The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Needing help and feeling overwhelmed

As far as I can see it, everyone I know has more things to do, than time available.

And it doesn’t matter what the time available is. It seems to be a natural phenomenon with humans, once they think about the time available there seems to be a shortage of it. It’s a feeling that is much less present once someone is concentrated on his current activity. It’s worth noticing, that people can’t do two things at the same time, worry about the future and act in the present.

Nevertheless, having too much on one’s plate easily leads to overwhelm. Researching overwhelm, Rebecca Zucker noted that one of the top two predictors of feeling overwhelmed at work is a lack of help-seeking. She also found that those who don’t ask for help scored 23% higher on overwhelm.

There is no single answer as to why people don’t ask for help. That’s because it’s an individual answer. And even individuals will have a few reasons why they don’t ask for help. In many cases, it is linked to past experiences where they didn’t receive help or didn’t receive the help they looked for. These past experiences as well as their understanding of when they can ask for help or what they can receive help for influences their way forward and easily prevents them from asking.

There are a few common themes.

The less time available, the more people will feel pressured to push through and fear that interrupting their work will cause them even more delay. They lack an overview of how their task can be reshaped, what is asked for, and how it can be split into parts others can contribute to.

When teams work together on a task that overview as well as potential help is much more readily available. It’s the consequence of how people talk about the job to be done and keep the deadline in mind together.

When people are dealing with a task on their own, they have fewer conversations about it. They have much less input on how others would address it, how much time others invest in the detail work, or about what people expected in such situations, or how they reacted to the finalized result.

Reflecting on the work to be done and how they are challenged by it rarely connects with the help that could be available. And reflecting on questions like “what is holding you back from asking for help?” or “what is the help you need?” requires inquiring into one’s own story in the mind and vulnerabilities.

Such a reflection is thus easily side-tracked by the question “what is the help you want?” As that question easily highlights the desire to simply get rid of the problem. And it’s help that is rarely available because helping one another is about sharing the work, not doing it for the other.

But when someone reached a state of being overwhelmed, it is as if they are blindfolded and unable to see such truths.

Another interesting theme is the ease people have to add something to their list. They rarely reflect on how changes to their routine can change their workload in the short-term as well as the long term.

And that includes asking for help.


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