is critical to productivity and effectiveness. Working longer does not necessarily mean you will get more work done.
  • Wait for things to get better. No one is coming to save you. Work isn’t going to slow down. You need to take intentional action to lift the weight of the work you’re under.
  • Focus on what you haven’t accomplished yet. With never-ending to-do lists, it is easy to focus on the always growing number of unchecked items. Reflect daily on what you have accomplished as a bit of fuel to keep you going.

Do:

  • Declare what is not getting done. Make your leader and your team aware of how you are prioritizing work and the trade-offs you are making. Sometimes the process of declaring what is possible and what is not, enables better prioritization and allows things to move off your to-do list for good.
  • Ask for help and delegate. In a recent coaching conversation, a leader was lamenting over an important item on her to-do list that was being blatantly ignored. The leader was stressed because she knew other people were waiting on her. When asked who could help, and she realized that the work didn’t actually need to start with her. High empathy leaders often involve themselves more than they need to in order to ease the burden on others. Not only does this put more pressure on them it may also hinder the development of those below them who are eager to step up.
  • Consider your strengths, and weaknesses. We are most efficient at the work that we are good at AND love to do. Pay attention to the tasks that take you a long time, lead to distraction, procrastination, or frustration. (You know that item on your checklist that never seems to get done?) These tasks are likely not your strengths and are a good way to prioritize what you might be able to delegate. Who can do these better/faster?
  • Slow down to speed up. Chronic stress can leave us in a state of hyper-vigilance. Rather than approaching every activity in a state of hurried panic, take a few minutes to pause, consider what you need to achieve and the best way to get it done. While slowing down may feel like ‘wasting time’ in the short-term the extra thinking time will actually help you plan a better approach.
  • Tag your tasks to bigger priorities. Remember that matching game from childhood where you had to match the items on the left side with the correct partner on the right side? Try this with your daily tasks. If a task doesn’t match up to a broader priority, reconsider why it is on your to-do list in the first place.

Most importantly, remember you are not in this alone. Rather than viewing your priorities as boulders you need to single-handedly push up hill alone, remind yourself of what they really are –  team goals that require collective effort.  Your job as a leader is to plan for how to accomplish these goals, not to achieve each one on your own.  Talk to your leader, your team and your peers about what is on your plate and engage them as you prioritize and delegate.

If you’re feeling weighted down by everything on your leadership plate, let’s chat. And, to read about the other trends we are seeing in leadership, download our 2024 Leadership Trends Report.

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