November 5, 2020

Overwhelmed? Overstretched? Over It? Take Back Control With These 4 Strategies


“I’m currently trying to hold plank during a conference call so I can ‘work out’ today.”

“I’m going to be a few minutes late joining our meeting. I have to finish the lesson on the five senses with my kindergartner.”

“I just yelled REPEATEDLY ‘Just carry the one! Just carry the one!’ to my daughter while I was teaching math. And clearly ‘teaching’ is a stretch. Do you think this will cause long-term damage?”

Sound familiar?

According to a recent study by Qualtrics, 77 percent of men with children at home report being more productive while working remotely during the pandemic, compared to 46 percent of women. About one in five working mothers surveyed for the “Women in the Workplace 2020” report from and McKinsey & Company said they were considering dropping out of the workforce, at least temporarily, compared with 11 percent of dads. Among women with children under 10, nearly 25 percent said they may take a leave of absence or quit altogether.

The pandemic has forced both fathers and mothers to juggle careers, childcare, and remote schooling. However, mothers have often found themselves shouldering a disproportionate amount of the burden.

If you’re overwhelmed, overstretched, and just over it, here are four strategies to help you reclaim some semblance of control over your day:

Turn Your Inbox Into Your Personal Assistant

You need an assistant now more than ever — and you already have one! It’s your inbox. The technology tools embedded in your email platform — Gmail or Outlook — can offer powerful, time-saving short cuts. Ask your email platform to do more for you. Ask it to be your assistant.

Assistants prioritize your messages. Color-code your incoming messages by sender priority. For example, you might color-code your manager red, your top clients green, and the messages where you are CC’ed light gray. This will make it easy when you open your inbox to quickly identify the most urgent messages. To set this up now, use conditional formatting in Outlook and labels in Gmail.

Assistants help you keep track of your open tasks and pending requests. Ask your email program to remind you of the requests you have made that are still waiting on a response. Automate your follow-up by setting up a “waiting for” rule. Here’s how it works: When you send an email where you need a response from the recipient, CC yourself on that email. That email will then be automatically saved in a folder you have designated for your follow-ups. As new messages are automatically added to this folder, the numeral indicating how many messages are in the folder will become bold. No longer will you spend hours searching through sent messages or trying to remember if you have followed up on your open requests.

Protect Your 90

When you find yourself wishing for a magic wand to create more hours in your day, it’s time to protect your 90 so you can check things off your to do list, prepare for that meeting, or write that proposal.

Block and fiercely protect (no email, no social media, and no interruptions) 90 minutes every day to work on your highest-value task or project. Now, I know it is only unicorns who have 90 uninterrupted minutes a day. This is 90 total minutes. Break it up and make it work for you – for example, 20 minutes before breakfast, 15 minutes at lunch, 30 minutes in the midafternoon, and 25 minutes before you end your day. Ninety minutes a day adds up, and at the end of the week, you will have dedicated 7.5 hours to high-value, intentional work.

Batch Your Tasks

Group similar tasks together to increase efficiency without any extra effort on your part. For example, make all of your phone calls at one time, process your email at one time, or review project proposals from vendors in one go.

Switching between disparate tasks is highly inefficient because it takes your brain time to reengage with the task you switched from. One study found that the time it takes to move from one task to another can eat up as much as 40 percent of your total productive time. Work on the same types of projects at once and save precious minutes in your day.

Pause Before Saying Yes to Yet Another Meeting

The urge to catch-up, check-in, and connect has resulted in meeting overload. For many of us, the default response to yet another Zoom meeting invitation is “Accept.” However, this hijacks your day and undermines your productivity.

The next time you receive a meeting request, pause and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What will I not be able to do if I attend this meeting? (Every time you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.)
  2. What is my specific contribution to the meeting?
  3. Will this meeting be a rehash of the last five meetings I’ve attended?
  4. Will this meeting assist me in achieving my goals?
  5. How does the purpose of this meeting (if any!) align with my goals, my team’s goals, and/or the company’s strategic priorities?

Based on your answers, you can intentionally accept or decline the meeting.

Working and living in a pandemic is hard. Give yourself a little grace, take a deep breath, and take one step to combat the overwhelm today.

Carson Tate is the founder and managing partner of Working Simply, Inc. She is the author of Own It. Love It. Make It Work.: How to Make Any Job Your Dream Job.

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Carson Tate is the founder and managing partner of Working Simply, Inc., a business consulting firm that partners with organizations, business leaders, and employees to enhance workplace productivity, foster employee engagement, and build personal and professional legacies. She is the author of "Own It. Love It. Make It Work.: How To Make Any Job Your Dream Job."