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This week I felt overwhelmed

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In the lead up to the financial year, things got pretty hectic for me and the team of people I work with. We had budget expectations that we wanted to meet, clients that wanted work done really urgently and lots of last minute jobs that rushed through the door. On top of all this, we’re implementing a new strategic plan and I’ve been appointed the head of a new team, taking the teams that I manage to three (which is super exciting).

In and around this, I’m also helping Celeste and Sarah manage Natural Supply Co, which is growing rapidly and getting lots of press (yippee!!!) so my spare time is minimal.

I started struggling…

After 1 July set in, and we’d carried out the urgent work and a new lot of budgets were agreed to for another financial year, I started struggling.

I wasn’t really sure why but I just started feeling a great sense of things being a little too hectic. And a little out of control. And for a control-freak, that made me angsty.

My solution – lists upon lists upon lists

So last weekend I sat myself down and started writing lists. Lists of things I have to do on all the projects I’m working on. There was a list for blog posts for Natural Supply Co, plans for a Crafternoontea for my Facebook group ‘Help a sister out’, lists for improving internal systems for the recently launched Not-for-Profit Assist Legal Membership Service – and these are just some of the things I’m working on…

But I’m not sure that the list writing really helped – it just highlighted that I was right to be feeling overwhelmed. I have a lot of my plate right now.

I called in the big guns

Lucky for me, I have an amazing boss and mentor, so I asked him for help. My boss and HR Director helped hook me up with an executive coach. I thought, hell, I’m only 31, and I certainly wasn't taught how to manage teams and be a leader at law school, so I've got a lot to learn. I rang my coach on Monday morning, had a short discussion to set agenda items, and then met with him on Thursday morning.

The meeting changed me. It helped me. I now feel calmer. I have some solutions. I understand (at least on a high-level basis) where I was going wrong. So of course I thought I should share what I've learnt thus far. Here goes.

Unrealistic expectations

I had set unrealistic expectations on myself. My boss hadn’t set them, Celeste and Sarah hadn’t imposed them, and the ladies from ‘Help a sister out’ certainly hadn’t set them. I’d just imposed them on myself and I was beating myself up because I felt that I hadn’t achieved everything that I thought I should have. Classic Y-Gen – I want everything done instantly.

The first important part of my learning for the session was accepting that I was the only one setting the unrealistic expectations on myself. Once I realised that my own expectations were unrealistic, and that no one else thought that I'd failed, I felt a huge sense of relief. 

It felt liberating. Like I'd thrown the monkey off my back. I felt like singing that Taylor Swift song “shake it off, shake it off”!   

Stop being a busy body

My second learning was to stop being a busy body. I was getting involved in things outside of my remit. I have this enthusiastic personality where if I see something awesome happening in another part of the business I just want to be a part of the action. Even when I shouldn’t be. Important lesson here: you can’t do everything, don’t let yourself be pulled in too many directions, you don’t need to know everything that’s going on. Oh how I hate even writing that down. I love knowing everything! Did I mention already that I’m a control freak!?

Why my to-do lists are not helpful

Final lesson (for this blog post at least!) was about my to-do lists. They aren’t helping me because I’m crap at determining urgent and non-urgent tasks - to me, everything is urgent (another Y-Gen trait). I actually listened to a podcast on prioritising the other day (thanks Elise for putting me on to this one: Life Habits – Mentoring with Karel Vredenburg) but clearly I need more practice at it.

Until I have mastered the art of being able to identify urgent / non-urgent tasks, my coach has suggested I read up about and understand the concept behind Critical Success Factors (CSFs). Have any of you used this technique in your professional life? I feel like it’s going to be really useful for me so if you want to learn more about it start here:

So in summary – I need to stop it with the unrealistic expectations, limit my busy body tendencies and concentrate on the critical success factors. Sounds simple but I know it’s going to be hard work.

What do you do to stop feeling overwhelmed? Are you also obsessed in to-do lists? How do you make to-do lists work for you? Do you have any other tips for me?  



Comments on this post (2)

  • Jul 12, 2015

    Thanks so much for your comment Poppy. I hope we can all learn how to give ourselves a bit of a breather over the weekend! One day…! Cath xxx

    — Catherine

  • Jul 11, 2015

    Hi Catherine – I love this post and certainly very topical for me right now as I sit on a Saturday night with a cup of herbal tea, madly writing to do lists and trying to get my work inbox down because it is inducing a panic attack! Those feeling of being out of control are hard to cope with at times.

    — Poppy Fay

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