Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #79 Navigating Overwhelm: From Chaos to Clarity

February 29, 2024 Jean Balfour Season 3 Episode 79
Ep. #79 Navigating Overwhelm: From Chaos to Clarity
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
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Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #79 Navigating Overwhelm: From Chaos to Clarity
Feb 29, 2024 Season 3 Episode 79
Jean Balfour

I'd love to hear any questions or comments you have about the show. Send me a message! Jean

In today’s episode, Jean Balfour shares her own experiences of feeling overwhelmed, and  shares insights on identifying, understanding, and overcoming the chaos that comes with being overwhelmed. 

From uncovering the root causes to implementing practical strategies, we'll embark on a journey towards reclaiming energy and joy in our daily work. Tune in for tips, stories, and inspiration to navigate the feeling of overwhelm and emerge stronger in your everyday and work life!

You can download the guidebook here: https://baileybalfour.com/10-root-causes-of-feeling-overwhelmed/

Sign up to Jean's blog here : https://jeanbalfour.substack.com/

Experience an Introduction to our Coach Training Programmes with our Free Taster Course: https://courses.baileybalfour.com/course/coach-training-introduction

Sign up to our newsletter to learn more about upcoming programmes: https://baileybalfour.com/subscribe/

Show Notes Transcript

I'd love to hear any questions or comments you have about the show. Send me a message! Jean

In today’s episode, Jean Balfour shares her own experiences of feeling overwhelmed, and  shares insights on identifying, understanding, and overcoming the chaos that comes with being overwhelmed. 

From uncovering the root causes to implementing practical strategies, we'll embark on a journey towards reclaiming energy and joy in our daily work. Tune in for tips, stories, and inspiration to navigate the feeling of overwhelm and emerge stronger in your everyday and work life!

You can download the guidebook here: https://baileybalfour.com/10-root-causes-of-feeling-overwhelmed/

Sign up to Jean's blog here : https://jeanbalfour.substack.com/

Experience an Introduction to our Coach Training Programmes with our Free Taster Course: https://courses.baileybalfour.com/course/coach-training-introduction

Sign up to our newsletter to learn more about upcoming programmes: https://baileybalfour.com/subscribe/

Hi and welcome to Making Sense of Work. I'm wondering what your experience has been of feeling overwhelmed. I've seemed to have met many people recently who are feeling like this and I too have had an experience of it. And because of that I've been really thinking about it. I think often we think being overwhelmed has a simplified cause We've got too much to do, and I think it has a lot more contributing factors to it, and it's a bit more complex. And I also believe that if we can understand that, it might be easier to find a route out. And so in this episode, I'm going to share a bit of my own experience and also some of the thinking that I've done around overwhelm, and I'm then going to share some ideas. I have for how we can move out of it, how we can move through to energy and enjoyment. I've created a guide on this to support the podcast, and you can download this by going to a link in the show notes, or you could go to my new blog, which you can find at jeanbelfort. substack. Let me dive in. I, as I said, have recently emerged from a period of feeling really completely overwhelmed with work. It had been going on for a while and building, building towards the end of 2023 and I hoped that the year end break would help me recover. Unfortunately, it didn't. We weren't doing what we planned over the holidays and there was some rest, but it wasn't quite the break. I hoped for and I know that I've spoken to quite a few people in January who also came back from that over the new year period feeling quite similar that they weren't as refreshed as they really hoped they would be. So we come into the new year and then many of us including me got sick and in my case by the time I came to mid to late January I was about four weeks behind in my work. And the overwhelm was really much worse. And I found myself at this point talking a bit about burnout, but I knew at some level this wasn't quite right. I didn't think I was burnt out. My hours of work were a bit above normal, but not extremely so. I was not worried about work, but I wasn't in a good state and I was struggling to kind of think through what was happening. I know burnout, I've been there before, so I wasn't sure that this was what it was. I also knew that I was in trouble because I'm pretty good at self management strategies and these were all in place. Um, Taking breaks for the weekend, meditation, journaling, massage, talking, long walks, therapy, all in place, and still I'm not feeling great. So I decided to have a good look at the cause and see if I could find a solution. I knew that taking time off wasn't going to solve the problem because there was something going on at work that I needed to resolve. Over the past couple of weeks, I have begun to emerge from this period and I'm feeling a whole lot better. And because of that process of emerging out of it, I could begin to see what was happening and I could see where the learning was from this experience. And so that's what I'm going to take in to today's podcast really is, is what was it that was causing it for me? And what am I seeing that's causing it for other people? And then how can we resolve it? So, in my case, I knew that there were some things that were contributing to it. We've been without an administrator in the team for a couple of months, and my amazing team have really stepped in to help, but it's impacted all of us, not just me, and I could see that because of this, I was doing a lot of work that is operational and I'm not a natural operational worker and I wasn't doing enough work that was kind of feeding me. I was seeing my coaching clients and I'd come out of coaching sessions feeling a real sense of alignment and being in the right place. I was in the sessions feeling very present and very alive. And I noticed other things, like really a bit strangely working on the podcast, even though it involves a lot of thought, I noticed that was feeding me and leaving me in a good place. I often write the podcast on a Sunday, and yet I really enjoy it. I look forward to sitting down and thinking about it. So there were clues in what was feeding me, but also clues that there were a lot of things that I was doing in the operational side that were draining me and probably. Too much of an imbalance of the work that was draining me because I'm seeing that I think many people are feeling overwhelmed at the moment. I think it's easy to suggest in that as it was partly in my case, that it's because we have too much to do, but I think there are a lot more causes, as I've said, that could be at the bottom of it. And also, overwhelm shows up as different things. And so because I was curious about that and I took some time to look at what was causing my feelings, I started to see lots of examples of overwhelm and I started to see different causes. So I'm going to share what I think might be contributing to our overwhelm. So first of all, the obvious one, of course, is it's simply that we've got too much to do. And I think most people are pretty good at time management and those strategies are failing. And also if, like me, you had all your personal strategies in place and those are still not working. So the obvious one is we've got too much to do. But let's go and look at what the others are. It could be that we have too much challenge in our role. This might be either a challenge in the type of work we're doing. Or challenge with the people we're working with, feeling like we have to debate and defend ourselves and what's going on. Maybe we're in a new role and we're just overwhelmed by the amount of learning and the dealing with new topics and new areas. I've spoken to two or three people recently who are experiencing this. We might be overwhelmed by having too many ideas or being on the receiving end of others good ideas. This is a really big one for me, and I noticed this. I could be doing 15 different projects at any given time, and then I'll have 15 other ideas for different things I can do. I get excited, then I get overwhelmed. I don't know where to start, and I don't do any of them. Or I just end up metaphorically pushing paper around my desk. We of course can be overwhelmed by our emotions, and that can be impacting our feeling of overwhelm at work. It might be something's happening in our personal lives that's impacting us, or it could be that there's some relationships at work that aren't going well, and then we're flooded with emotion. And then that begins to feel like we're overwhelmed by work, but actually what might be happening is that we're actually overwhelmed. overwhelmed by emotion. The problem with this one is that particularly at work, we often try to ignore it, get on with the work, and then wonder why work is feeling so hard and why we can't get on top of things. It could be a feeling of being out of depth. So this is about not feeling quite as competent as we feel we ought to be. Maybe we feel like we're catching up on our learning, we're working on a stretch assignment. And the challenge for this one is that we start to feel we're not good enough and then imposter syndrome can start to creep in. It can come from too many different types of work. So this is my example, I think. Mainly this is the cause that I Have got a variety of things going on so I can be working on a writing project and then something happens and I'm in my emails or I just look at my emails and then I'm distracted by some operational work and then I'm coaching and then I'm back to some creative work so I'm. Jumping around between things and we know from the current research on focus that this is causing us a problem every time we're doing two different things. Every time we move from one task to another task, it takes us time to go back to the other task and that can leave us feeling both unproductive and overwhelmed. There's another one that's, um, pretty particular, which is about having lots of unfinished things. So we've got lots of things that we're working on and we're not getting enough closure. Some of you will be familiar with the idea of Gestalt. It's a psychotherapeutic approach, which I've personally benefited from enormously. And we teach a bit of this on our coaching program. One of the core concepts in Gestalt is the cycle of experience. And this is the idea that when we become aware of something, or we start something, and we don't finish it, we don't move it through to completion, it stays open, and it kind of stays front of mind, and it can end up a bit nagging for us. So if we've got 10 projects that we're working on that are not moving to completion, That can also leave us feeling overwhelmed. Of course, not taking enough breaks can contribute to it. If you're stuck at the computer for hours, um, we were seeing increasing research that this is stopping us thinking clearly. And I'm, I'm going to do a podcast on this, uh, in a few weeks. So we end up pushing equivalent of pushing paper around our desk. Uh, for me, this involves. Opening my email thinking, Oh, I can't deal with that now. And then I close it again. And of course that means I'm not dealing with it. So I'm not finishing it and it hangs around. So, um, we've got that going on and then we don't take breaks. And so taking regular breaks during the day, stepping away from the computer, looking out the window, taking longer breaks, making sure we're trying not to work in the weekends and things like that, really critical because if we're not doing that, we can feel overwhelmed. And then the final one that I've got here, although I'm sure you can think of other things, is working with lots of interruptions. And so if we're in a position where we're doing something, then we get interrupted, then we have to come back to it. It can disturb our concentration, lead to us feeling that we're not getting enough done, and that can lead to overwhelm. So you can see there's so many things, and I know I haven't got them all here. That can be contributing to our sense of overwhelm and not feeling like we're handling things, not feeling like we're getting enough done. And if you're feeling overwhelmed, I suggest you take some time to think about this list and you can access it, as I said, via the link in the show notes, or just take your journal and. Journal and say, okay, I noticed that I'm feeling overwhelmed. What is going on and just keep saying what else is going on? What else is going on? See if you can get to the bottom of it because once you get to the bottom of it, understand the cause then there will be good ideas. that you will have on how to resolve it. I'm going to share some ideas here, but your ideas will be the best. So here are my ideas. Well, the first one is find something to complete. Take a look at all of your unfinished work and get something done. There's some suggestion that this gives us a dopamine hit. And so it's good for us in our whole system. So find something that you could complete, get off your desk. Block a couple of hours of uninterrupted time and get it finished. Do some work on learning what feeds you and what drains you. This is the example that I've talked about. I mean, I know that for some people working on a detailed spreadsheet is deeply rewarding and for others it's creating a podcast. For me, creating the podcast is really something that feeds me a lot. This is so personal and also it changes over time. So I find myself being more energized by more sort of introverted activities as I get older. When I was in my twenties, I needed to be with people all the time. So spend some time thinking about what's. energizing me at work and what's depleting me at work and see if you can put more of the things that are energizing you into bits of your day. Prioritize that work if you possibly can. The third thing is to think about who you're working with and are there people who are Helping or hindering your recovery. Are you with the energy givers or the energy drainers? And we can't control all of this, of course, but seek to have some time with the energizers go and have coffee with somebody who, you know, helps you smile or somebody who helps you think clearly about a piece of work that you're working on. Find those people who are going to help you have that injection of energy. I've talked about time blocking in pod in another podcast in episode 47, and this is a strategy that I personally find really helpful. So what that means is I block time for certain activities. That time is religiously there. I turn off devices and I focus. In fact, in my case, I sometimes work at a different place when I'm time blocking, I move to a different, uh, part of the office or the apartment. to work. So this can include time blocking to deal with your inbox, because our inboxes can be a cause of overwhelm. It can be saying, okay, I'm going to do an hour. I'm not going to allow myself to be distracted. I'm turning off my instant message and I'm going to get through my inbox because I'm going to feel a lot better when I've cleared some of it out. Uh, and that will make it easier or your time block to work on a deep work project or, uh, time block to have time with the team, but setting aside time blocks and planning those in advance can be really powerful. Another strategy is to sit with our emotions. Now, when we're feeling overwhelmed, this often is the last thing we want to do. We don't want to be sitting with that. What I'm feeling, but the thing about that is that not sitting with your feelings can be contributing to the overwhelm. There's something about, um, be conscious of feelings being helpful, but when they're unconscious, they're impacting us and we're not able to do anything about them. So conscious feelings. are good feelings. So this might be that you sit down with your journal and you say, or with a colleague or a friend, and you just say, okay, so I'm feeling overwhelmed. I do feel like there's something emotional going on. Can I just talk to you about it? And just start to think about what might be causing this emotional piece that's stopping me from being effective, that's leading me to being overwhelmed. Another area is to do something creative. There's a really lovely growing piece of research emerging about how engaging with our creative brain is an anxiety reliever. And I think overwhelm is often connected to anxiety. Now, engaging with your creative brain is also a very personal thing. So you need to know and think about. What is it that leads me to feeling creative, to feeling thoughtful? Maybe I'm thinking ideas up, uh, maybe I'm generating new things. What is it that? That for me feels creative and now the way of thinking about this is to think about the idea of glimmers, um, glimmers of this, uh, the idea that's an opposite of a trigger. So a trigger triggers us into something kind of negative, but glimmers trigger us into something positive. They brighten us. They help us to smile. It might be looking at a photo of your kids. Uh, for me, it's always jazz putting some music on really shifts me, but something that's going to move your brain into a creative state. Taking some small steps may also help. Step back, have a look at what's going on, see if there's a couple of small actions that you can take to help you move out. And you can do one or two a day and just track progress on them. Make sure that you're seeing the progress, because sometimes it's hard to track that, but see how that's moving forward. And another strategy is connected to that, that you can actually also track progress. On how on your feeling of overwhelm. So usually overwhelm is happening over a longer period of time. And when you start to put strategies in place to improve, start to just check in with your self and do maybe a scaling of one to ten with one being I'm really flooded. And I need to lie down and 10 being I'm on top of everything and write your number down, check in two or three times a day. And if your number is going in the right direction, so to being on top of things, then work out what are you doing that's contributing to that? If it's going in the wrong direction, if you're feeling more overwhelmed, what are the contributing factors that are leading to that? And, um, and they can be. Any of the things that we talked about earlier. Last couple of things. One is to think about the environment that you're working in. Is there anything that's contributing to it? Do you need to get away from the office or home distractions? Is your desk a mess? I know that when I clear my desk, something magically happens and I become more productive. Are there other things you can do with your environment? Can you move so you can see more out a window? Maybe you can light a candle, maybe music on, maybe you can make sure your coffee is a regular resource. And then the last one is in something that came to me from the book, The One Thing by Gary Keller. And this book had a really big impact on me. It, in the book, he asked the question, what's the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will become easier or unnecessary. I love this question, what's the one thing I can do? And seven years ago, I asked myself this question when I was in a period of overwhelm and it ended up with me stopping a few projects and focusing completely on our, on designing and launching our accredited coaching programs, which, uh, had a big impact on, on my life and other people's lives. Asking this question, what's the one thing? Maybe the one thing I can do in this moment that by doing this everything else will be easier. Of course, these are my things and you will have other ideas about what you can do to get out of it. But believing that you can get out of it is really key. We can move out of overwhelm. We don't have to stay there. And maybe in this process, as you go through that, you'll realize that you are overwhelmed is because your job is unsustainable, out of control. And then you can also look at that and make some decisions around that. So what happened to me? Well, I thought the presenting issue was all the admin. And I think that probably what it was, but then something else emerged and I saw that I had a lot of kind of overwhelmed with worrying about things in the business and worrying about things being done and things being done right. And then I realized that for ages I'd been talking about. the fact that we needed better standard operating procedures. And I take full responsibility for this. Creating SOPs is not my favorite pastime, but the lack of them was creating a lot of challenge for all of us. And so I made a decision to drop everything and, uh, to, for me and the team to create our standard operating procedures. And in the process, we sorted out a whole lot of stuff. And I think we all felt better. We all felt clearer. And so in this case, some of the resolution to the overwhelm was creating order, was creating process, was doing things that I don't like in order to come out the other side of what helped. And it helped all of us. It wasn't just me. It helped create a lot of clarity in the team. And I'm really grateful to everyone for helping me with that. And in that process, I also made a decision to prioritize more time for the things that I love to do. To write, to create the podcast, to stare out the window a bit. And, um, I'm going to, as I said, do a podcast a little bit later on how staring out the window can help us. If you're feeling overwhelmed, or even if you aren't particularly, I really encourage you to spend some time Thinking about what helps you to be at your best and what might stop you, what might lead you into the sense of overwhelm and put some strategies and find some solutions that will help you and help you to move forward to feeling good at work, to feeling more energetic and happy.