Career Development

8 Steps for How To Stop Overthinking at Work

March 15, 2021

By avoiding overthinking, you can relax, increase your happiness, eliminate stress and improve your career. You will also make big decisions easier. Here are some facts and steps to help you stop overthinking and focus on the present.

What is overthinking?

Just like it sounds, overthinking is thinking about something too much or for too long. When you’re searching for a job or competing with coworkers for a promotion, it is easy to spend a lot of time considering cover letters, applications and interviews instead of relaxing and paying more attention to your current job or your family.

Why you should stop overthinking

According to a 2013 study by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, thinking too much about your problems, mistakes or shortcomings can increase your risk of health problems. Reducing overthinking can lower stress, help you sleep better and positively affect your career.

Stress levels can have a big impact on your work performance. Getting rid of stress can help you increase your motivation, focus on short- and long-term goals and have better interactions with your colleagues. When people are more relaxed, they often feel like they have more control over big decisions and the ways they complete individual tasks.

Avoiding overthinking can also help you fall asleep at night as well. Better sleep has many of the same benefits as lower stress levels, including an improved mood, better motivation and more focus. Instead of delaying or avoiding asking for a raise, a promotion or additional training because of overthinking, you should take the actions needed to improve your career.

How to stop overthinking at work

Thinking about an issue too much or for too long can keep you from performing at your fullest capacity in the workplace and enjoying your life in an overall sense. Here are some ways to help you stop overthinking:

  • Pay attention to the way you think.
  • Have some perspective.
  • Focus on the things you can change.
  • Get a good start every day.
  • Schedule some time for reflection.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Stop being a perfectionist.
  • Realize that you cannot control everything.

Pay attention to the way you think

Before you start learning about how not to overthink things, you need to find out how to recognize overthinking. Two main types of thoughts—ruminating and worrying—dominate the days of many overthinkers.

Ruminating involves contemplating the past. Here are some common thoughts while ruminating, as well as tips for how to stay positive:

  • “My boss did not say hello when I walked by her office this morning. I wonder what happened.” Remember that your boss is probably just busy, not displeased with you.

  • “No one liked what I said when I shared my ideas in the meeting.” Your coworkers probably just need more information or some persuading before they will agree with you in a meeting in front of clients or your boss.

  • “I should have stayed at work later instead of having dinner with my family last night.” Taking the time you need to relax is vital for avoiding burnout.

Most of the time, others do not notice the actions or mistakes people ruminate about. You can reduce the time you spend ruminating by thinking about ways to improve next time and remembering the things you did right.

Unlike ruminating, worrying involves making negative predictions. Here are some common thoughts from people who worry, in addition to ways to stay positive:

  • “When I make that presentation tomorrow, I will probably make a mistake.” You should practice until you’re not nervous and get some tips for giving a great presentation.

  • “No one will ever promote me.” If you keep trying to advance your career, you are very likely to succeed eventually.

  • “I am not as qualified as my coworkers.” Your boss hired you because you were the most qualified person for the job. Your coworkers may just be more confident and willing to promote themselves.

Overthinkers often imagine images, feelings, and sounds along with their thoughts. For example, someone who is worrying about a presentation might imagine details like feeling nervous, making mistakes or the look on the boss’s face.

To prevent overthinking from reducing your productivity and quality of life, you need to pay attention to the way you think and learn to recognize it. If you notice yourself ruminating or worrying, remember that these types of thoughts are not productive. Instead, try to think about all the things that could go right. The client could love your ideas and ask to work with you on future projects. Nailing your presentation might even lead to a promotion.

Have some perspective

Thinking about all the potential positive outcomes of your actions is a great way to reduce your worrying. Remember that most of your efforts are likely to have positive results. Otherwise, you would make a completely rational decision to avoid doing those things. For example, every time you fly somewhere, there is a very small chance that the plane will crash. However, a safe landing followed by an amazing vacation is much more likely. Overthinking should not keep you from enjoying that holiday or any other part of your life.

If you notice yourself ruminating or worrying about something small, ask yourself how much the outcome matters. For example, there is no need to ruminate about whether or not people liked the cake you brought to the last office party. A month or a year from now, almost no one will remember who brought the food or how it tasted.

Focus on the things you can change

If you cannot act on the topic you are ruminating or worrying about immediately, you should focus on other tasks. Begin your work for the day, do your dishes, take out your trash or start something else. Throughout the day, set deadlines for yourself and concentrate on completing small steps of larger tasks. This will help you focus, increase your productivity and reduce procrastination and overthinking. Avoiding multitasking and taking regular breaks will also keep you from feeling overwhelmed or burned out by a large or complex project.

Do not pause to check your email, look at social media or read comments on your blog until you finish with your current task or you get a few hours of work done. That way, you can get rid of distractions and prevent overthinking.

Related: How to Get Motivated at Work

Get a good start every day

The first hours of your day can impact your mood until you go to bed at night. If you spend your morning stressed out, you will be more likely to overthink for the rest of the day. Here are some ways to avoid stress and feel better when you wake up:

  • Get plenty of sleep.

  • Wake up early to prevent needing to hurry to get ready on time.

  • Have breakfast before you get to work. Many people feel stressed when they are hungry.

  • Get some exercise. Taking a brief walk, going for a run or even doing some housework can help you relax for the rest of the day. Overthinking is often worse when people have a lot of extra energy.

  • Leave your home a few minutes early to prevent unexpected delays from traffic.

  • Instead of reading or watching news stories about a disaster or other negative topics, watch a comedy or read some fiction after you wake up.

The right start to your day will help you make decisions, take care of important tasks and do your best work without overthinking.

Schedule some time for reflection

While too much time thinking about past mistakes and potential problems is not productive, some brief reflection could be helpful. Schedule 20 or 30 minutes every day to think about whatever you want. Contemplate worst-case scenarios and let yourself spend some time worrying about unlikely events. Write down your thoughts to help yourself think of ways to solve problems and prioritize tasks.

If you notice yourself overthinking outside this time, remember that you can consider that topic later. This keeps you from getting distracted by negative thoughts while giving you time to come up with solutions to your problems.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is focusing all of your attention, thoughts and emotions on the present. When you practice mindfulness, you will not worry about tomorrow or ruminate about the past. You can enjoy your life without wasting your time by overthinking. Mindfulness also allows you to focus better on complex tasks such as writing a report or creating a budget.

To use this technique, slow down, relax and commit to becoming more aware of your surroundings. Pause and notice the beauty of the flowers outside your office instead of letting yourself be distracted by overthinking. Find an activity you enjoy, like listening to music, knitting, drawing or painting. Then, use all your energy to focus on that task and all the sensations associated with it instead of negative thoughts.

If you start to feel nervous or anxious, take slow, deep breaths through your nose and pay attention to all the details of your surroundings. You could look at the clouds, check out a beautiful flower or take a few seconds to appreciate the artwork in your office. Like any other skill, mindfulness takes practice, but it can help you reduce overthinking and increase your attention span over time.

Stop being a perfectionist

Many people overthink because they believe that they are not intelligent enough, hardworking enough or charismatic enough to succeed at their goals. They could also spend too much time trying to catch nonexistent errors. If you make a mistake, remember that no one is perfect and a flawless performance is never a prerequisite for success. Sometimes, finishing a task on time is more important than getting rid of every error.

Realize that you cannot control everything

For many people, overthinking is a way to try to control their lives. People consider every possible outcome for their actions because they want to avoid failure. However, everyone fails occasionally and failure can be a valuable learning opportunity. Thinking too much about your decisions will not increase your chances of positive results. Many people call overthinking analysis paralysis because it can keep you from taking advantage of available opportunities or responding promptly to advances or changes in your industry.

If you need to make an important choice, thinking can never replace actions. Give yourself an hour or two to do some research, get advice from friends or coworkers and then make your decision. This lets you get all the facts, think carefully and make an informed choice promptly without worrying too much about what to do.

Also, your success depends on some things that you can not control. For example, you may not get a new job if your interviewer is having a bad day or thinking about urgent tasks. You should still apply and do your best in the interview.

By avoiding overthinking, enjoying the present and taking an occasional risk, you can improve your career and get more pleasure from your life. Increasing your skills, applying for a new job or just relaxing and spending time with your family are all easier without overthinking.

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