14 steps to deal with feeling overwhelmed – I’ve got 99 problems but an MBA ain’t one

By Timothy Castle, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Timothy-CastleThe single biggest insight I have learned from the MBA so far is this – it’s all about mindset. If I go into a day, situation or interaction thinking, ‘this is going to be stressful’, then chances are it will be stressful. It’s about setting myself up with the opportunity to succeed starting with mindset. Get that right, and a whole wealth of possibilities open up.

Practicing an enabled mindset gives me the opportunity to reframe the challenge. For example, coming into the MBA, one of the things I was worried about was juggling multiple commitments, whilst getting the most out of the program without feeling overwhelmed.

What I’ve realised is it’s not about eliminating the feeling of being overwhelmed, it’s about acknowledging the emotion when it’s present and utilising all the resources at my disposal to better support my journey, starting with mindset!

Here are 14 actions that I have found helpful.

  1. Sketch out a time table, understand what’s required and when. This provides a road map of where your energy is best directed.
  2. Create an environment that allows for the MBA to take priority. Start as you mean to go on. Manage expectations with others, with your boss, with your co-workers, with your family, your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend or pet. Be honest with them, doing an MBA is a big undertaking and it will mean you need to give it dedicated time and focus. It may mean leaving work early or having a few hours on weekends to get really engaged with the material. Integrating this expectation early on will create a framework that allows you to get the most out of it and work to your best.
  3. Avoid overcommitting – learn to say no. Most highly successful individuals have one thing in common – they know how to say no.
  4. Learn how to ask for what you need. Often it’s easy to feel overwhelmed; the ‘to do’ list is getting longer and we have less time to get more done. It’s about delegating, asking for favours and pulling strings. It’s about having a ‘not to do’ list so you can be really focused and productive on getting the things that matter done.
  5. Ask questions, and if in doubt call someone. It’s better to ask early on and clarify your understanding than to spend hours agonising over the possible meaning and interpretations of an exercise.
  6. Share your successes. We are all different and so all have different ways of producing the same result. If you find something is working for you, don’t hold it back. Share it with others and you might be helping them. The more we share, the more we learn and the greater our versatility.
  7. Experiencing the feeling of being overwhelmed doesn’t mean you suck. Time to reframe the feeling. Being overwhelmed is an emotion. Experiencing that emotion doesn’t mean you aren’t capable. What it means is its time to ask: Am I looking at this with an enabled mindset and what can I do right now to get closer to it?
  8. Understand this is all part of the journey. This is what’s meant to happen. This is where the learning and growth takes place.
  9. Be kind to yourself. Cease the judgemental mindset that is holding you back from moving forward.
  10. Break it down. Segment the task into bite-sized, achievable chunks.
  11. Carry a notebook with you everywhere. It is when we least expect it that our best ideas come to us.
  12. Respond to things as they come in. Do not delay what is easily actionable.
  13. Focus on one task and do it properly. Multi-tasking is not the answer.
  14. Breathe.

For further information on setting yourself up for success, view The Making of a Corporate Athlete in the Harvard Business Review.

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