Ignoring the Background Noise When You Are Overwhelmed


Last week I was underwater.

I was neck-deep in a huge business project that took over all of my time.

How do you stay afloat when your work has you overwhelmed?

When You Are Overwhelmed

You may have noticed that I was a little quiet last week (on TMN and on Twitter). My time was completely dedicated to a business conference that I was in charge of organizing.

It was a large event that was planned by the client at the last moment. (Sound familiar?) A last-minute conference for over 215 people.

The planning, orchestration, and execution of this event monopolized my entire days (and nights) for the good portion of two weeks. I think one day I had to send over 500 individual coordination emails.

Needless to say, I didn’t have much time to do anything else.

Tuning Out the Noise

Have you found yourself in this situation like this? With a large and urgent project that took over your entire existence?

How did you deal with the feelings of overwhelm? And the stress of not getting your other priorities done?

Here are 5 tips for when you are dealing with a project that dominates your time:

  1. Tune Out the Noise – When you have a large urgent project, you need to tune out the noise of everything else that comes your way. You may be surprised how much of your day-to-day is background noise when you are forced to ignore it.
  2. Triage Your Tasks – You will need to triage you tasks. In other words, strictly rank them in order of importance. Those that are critical, those that important, and those that could be put off until later. Again, you may be shocked by how much that you normally do, that just doesn’t need to be done when push comes to shove.
  3. Be Deliberate About Which Things You Let Drop – When you are underwater, you are not going to be able to get everything done. However, it is important that you choose which things you let drop. Be deliberate in what you let fall by the wayside.
  4. Take Care of Yourself – After about 5 days of being overwhelmed, I found that I was physically exhausted. Make sure you take care of yourself so that you can continue to operate. That means getting enough sleep, eating right, and yes, even squeezing in some exercise.
  5. This Too Shall Pass – When the stress seems to be gnawing away at you, find solace in the fact that your project will eventually pass. (If not, you have other issues to look at…) Being organized will help you persevere during times of high workload.

Just the Essentials

When you can’t get everything done, you have to concentrate on the essentials.

There will be times when you will be overwhelmed by large projects.

Ensure that you push through to completion.

In the interim, make tough choices about what not to get done.

And of course, take care of yourself along the way.

Question: How do you deal when you are overwhelmed by a large project?

8 thoughts on “Ignoring the Background Noise When You Are Overwhelmed

  1. Craig this is great advice! My situations don’t seem quite as intense – I’ve never sent 500 emails a day in my life – but I’ve been feeling some of this for a bit now too! I’ve realized the difficult beauty of just saying, “This is good, but this will not help me reach my current goal” and just letting it go (kinda like points 1 and 3). I recently began the task triaging too, and it’s been helpful if even just for my organization – which affects my sanity! 🙂 Haha.

  2. I would add that whatever tasks you deliberately plan to drop you also proactively communicate that intention to those who need to know. While they might not be happy, if they are adults, they will appreciate the honesty and consideration.

  3. I might add – ask someone for help! Either with the major project or with the background things that you are stressed about dropping. Whether that means adding a couple tasks to your virtual assistant’s workload or even asking a friend to run that errand you need done, one less task is one less task. I agree with Dan about communication too – you might be surprised at what becomes less urgent once you talk it over.

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