10 Tips for What to Do When You’re in Over Your Head
You know that sinking feeling you get when you say yes to too many requests, take on too much when you know you won’t be able to tackle it all, feel obligated to push yourself to the limit out of fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, competitiveness or something else? Being in over your head is never pleasant, yet it doesn’t have to reduce you to a blubbering mess.
Here are some practical tips for what to do when you find yourself in over your head.
1. Take a deep breath.
It’s probably not as bad as it might seem, although the situation may, indeed, have ratcheted up to the level of serious. Regardless whether you’re afraid you’ll get fired if you don’t complete the top-priority project by the end of the day or you’ve simply put too much on today’s to-do list, you need to take a deep breath. Better yet, take several. This adds much-needed oxygen to your lungs, slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and reduces the levels of stress you feel. This won’t solve your problem, but it’s always a good first step. Besides, you’ll think better when your heart’s not racing and your head pounding.
2. Admit you took on too much — and ask for help.
Now is not the time to act the martyr. When you know you’ve taken on too many responsibilities or said yes to too many requests, you must admit it. First, tell your boss or the person you feel you owe an explanation. Then, ask for help. You’ll likely be surprised at the reaction. Many times, supervisors don’t realize when their employees are already overloaded with work assignments. Don’t make it a habit to say you can’t finish your work, however, as that will lead your boss to wonder if you’re not suited to the job at all.
3. Prioritize what must be done — not everything on your to-do list.
Get smart about what must be done today, this hour, in the next 10 minutes. If multiple items compete for your attention and it’s tough to choose between them, this only produces further doubt about whether you’ll get anything done. It’s time to set some clear priorities. Something must come first, so figure out which one that is and put your immediate efforts into it. Allocate a number for the other most-important items on your list. However, avoid the temptation to assign a number to everything on your to-do list. That may just make you feel defeated before you start. Instead, after you’ve listed the top five items to tackle today, leave the others for another day. If you feel you must do something with them now, give them their own page or color-code them with easily-identifiable tags such as “later,” “whenever I get time,” “nice, but not a priority,” and so on.