Overwhelmed? 6 ways to stop small stresses at work from becoming big problems

Don't risk your health or your team's operations. Use these techniques to ensure minor issues don't become intractable challenges.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
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Modern professionals have busy workloads and juggling all these demands is tough, especially when unexpected challenges appear on the horizon.

Research suggests more than half (57%) of IT managers have to manage more incidents than they can handle.

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If you don't manage your responsibilities effectively, the small issues you encounter could become big problems, putting your health and your organization's operations at risk.

So, how can professionals handle busy workloads? Six business leaders give us their top techniques.

1. Don't be scared to reach out

Clementine Whitcomb, data engineer at energy company EDF, says professionals should voice their concerns if they feel under pressure.

"People aren't mind readers," she says. "They won't necessarily know that you're feeling stressed or you're at capacity. It's important to say, 'Please don't add anything else to my plate.'"

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Whitcomb tells ZDNET that it's not unusual for people to feel worried about asking for help. However, asking for assistance is not an admittance of failure. "I think that approach will ultimately help you do the job better. So, it's not failure. It's the opposite -- it's success."

She also says it's crucial to have a sense of perspective.

"Someone once used the analogy that you have crystal balls and bouncy balls. If you drop your crystal ball, it shatters, and you'll never be able to get it back. Whereas if you drop your bouncy ball, it will bounce back," she says.

"I think you need to work out the crystal balls to prioritize because if you drop that ball, it's gone. For me, it always helps to take stuff off the priority list. And I think that approach helps with work/life balance. Sometimes, it's important to choose."

2. Understand the customer impact

Neal Silverstein, head of technology customer services at optometry and audiology specialist Specsavers, says it's crucial to get to the root cause of the problem as quickly as possible -- and that's not something that takes place in every business.

"Most places are guilty of trying to fix the problem as it's presented, rather than trying to understand the root cause and then extrapolating out the impact from there," he says. "You can go through that process using some systems and tools, but the key to success is understanding what the problem means to your customer."

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Silverstein tells ZDNET that identifying the underlying cause of an issue will help you generate a long-term and long-lasting solution.

"If we have a small problem in one store, and we pick up that's prevalent in all stores, collectively the impact is significant. So, that's why I get to the root cause as quickly as possible," he says.

"And then you understand what's going on rather than just trying to stick a plaster over what appears to be a cut, but is something quite a bit deeper underneath."

3. Focus on the bigger picture

Jessica Sobel, VP of strategic growth initiatives at Freshpet, says a great way to stop small stresses from turning into big problems is to concentrate on long-term goals.

Sobel says she's lucky her role is focused on timeframes and timelines.

"The beauty of a strategic growth initiatives role is that it is about the long term," she says to ZDNET.

"So, you just have to be focused on what we are trying to achieve, and I don't personally have to worry about some of the day-to-day core business."

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While her colleagues focus on operational matters, Sobel ensures the issues she encounters are explained to senior executives. "Everything has a learning value for the business," she says. "And so my work is just focused on the bigger picture."

4. Share your concerns

Toby Alcock, CTO at Logicalis, advises other professionals to get problems out in the open and then let smart people generate solutions.

"As a leader, you take on a lot of pressure to try and solve that yourself and demonstrate your expertise and leadership ability," he says. "But in my experience, the teams I have working with me are the ones that are probably the most suited to solving that problem faster. So, getting people around you who are aware of the problem is important."

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Alcock says to ZDNET that shining a light on a problem also helps to create a sense of scale.

"If you look at something in darkness, it can feel pretty overwhelming quickly. So, giving a problem focus and attention, and getting some people around it, tends to put the issue in perspective," he says.

5. Build a network

Richard Wazacz, CEO at foreign exchange specialist Travelex, says every professional will have a way of stopping small stresses from turning into big problems.

Like Alcock, he believes a problem shared is a problem halved -- but adopting that approach comes with a word of caution. "Sometimes you don't want to share your problems because burdening everyone will distract them from what they're looking after," he says.

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Wazacz tells ZDNET that a successful approach is often about building a trusted network. "Talk to people who've gone through that same problem and use their advice and experience," he says. "Great business leaders have amazing insights."

6. Speak with a mentor

Tim Lancelot, head of sales enablement at software specialist MHR, says people can sometimes put up with things that should be dealt with earlier.

His organization uses coaching and mentoring sessions to ensure staff feel confident about dealing with a problem.

"It's great to have someone who's a coach or a third party that can spot these things better than you," he says. "It's nice to have someone who can point out to you, 'You're ignoring that itch, why don't you do something about it?' I've found it's good to speak with an expert with a different perspective."

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Lancelot says to ZDNET that MHR provides mentoring and coaching sessions to staff. Every employee can access a mentor or coach, and many of these experts present their expertise to people across other lines of business.

"This is a family-owned business, and that's the culture the owners have encouraged," he says.

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