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How to Manage Over Scheduled Lives, by Dr. Hallowell in U.S. News and World Report

Why You’ll Never Feel Caught Up at Work – And What to Do About It

One study found that up to three-quarters of companies are dealing with overwhelmed employees.

See the article in its entirety at US News and World Reports


Feeling behind at the office isn’t news – it’s business as usual. A study from Deloitte ​found that up to three-quarters of companies are dealing with overwhelmed employees. These workers are stressed out about everything, from being hyper-connected to their jobs to information overload created by technology. ​

“Frequently heard by successful professionals is that they could work 24 hours and still have more to do,” says Lori Scherwin, a certified professional coach and founder of Strategize That, a career coaching company. “People are burnt out, frustrated and overwhelmed. Fire drills are the norm.”

The problem with being overloaded at work is that both your health and productivity suffer. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist and expert on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has written extensively on how overloaded brain circuits, brought on by too much work, can lead employees to feeling distracted and impatient. They can create a sense of “inner frenzy.” ​These qualities can easily morph into difficulties keeping your work organized, managing your time and sticking to your priorities. When people feel too busy, as much as 41 percent of work time gets wasted on tasks that don’t help get work done and bring little sense of personal satisfaction, according to a study published in the Harvard Business Review. ​

But just because you aren’t alone in enduring too much on your plate doesn’t mean that you should accept the situation as a given. While it may be unrealistic to check off every item from your to-do list, you can still prevent today’s year-round 24/7 work environment from pulling you under.

Here are some strategies to help you get better about managing your unmanageable workload.

1. Start a “to-don’t” list. Since you know that a large volume of work-related requests will continue pouring in, prioritization is crucial. Scherwin advises keeping a “to-don’t” list to help you stay focused on what really must get done each day.

“Set boundaries up front and know which tasks and projects that cross your plate you will delegate, defer or dismiss,” says Scherwin. “Knowing your values, goals and priorities can help. And mapping them with those of your organization can help you do this effectively.” When doing any task, she says, you should be able to answer how it fits with your goals in 30 seconds or less. If it doesn’t, try to appropriately push back on whoever is asking for it.

2. Shift your perspective. How you think about your daily tasks and responsibilities has a lot to do with how overwhelmed you feel. Many people struggle with how to manage demands brought on by a culture that demands instant gratification and speedy response, says Chester Goad, author of “Purple People Leader: How to Protect Unity, Release Politics, and Lead Everyone.”

“Most people don’t realize that’s a perception driven mostly by technology and, more specifically, email,” says Goad. “Learning to better prioritize and manage information flowing to our smartphones and into our inbox can help alleviate some of that.”

In addition to recognizing how your perception might be making you feel more stressed out, Scherwin adds that reframing the situation can help. “Sometimes there’s simply a lot of important stuff that has to get done,” she says. “You can choose to get annoyed about it or can choose to see it as beneficial to your career. Find the gold, and it will help you appreciate rather than resent.”

3. Lower your expectations. Another way to think about perspective is to recognize how the pressure you’re putting on yourself may be making you less effective at work. If people are honest about their capabilities, most would have to admit that they’re likely to only have the opportunity to accomplish three to five tasks per day, says Maura Thomas, author of “Personal Productivity Secrets” and founder of Regain Your Time, which offers training and consulting in productivity and time management.

“Once you accept the reality of what can be accomplished in a given day, you have the opportunity to renegotiate deadlines, delegate some things, work extra hours, bring in a temp, et cetera,” says Thomas. “Now you can plan appropriately and not waste any time trying to estimate how much time each task is going to take.”

4. Set boundaries. Many people have trouble saying “no,” especially to their bosses. While there are certainly times when declining a project or task would be a bad career move, you can still exercise healthy boundaries.

Every relationship is co-created, says Mikaela Kiner, a human resources professional and executive coach. For example, if your manager assigns what you know to be an unreasonable amount of work with an unrealistic deadline, but you agree to take it on anyway, you’re both contributing to the situation.

To prevent this from becoming a problem, Kiner suggests that before saying “yes” to each new assignment, ask yourself how important it is, whether it can wait and if there’s someone to whom you can delegate. If you still end up taking it on, be clear about what you’re saying “no” to – at work or at home. “We all have limited capacity,” says Kiner. “No one gets more than 24 hours in a day, and we all need to eat and sleep. Like a balloon will pop if you keep adding air, realistically there’s only so much you can get done with fixed resources.”





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