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Most articles talk about dealing with the emotion of FEELING overwhelmed.
My unscientific observation is that people who ALWAYS feel overwhelmed:
What I want to talk about here is understanding the elements of overwhelming and created the “machinery” needed to improve the situation: capacity and process.
1) Increase Capacity
For example, when your team member suddenly left and all his work falls on you, you need more capacity to deal with the extra workloads.
Like a factory, you have a capacity to get X numbers of things done in a day.
To increase your capacity, you can either: 1) be more productive, such as getting 2X done, or 2) add more resources to your team, such as temporary help.
But you aren’t always able to increase the capacity. For example, what if you have already reached the maximum productivity that’s humanly possible? Or, you can’t get any help or add a team member?
Here comes another solution:
2) Implement a Queue (Process)
Every system has a capacity and bottlenecks. The trick is to know what they are and limit the amount of work entering the system.
For example, your customer support can’t deal with all requests whenever or however the customer wants it, for this would require a near infinity large support capacity.
Your customer may want his call to be answered after the first ring. To fulfill such expectation, you’d either to have a support agent idle and ready to answer the call whenever the customer dials or have an enormously large amount of support agents. Neither is practical.
Instead, you’d have a queue to deal with such requests within a reasonable amount of time.
In dealing with overwhelm, it’s the same solution.
If your capacity is to work on three internal requests on X per day and someone comes to you with five, you say “These requests will be completed in two days." and prioritize the requests by importance and urgency.
When there’s more work entering the system and not enough capacity, something has to give.