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August 23, 2016

#MTtalk: Overworked and Overwhelmed

Yolande Conradie

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"When you wake in the morning and are afraid of the day it is time to find the love deep in your heart."

Tom Rhodes (@tomj_rhodes)

"So that's it then," I said out loud to the imaginary friend sitting next to me. "That's what I need to do when I wake up feeling afraid of the day. I need to give myself more love." And suddenly it all made sense...

Being overworked and feeling overwhelmed are the reality of many people's lives today. And self-love is often the last thing we practice when feeling overworked and overwhelmed.

But why are we so overworked, and does it only mean that we have too much work to do? Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that.

The word "overworked" can mean doing more work than you have the capacity for. It depends on the individual, though. A workload that makes you feel overworked will be the optimal amount for someone else.

"Overworked" can also mean constantly working long hours. Many of us go into our offices early and leave late because we have so much to do. And if that isn't enough, we take work home with us, too. Being connected can make us available for 24 hours a day. Taking work calls and responding to work emails at home has become the norm for many people.

But our "formal" work isn't the only work that we do. When we close the office door at night, we still need to take care of our families and to pay time and attention to our loved ones. We need to do household chores, find time to exercise, and do community or volunteer work.

Overworking will slowly but surely deplete your mental and physical energy reserves, and it may lead you to feel overwhelmed. But feeling overwhelmed is, to an extent, dependent on how you think about what you do – a combination of how much external pressure you feel and how much you pressure yourself to achieve. You may set unrealistic goals for yourself, procrastinate to start, and then bash yourself for being a "loser," only to set another unrealistic goal that makes you feel even more overwhelmed. Eventually, you wake up, afraid of the day.

During our last #MTtalk Twitter chat, held on Friday (August 19, 2016), we discussed the topic of being "Overworked and Overwhelmed." Some participants were clearly quite emotive about this issue. We saw a few common themes emerging from the responses, too.

Here are the questions we asked, and some answers from participants:

Questions About Being "Overworked and Overwhelmed"

Question 1: How could being overworked and feeling overwhelmed differ from one another?

@harrisonia: "Overworked" = having been assigned more than one's share of the load. "Overwhelmed" = the losing battle in personally managing the load.

This was one of our favorite responses:

@BrainBlenderTec: "Overworked" is burning the candle at both ends. "Overwhelmed" is not knowing which end to light.

Question 2: What does being overwhelmed actually feel like – physically, mentally, emotionally?

@SayItForwardNow: When we feel overwhelmed, it is as if everything is out-of-balance. We feel stressed, unsettled and a bit frantic.

@NootsCaboots: I feel very panicked. Not knowing where to start can be very stressful, and the worry tends to distract me even further.

From the responses, it was clear that nobody felt that they functioned optimally when they're overwhelmed. This response summed it up well:

@MicheleDD_MT: It's like running in quicksand.

Question 3: How does your behavior change when you feel overworked and overwhelmed?

@KyleKearnan: Being overwhelmed is the point where stress stops being helpful and starts causing damage to your mind/body.

@Melissa_Venable: When overworked, I get focused, prioritize, move quickly. Overwhelmed – all of those things, but the process is a little slower.

@ZalkaB: The focus you have is totally narrowed. Not yourself, irritated, lack of sleep, emotionally detached.

Question 4: What situations or activities make you feel overwhelmed?

@Lovemyproxy: Not being able to trust some of the vital systems we have to make our work run efficiently.

One of the common themes that emerged from this question was that multitasking isn't good for us.

@Singh_Vandana: Multitasking actually reduces our ability to focus and lowers the quality of work. Start "monotasking."

Question 5: How does connectivity/social media add to feeling overworked and overwhelmed?

@OrganicLeaderVB: Social media has to be a delicate balance. I use it solely to uplift and inspire… in turn, those in my Personal Learning Network do that for me.

@KrisGiere: When we allow it to become a responsibility or a demand it becomes overwhelming. It should be a support network – at least in part.

And then there's this: our fear of missing out (or FOMO)...

@harrisonia: Of course, being active on social media can lead to a fear of missing out and a need to catch up. It becomes a time management issue.

Question 6: What are the differences between internal and external pressure, and which one plays a bigger part?

@Dwyka_Consult: External pressure – external demands and expectations; sometimes our perception of demands/expectations.

@Midgie_MT: "Internal" are the expectations I place on myself to deliver something or do something – usually within a tight timeframe.

@ankitapoddar: External pressure has no power over you unless you give in. Internal pressure is what we do to ourselves.

Question 7: How can you prevent being overworked and overwhelmed turning into burnout?

@PramodDrSolanki: Develop clarity on what is important and engage only with important tasks. Meditate for focus and self-control. Say "no" when necessary.

@ShereesePubHlth: Use productivity. Plan workloads, use "mind dumping" techniques, and track sleep habits.

Question 8: How can you judge what's a reasonable workload (for the person setting the workload and for the person doing it)?

Judging what makes a reasonable workload seems to be difficult! We received some good tips, though:

@SAPTAonline: Even if you're optimistic, be realistic about what you can and can't do.

@jeremypmurphy: Take on one extra task at a time until you feel stretched, then relax. Watch your heart rate, insomnia and energy levels.

Question 9: How can you say "no" when you're feeling overworked or overwhelmed?

Of course it's about saying "yes" to the person and "no" to the task, but there's more:

@MikeBarzacchini: Sometimes, instead of saying "no," I negotiate: "not this, but that," offering alternative solutions, timelines, and resources.

@drcrystalmoore: Say "no" with confidence because you can't pour anything out of an empty cup.

Question 10: How can you reach out to a colleague who looks overworked or overwhelmed?

A common theme that emerged from the responses to this question was to listen to your colleague.

@Yolande_MT: Let the person know that you're there for them – unconditionally and without judgment.

The following response explains why it's important to listen to someone who may already be showing symptoms of burnout.

@MicheleDD_MT: People in burnout do not want advice. They want to be in control. Listening provides an opening for them.

Our Twitter poll this week:

I've been close to burnout or have suffered from burnout in the past: Yes or No. Please click on the link and cast your vote.

Twitter Poll: Overworked and Overwhelmed

Next Time, on #MTtalk...

If you think the world owes you something, you'll expect to get it without wanting to put in much effort. Entitlement is a greedy master, though: when one demand is fulfilled the next will surface. Empowerment, on the other hand, helps you to carve out a better future for yourself and will give you more control of your career and life.

The topic on September 2 is "Empowerment vs Entitlement." As always, it will take place at 1 p.m. EST (5 p.m. GMT). We’d love you to join us on Twitter to share your thoughts and ideas.

To participate in the chat, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on "All Tweets" and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. To join the conversation, simply include #MTtalk in your tweet and it will show up in the chat feed.


In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about being overworked and overwhelmed, have a look at the following resources:

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4 comments on “#MTtalk: Overworked and Overwhelmed”

  1. Love the mind picture of burning a candle on both ends but not knowing which side to light! Oh dear. That sounds so like me. And yes, I can relate to not functioning optimally when I feel overwhelmed. When I'm overworked only I see to find the energy to cope, but when I'm overwhelmed I need to navigate carefully. Is it just me...?

  2. Rebel, I hear you and can well relate! When we are in that overwhelm place, we do not think as clearly as we normally do and our decisions may be somewhat 'off'! So, always worth treading very carefully when making decisions during that time!

    Wayne, I agree, nothing is worth it. If you do not have your physical/emotional health, how can you do anything else effectively?

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