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Overwhelmed? 7 Ways to Be Productive Anyway

Feel overwhelmed at work?

It happens to all of us sometimes.

Ironically, having too much to do can easily sap you of your motivation to do much of anything.

Here are some tips you can use to stay productive, even when it feels like you have far too much to do:

1. Choose the 3 Most Important Things—Then Delegate or Postpone Everything Else

Take a long look at your to-do list.

Does everything there truly have to get done today?

Usually, there are lots of things on your list that you badly want to get done, but that could stand to wait a day or two.

Go through your list, pick the top three things you have to do, then work only on those tasks.

If you get them done, you can go back to your longer list and work on other items.

2. Don’t Multitask

Multi-tasking is almost always less efficient than working on a single task at a time.

Except for automatic tasks like walking or chewing gum, your brain only has enough energy to focus on one thing at a time.

When you try to do two things at a time, you’re not actually doing two things at once. Instead, you’re switching back and forth, entering each task for only a few seconds.

The research on this is pretty clear. Multi-tasking well is a myth.

No matter how many items are on your to-do list, it’s better to attack one task at a time—and block out everything else.

3. Be Uninterruptible

A University of California Irvine study found it took an average of 23 minutes for knowledge workers to get back on track after an interruption.

That’s why it’s so important to shield yourself from distractions, especially if you already feel overwhelmed.

Remember to mute or turn off desktop, browser, and mobile notifications for a few hours.

If all else fails, tape a sign on the back of your chair to ward off intruders:



4. Put Tasks on a Calendar

Be realistic about how many hours you have in your day.

Take your top tasks and put them on your calendar, just like you do with meetings and appointments.

Then stick to your calendar, no matter what.

This will give you a realistic view of what you have to get done. And with practice, you’ll get a better sense of how long your tasks actually take.

5. Say “No”

Protect your time and energy.

When you’re overwhelmed, say “no” to every request you can.

Be polite, but be firm.

If you struggle with this, here are some easy phrases you can use to decline requests:

6. Unplug Every 90 Minutes or So

Short breaks can recharge your ability to focus.

A University of Illinois study found performance and attention dropped noticeably after focusing on a single task for a long time, but a small break can help you refocus.

Try to unplug every 90 minutes or so.

Get up and stretch your muscles. Or take a 10-minute walk around the building. Going with a friend is even better since you’ll get a little social interaction along the way.

7. Ask for Help

It’s okay to ask for help.

If you’ve prioritized, scheduled, and focused, but you still have far too much to do, it’s time to ask a boss, co-worker, or friend for help.

Your supervisor, in particular, needs to know if you’re falling behind.

Most supervisors genuinely want to help. And they might have access to resources you aren’t aware of.

At the very least, they should be able to help you decide what tasks are truly important— and which ones can wait.

Bonus Tip: Set Up Systems to Make Life Easier

When you’re already stressed out, losing 10 minutes searching your inbox for a client email can be maddening. Same thing if you’re trying to find the latest version of a file saved somewhere in your cloud storage.

Before things get overwhelming, put some systems in place to help you stay organized.

Make some time to set up a workflow system that make life easier. For example: automatically backup all your cloud storage files, so that you know they’ll be there when you need them.

The next time things get crazy, you’ll be glad you organized a plan.


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