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From Overwhelm to Order with Effective Priority Setting

Elan Schwartz
Elan Schwartz
  • Updated

Workplace overwhelm often occurs when dealing with multiple challenges simultaneously, like being new to an organization and facing information overload, taking on new responsibilities with increased performance expectations, or navigating busy periods such as project launches or end-of-quarter rushes. Although overwhelm does happen and is sometimes unavoidable, its impact can be damaging to productivity, goal attainment, and mental well-being. 

Effective priority setting and task management techniques will help you navigate overwhelming periods at work, or even avoid them altogether. Overcoming overwhelm through priority setting is not just about managing tasks; it’s about empowering you to reclaim ownership of your resources, time and energy. 

Tips, Tools and Techniques for Effective Priority Setting

Keeping organized and setting clear priorities for deliverables can help you keep calm and regain control of your schedule, focus and productivity at work. Below are some actionable tips for effective priority setting during particularly overwhelming periods at work:

  1. Break larger projects or tasks into smaller, manageable steps

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin with a project or task, which can lead you to getting stuck in the big-picture thinking. Try to use a mind-mapping tool like Miro or Jamboard to brainstorm the larger buckets of work you need to complete. Then, for each area of work, try to outline the smaller steps that can feasibly be accomplished within the day or week. As each task is completed, you will feel a sense of accomplishment and reduced overwhelm over the project or task list as a whole. 

  1. Set realistic goals and deadlines

The more realistic your priorities are, the better your chance of completing them. If your to-do list is getting unwieldy, you may want to use a project management or task-setting app like Trello or Asana to help you map out your work plan. It’s helpful to outline personal deadlines, but make sure they are realistic so as not to disappoint yourself or further overwhelm you. And ensure you provide some wiggle room to remain open to adjusting priorities as circumstances change.

  1. Work back from urgent and important tasks

The Eisenhower Matrix is a decision-making tool to help effectively prioritize tasks and time-manage. The framework suggests that you should prioritize tasks that are deemed high-value and which have set deadlines and immediate consequences if not completed on time, above all other tasks. Identifying and prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance will help you outline and complete your short-term and long-term goals, and better understand when to delegate or deprioritize tasks. 

  1. Time-block your calendar

Allocate time slots to work on specific tasks or block off ‘focus time’ for tasks that come up. Having your calendar blocked will let your colleagues know not to distract you at this time, and will keep you on a specific schedule to get tasks completed. This will lead to improved time management, focus and productivity, and will maintain your momentum in order to avoid feelings of overwhelm. If you find yourself getting distracted at work, you can use the pomodoro technique (25 mins work, 5 min break) to ensure periods of fixed focus. 

  1. Practice saying "no" 

Effective priority setting also means being able to set boundaries that impede you from achieving your priorities. It’s okay to say no to non-essential tasks and commitments, especially during busy periods. This ensures that you can channel your energy towards the tasks that truly deserve your attention and align with your goals, reducing overwhelm and preventing burnout in the long run. 

Embracing the Power of Prioritization

Remember, you're not alone in feeling overwhelmed— 78.7% of people say they feel stressed by the volume of tasks to complete with limited time each week. A heavy workload, limited time between meetings, and competing priorities can lead to mental roadblocks, causing procrastination, indecision, or decreased motivation—a cycle that heightens stress. By implementing intentional priority setting techniques, you can set yourself up for success even during the busiest of times. Embrace the power of prioritization to reclaim control of your time and achieve your goals effectively.


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