As I went from one meeting to the next with a client the other day, he told me, "I came back from vacation feeling all zen. I had a great break. I read some good books, reflected on the last year, and really enjoyed the time with my family. We're halfway through my second day back and I already feel the pace picking up and stress creeping back in."
I can relate. Can you? Time away from work is frequently exactly what we need, but the peace and perspective gained can be short-lived once we come back to the office. Meetings, deadlines, email, upset clients, and frustrated staff can accumulate into a messy heap even before lunch. We quickly go from feeling in control to reactive mode -- just bracing for the next demand to hit. Existing in this cycle of stress and relaxation doesn't seem desirable or sustainable over a career.
So, what can you do? I was asking myself this question one day as the frantic busyness cycle started to pick up and I was feeling overwhelmed. I read Jessica Stillman's advice on trying an anti-busyness ritual and challenged myself to try this simple approach in my video series, Just One Thing.
First, I had to come up with a personal anti-busyness ritual. In the article, Jessica shares an example of stretching and telling yourself, "I have plenty of time." Not feeling particularly creative in the moment, this tactic seemed fine to me, so I adopted the same one -- head and neck stretches coupled with the little calming mantra.
Here's what happened when I tried this technique for a day. Like many of my previous focus and meditation efforts, I'd forget to do it until I was pretty far down the road of feeling stressed. My typical response to this feeling of overwhelm is to pull up my to-do list and add more things to it out of some fear of forgetting whatever is on my mind at the moment and letting this critical item fall through the cracks. This obsessive list checking and updating became a signal that I was feeling overwhelmed. So, when I felt the urge to pull out my list, I'd do the stretching ritual and mantra first. I realized right away that just recognizing when I'm starting to feel overwhelmed is a win. And, I have to say, as simple as it sounds, telling myself that I had plenty of time was helpful.
Will this work for you? If you often feel overwhelmed, I'd strongly suggest giving it a try and here's why: Feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do becomes another thing to do. It sucks time and energy away from other productive efforts and puts you farther behind. Some constructive action is needed to keep yourself on track -- even if that's just making incremental progress on your most important task. Otherwise, you'll get sucked into a downward spiral that can include a lot of negative self-talk. This is terribly unproductive.
Feeling overwhelmed at work is common, and is the direct result of the pace and pressures coming from outside ourselves (our boss, clients, staff, etc.) and those coming from inside (our aspirations, goals, dreams, etc). Existing in a perpetual state of busyness isn't sustainable or productive. If this is you, you need a way to break out of that cycle and get focused and productive again. Creating an anti-busyness ritual can be one simple and effective way to snap out of it and get back on task.