This is the third of our summaries from the IATEFL MaWSIG Pre-Conference Event, which was held online on Friday, 18 June 2021. In her talk, Rachael Roberts gave us some tips to avoid and deal with overwhelm – that feeling you can get when you’ve taken on too much. Thanks to Clare Maas for providing the summary. 

Rachael’s presentation at the IATEFL MaWSIG PCE 2021 was more relevant than ever, so we’d like to share a quick summary of some of her insights.

Rachael explained that she sees two underlying causes of stress for freelancers (particularly referring to those in ELT materials development): too much work, and not enough work. And fear of the latter can cause the former. So, what can we do to avoid being overwhelmed by too much work? 

Rachael’s suggestions include:

  • Carefully consider and calculate time and pay before taking on work. Consider the benefits and the costs, and beware of the bias of thinking you can manage more work, more quickly than you really can. Tools like Toggl can keep track of time spent on various tasks and thus inform such considerations and calculations. 
  • Don’t fully book your schedule with writing work: remember that you’ll need time for admin, marketing and networking, too. 
  • Don’t try to multi-task, but ‘break and block’ instead: break larger tasks down into manageable chunks, and try to work in a focused way for finite blocks of time (e.g. using the Pomodoro technique).
  • You know that one task that you just really don’t fancy and keep putting off? Just do it. First. Then give yourself a reward.
  • Develop good time-management strategies, for example:
    • Maintain a good to-do list that allows you to indicate priorities.
    • Prioritise using a decision-making matrix (see Figure 1) and aim to spend most time on tasks that are both important and urgent.
    • Don’t use your best thinking time for the least cognitively challenging tasks.
  • Use apps and online tools to help you concentrate, such as Forest, or a basic text editor like JDarkRoom.
  • Take care of your physical and mental health, for example, through rest, exercise and rewarding play. 
  • If you’re struggling with something and feeling overwhelmed: stop. Rest. 
Figure 1: A decision-making matrix

And finally, Rachael suggests checking out her website for more input, support and useful tips.

As well as being a long-term ELT teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer, Rachael Roberts is also a qualified life coach, specialising in helping teachers and other education professionals to build a balanced, satisfying work and personal life.