Q: I just got back to work after two weeks of vacation and am completely overwhelmed. There are tons of things that need to get done and I can't seem to settle on anything to make progress. I'm starting to panic; what should I do?
Marina, 37, accountant
A: It's a shame to see the relaxation you gained on vacation dissipate so quickly. But even if you didn't plan ahead as much as you might have, making a plan now can help you get your work under control.
Before you start getting organized, get yourself back into your vacation state of mind. Take a few minutes to bring to mind a favorite memory and relax into that positive feeling. Repeat this when you feel yourself getting worked up; it will help you be more productive.
Then make a high-level list of the things you need to do. Consider each item's due date and importance, and assign a priority. Remember, everything can't be top priority, and creating drama in your mind about how much you have to do will just eat up your energy.
Break the main projects into some specific action steps. Think about how long each will take, and make a point of setting up bite-sized tasks, say, an hour or two.
Avoid analysis paralysis, though. Falling into the trap of endless planning without execution won't ease your situation, even though it may create an illusion of progress.
Consider ways you can make progress without investing a lot of time right away. For example, you may need information from someone in order to complete an analysis. Make a point of getting your request to them. Your colleague will appreciate having some time to work on it and you will get a feeling of accomplishment.
Be sure to keep the people you work with in the loop. If people are planning on using the results of your work, then you will create a lot of frustration, and perhaps resentment, if you don't communicate.
People get it; everyone has been in this situation before. Try this: "I'm just digging out after vacation; what's the most important thing on your list for me to tackle?" Then you are not trying to be a mind reader in your prioritization and are being open and honest.
At some point, you will just need to buckle down and do the work. What are your most likely distractions and procrastination techniques? Set up strategies to keep them from derailing you. For example, if you pick up your phone to check Facebook every time you get stuck, lock your phone in your car. And don't let the clamor of e-mail interfere. Try checking it on a schedule so that you don't lose your focus.
Or perhaps rewards, such as a quick chat with a friend, a fresh air break, or a treat, work for you. If so, build them into your plan.
It may be possible to get help from others. Just be sure it doesn't become one-sided; others may need a hand sometimes, too, and you don't want to be a taker.
Then learn from this so you can avoid this stress in the future.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and owner of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.