As veterans of multiple political campaigns, we have been professionally conditioned to enthusiastically say “yes” to every task we are assigned and every opportunity that comes our way. It’s tempting to want to prove yourself by demonstrating you can do everything that is thrown at you. You might believe that if you succeed, you’ll get rewarded in the form of a raise, promotion or admiration from your colleagues.
But often, saying “yes” to everything stretches you way too thin. You may find yourself performing your to-do list at 60 percent instead of 100 percent, sacrificing sleep, precious time with family and friends and even your personal health in a quest to prove you are superhuman.
The result? You feel overwhelmed.
Today, we are both on hiatus from campaign life and are individually running our own small businesses, actively pursuing and tending to clients, and analyzing politics on MSNBC. We’re lucky that we can mostly set our own hours and schedules. Some days the workload is manageable. Other days it feels hectic and out of control.
Throughout our careers, we have learned a few lessons that have helped us stay grounded. We also spoke to Jennifer Palmieri, former Hillary for America communications director to get her words of wisdom. We hope these tips will help you too.
Ask for help.
Proving that you’re in an elite class that can perform three to four tasks at a time is tempting. But, trying to do it all without the proper support, may result in nothing getting done. This, in turn, will leave you with the horrible feeling that you are barely keeping your head above water.
Susan’s experience: Do more with less. That was the mantra of my office, and I was determined to meet the challenge. However, at some point I realized, even if I worked 80 hours a week, I couldn’t get everything I needed to get done. During one time-sensitive project, I found myself at a complete loss. I couldn’t authorize overtime, and I was letting a lot of things slide.
I don’t remember if it was out of desperation or exhaustion, but one evening I opened up about my feelings of being overwhelmed to a member of my team. That Saturday, as I sat in the office surrounded by reams of data, four members of my staff showed up unexpectedly to help. They didn’t ask for anything in return, just “where should we start?”
I wish I would have directly asked for help sooner. Most people, if you just ask, are happy to pitch in.
Know your limitations and delegate.
Think twice before saying yes. And if you do decide to go forward, take time to prioritize your tasks and delegate accordingly.
Adrienne’s experience: During the 2016 presidential campaign, I had the opportunity to run the surrogate team, dealing with people who cultivate and deploy external influencers (like elected officials and celebrities) while also maintaining my role as director of strategic communications. I was thrilled by the promotion, but soon I became overwhelmed by the workload.
After taking stock of how I was spending my time during an average day, I realized I was spending way too much time drafting and personalizing emails. As soon as we scaled up, the first task I assigned to my assistant was managing my inbox and responding to emails. This allowed me to focus on bigger picture items.
Take a deep breath and walk away.
Yes, this may sound counter-intuitive, but walking away from your computer and phone can actually help your productivity. Taking a break from your screens and getting out of constant contact will give you the time you need to think about how best to manage your workload and allow you the space required to map out critical next steps.
Jennifer Palmieri, former Hillary for America communications director and No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of “Dear Madam President” shares her advice:
I have had lots of experiences working on campaigns and in the White House when I have felt overloaded, but those pale in comparison to the overwhelming helplessness I felt when writing a book.
Panicking and pushing yourself to keep going when you do not have anything left in the tank does not work. When I reach the panic stage, I know to get up and take a half hour walk or go to sleep and get up early the next day. At first, it can be hard to walk away. It goes against our instinct to hustle to get the job done. But what I have learned is that taking care of yourself is critical to doing your best work. Taking that needed break is the most responsible thing you can do to get the job done.
It is always good to challenge yourself, and even push beyond your limits from time to time. However, feeling constantly overwhelmed and not preforming at your best will not lead to success. When you feel that pang of overwhelm coming on, take it as a sign that you need to pause, evaluate what needs to be done and plan for the resources you need to get the required results.
Susan Del Percio is a New York-based Republican strategist and Adrienne Elrod is a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist. Their column, "Politicking for Success" appears weekly on NBC News' Know Your Value.