We've all felt it in one form or another.we are just overwhelmed. "Too much to do and not enough time! Too many things to do at once! The job is just more than I can handle!"
Sound familiar? Probably. Recognize, however, that there are three separate kinds of overwhelm to consider. Overwhelm is not overwhelm is not overwhelm. When you or one of your direct reports experience overwhelm, remember that this is a symptom. And just like the physician who treats only the symptom, if you don't find the source of the problem you are highly likely to return to this distressed state very soon.
In its simplest form, overwhelm occurs because there are too many things to do and not enough time. The source of this problem is most likely one of failing to acknowledge and follow priorities. So stop (a critical first step) and make a list of everything that needs to be done. Actually write it down. Then think through the priorities at work here. What is REALLY important on this list, as opposed to what you would most prefer to work on? Preferences do not always equal priorities. Look for tasks, activities, or projects that are time bounded (i.e., have a deadline). If there is a high sense of urgency to get an item completed, it probably (though not always) deserves a place near the top of the list. Review the list and be brutally honest: Which items are most important (as opposed to most urgent)? Rank order them being sure to note when they are due. Then get into action, addressing the top priority first. For so many of us, overwhelm is easily overcome once we develop our action plan and then get into action.
And one more thing: if you have lots of things due in a short period of time, be sure to allow yourself extra time to get things done. Under promise and over deliver, even to yourself. That means if you think it will take three hours to complete something, allocate 50% more time. "Stuff" happens so build in time to absorb that "stuff" or make up for a mistaken projection of time required.
Too many things to do may be an indication of a different sort of problem, like your inability to say "No" when someone asks you to take something on. Or the misallocation of your most precious resource.time. Get to the source of the problem as overwhelm doesn't result simply because of the confluence of events. Do you need a way to say "No" when you are likely to say "Yes"? Do you accept assignments because you just couldn't say "No"? Then practice saying "no." Sounds silly doesn't it? But try it. When someone asks you to do something, politely decline. You can always change your mind once they plead their case, but you will experience the act of saying "no" and will quickly discover that it isn't so bad. Saying "no" first also gives you time to think about what you are being asked to do in light of existing priorities. You serve no one well (yourself or others) when you make the choice and commit to doing more things than you have the time to do. Just say "No."
The final and most serious form of overwhelm to recognize is when you or someone who works for you is so overwhelmed they cannot perform effectively. Seek the source of the problem, try the strategies outlined above, but if the symptoms persist, you may be dealing with a poor match of the person to the requirements of the job. How many times have we dismissed people because they were a "poor fit"? Ultimately the source of this problem is you, the hiring manager. A person is selected who does not have the technical or behavioral skills the job requires. And that is the problem of the hiring manager.
The immediate issue is resolving the performance problem. If performance can be improved through skills development and other forms of close support, then make that a priority. If poor fit is the true source of the performance problem, it is time to make a change. Don't delay it. Handle the situation professionally, but move that person out. It will most likely be a great relief to the person who is overwhelmed and ill equipped to carry out the job. Then review and revise your selection process so you don't make the same mistake again. In other words, resolve the root cause of the problem.
Copyright © 2004 by Richard B. Maxwell III
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Maxwell & Associates
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