Avoid burnout and manage feeling overwhelmed at work

Burnout is a condition that does not discriminate across industry or job type. As a small business owner, your risk of burnout can be even higher. Managing your responsibilities while ensuring the business runs smoothly can see even the most effective SME owners struggle.

One of the earliest warning signs of burnout is feeling overwhelmed and experiencing the inability to concentrate. I’ve suffered from burnout three times in my career; and the inability to actually get any work done while feeling perpetually stressed was the first sign in almost every instance.

If you learn to identify the warning sights, you’ll be able to reduce stress levels, increase your productivity and continue to deliver quality work.

Urgent, Important, Delegate, Do Later

As a SME owner, it can be pretty common to get to 5pm and wonder where the day went and what you have achieved. Emotions can get the better of all of us, and it can start feeling pretty overwhelming when it’s busy, the orders are coming in and ‘everything’ is due all at once.

To minimise stress levels, try mapping out a UIDD list.

Try this simple trick before you start work each morning. Create four columns – Urgent, Important, Delegate and Do Later. Categorise each of your To Dos accordingly.

Here’s what that might look like:

Urgent: Email accountant. Call customer regarding ordering query.

Important: Review leads from Facebook advertising this week. Review potential contractors.

Delegate: Prepare orders from weekend purchasing. Post out to customers. Send out newsletter.

Do Later: read proposal to upgrade server.

How to make it work

Once you have mapped each ‘to do’ into section, you can set a time in your calendar according to its urgency and mentally file away that task until it’s time to work on it.

The first cab off the rank is the Delegate column. Assign these tasks to another team member or a contractor. It can be challenging to know what to delegate. A good rule of thumb is to focus on the tasks that only you can do. While you may enjoy writing and sending out the weekly newsletter, someone else could take this off your hands, giving you a few more hours each week to focus on the things that the business really needs you for.

Next, your Do Later list. Tackle these by scheduling in time when you are less busy maybe a Thursday afternoon or over a coffee at home. Put a time in your diary, then mentally shelve those tasks.

Now for the Important tasks. These tasks require deeper engagement, so ‘batch’ these types of tasks into a two hour block. Block out that time in your diary and work somewhere that you won’t be distracted.

Right! With your load lightened, time assigned for those important tasks and the ‘do laters’ relegated to later in the week, you can fire ahead and tackle your Urgents.

Batch Your Tasks According To Type

SME owners often have to simultaneously deliver ‘quick’ tasks such as responding to customer queries, posting on social media platforms, and managing staff, while also attempting to concentrate on ‘deep thinking’ tasks such as business strategy, growth and optimisation.

The thing is, the brain is hard-wired to cognitively work only one of these modes of working. When operating in both modes, your brain can’t cope. A good way to get your focus back is to ‘batch’ similar tasks together to work on in set periods of time.

For example:

Maker tasks require deep thought to deliver a good result. These include creative work, product development, design and long-form writing all fall under Maker tasks.

Marker tasks require swift and fast action. Project Management, billing, promotion and marketing, managing suppliers, phone calls and meetings are all Marker tasks.

When similar mental resources are being used, your brain is be able to cognitively deliver the highest value in the shortest amount of time. Batching tasks according to type will allow your cognitive system to maximise concentration and productivity while reducing the production of cortisol (the stress hormone which contributes to that feeling of being overwhelmed).

Create a ‘batched’ diary

Take a look at your diary. Consider when you could ‘batch’ together marker tasks, such as responding to customer enquiries. Maybe you could book out every weekday from 9am – 11am, and 4pm – 6pm to personally respond to every customer.

This leaves you open to focus on your maker tasks. By batching your tasks according to type, you’ll be more productive, work with your personality type and your creativity and strategic thinking will have the opportunity to thrive.

At the end of the day, no customer will ever ask you to stop working. But by putting these simple and effective coping mechanisms in place, you’ll be able to delegate effectively, avoid overwhelm and get on with enjoying the life you’ve worked so hard for in the first place.

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