What is it to be overwhelmed?

I would like to welcome back, Heather S. Duffy, JD PhD, a career scientist of over 20 years, who’s been a fabulous member of the MLC team!

The floor is yours Heather!

Here I am sitting at my computer getting ready to write up this article on being overwhelmed and what to do about it. The irony makes me laugh. Being overwhelmed is the feeling of having more things to do than you have time to do them, an easy thing to do when working in biotechnology. For busy biotech consultants, this is a way of life. When handled poorly, being overwhelmed can cause anxiety, sleeplessness, eating disorders, temper flares and can lead to a loss of clientele. Learning to overcome the feelings of being overwhelmed is absolutely essential. That is easy to say but getting that accomplished takes a bit of effort. Trust me, the effort and time you put in now will pay off richly once you have control of your projects! Just follow this basic four step program so you can put those feelings of being overwhelmed behind you for good!

Step 1-Getting it under control.

Unless you really see the big picture in terms of what has to be done, there is no way to set a plan to get it all done. I personally have a large wall sized white board in my home office where I map out the things in my life that take up time. At this point, don’t worry about prioritizing. List each project or client that you have work to do for and don’t forget to add in the little things like editing or reviewing. Once you can see all the time commitments you have, you can start to organize them in a way that insures that each project gets the time focus that it needs.

Step 2-Setting Priorities

While it would be nice if we could set our priorities to start with doing things for ourselves, like going to the gym or reading for pleasure, but the reality of a consultant’s life is that work takes the first bite out of our time. Using your list, organize the projects/clients in order of who has the first deadline and make sure you list the deadline particularly if working on a project for an agency such as the FDA. If there is not a hard and fast deadline, put one in yourself and prioritize your goals around that. Next, list a realistic ideal work schedule for any given day that takes in to account your other responsibilities such as child care and self-care. As you get more experienced at doing this step, you will find that this takes very little time to do. Now you can move on to figuring out how to get all the projects done!

Step 3-Time Blocking

One common method that people try to get ahead of things is multitasking. This has been shown not to work because getting a project from zero to hero takes concentration. Experts now say that time blocking, where you list a block of time for each activity and focus on that activity only, is more effective to manage a busy work load. Here is when you merge your working hours with the priority list you set in Step 2. Divide your work week in to days and don’t forget to add in the weekends! Seeing that they are there in your regular week helps to remind you that the work week does end and we do have time to ourselves. For example, Client 1 gets M, W and F from 8 AM to 11 AM. Client 2 gets 11:00 AM to 12:00 those days. The key is to AVOID ALL OTHER PROJECTS during this time you. This helps focus you and gives you enough time to really put out a great quality project for your client. Finally, list a hard stop time at the end of the day but work hard right up to that time. This method will virtually insure that you get everything done on time!

Step 4-Relax

For many of us, this is the hardest step to accomplish. When we are faced with mountains of work and what seems to be an impossible time line, we panic leading to behaviors that are not just counter-productive but can be self-destructive as well. This makes us fidgety, unfocused and more easily distracted. How many times have you looked at the work you had to do and instead of starting, you started by checking email or Facebook? These things take away from work but it is very tempting to do while we mentally try to get ready to tackle an overwhelming work load. Instead, try taking a deep breath and relaxing your shoulders. Look at your time blocking and remind yourself that you have time for everything. Then, open your work and let the creativity flow!

This may seem like a lot to do and that just soldering forward would get more done. It is true that at the beginning this takes some time to organize. The joy comes this becomes a habit. When you hit this stride you will find that not only do you have the time to get all of your work done but you have extra time for yourself and your family! Good luck!