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Summary:

I recently had a day started like any other weekday, apart from a little light rain. It ended with an overflowing inbox of client requests and a that awful feeling of being overwhelmed. I spent the morning on a Windows 7 article that I needed to finish. […]

LightningI recently had a day started like any other weekday, apart from a little light rain. It ended with an overflowing inbox of client requests and a that awful feeling of being overwhelmed.

I spent the morning on a Windows 7 article that I needed to finish. Several emails came in. “No problem.” I thought, “I can handle them in the afternoon.”  Every Wednesday at noon, I have a weekly status meeting with a client. It forced the article and my eyes to take a break from each other.

At the end of the meeting, my day crashed with a thunderous roar. More email requests had arrived. Like the rain, the work started to pour in. This doesn’t happen often, but it turned this organized planner into a panicky gal. Plus, I managed to lock myself out of an important account, something I never do.

One of my worst habits is checking email too often. I do this because I don’t want my inbox to pile up. I scan my emails frequently and then delete, file, respond or or leave them for later if the message needs more than a few minutes of my time. On this day, many of the messages met the “leave” requirement. So they remained in the inbox where they caused my stress to climb even further.

So what do I do to stop getting overwhelmed like this? Here are the steps that I took to regain control:

  • Pick the most urgent task. Complete the task, celebrate accomplishment and get a quick lift.
  • Delete email newsletters and updates. You can always catch up on them later, but reducing the number of unread messages is a quick way to reduce the  stress that comes from an overwhelmed inbox.
  • Add tasks from emails to the to-do list. Then, prioritize and assign them so I can see what needed doing now and what could wait. This way I can move the emails where they belonged and out of the inbox.
  • Skip or postpone events, meetings, appointments, etc. You can always skip or move non-urgent meetings or events to concentrate on urgent matters.I had more meetings than usual that week, so I rescheduled one so I could have more time at the office.
  • Let go of social networking. Not forever — just for the day. Though social networking is an essential tool in my business, I let it go that day because I knew it wouldn’t help my productivity or stress levels. Besides, if I had tried, I may not have communicated as well as I do on a normal day. I returned to it the next day.

Although following these steps didn’t completely cure that feeling of being overwhelmed (there were still a lot of email to deal with), it definitely helped to regain a sense of control and order.

How do you handle overwhelming situations?

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  1. LOL – are you sure you weren’t watching me work this week? I usually have a great flow going but I don’t know if it’s the coming holidays or what but my inbox is loaded with To Dos.

    The hard thing for me is getting out of fire drill mode. By afternoon I start dealing with the newest items in the inbox just to make sure there’s nothing major. Then I have a tendency to do the small jobs that I can do and delete. Trouble is, there’s always some small jobs and the big jobs get left undone. That’s no good.

    I also battle with the delete or say no button. I have to face the fact that I can’t take on every interview, review, suggestion that’s offered me. But that’s a toughie

  2. Cynthia, what about asking for a later deadline. I’d think interviews and reviews don’t need turning around within a day or two. When book authors and publicists contact me requesting a review — I tell them that it won’t be fast and they’re understanding.

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  4. Great advise-points, but I agree with Meryl: the real technique that needs to be mastered is managing your clients, AS WELL AS yourself.

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant Services

  5. Good Advice.

  6. Making a task list immediately to sort the overwhelmed feeling helps me when I feel that.

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  8. Jeffrey Friend Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Wow… Great advice! It’s also good to hear other web workers with the same issues we have. This is a daily problem, and ignoring social media for the moment is a great tip. I also set my email to check every hour, instead of every minute. That allows me to only get stressed eight times instead of every minute of the day!

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