There is a term used in the restaurant business called “being in the weeds”. As a server/bartender trainer, I encountered this phenomenon often. Being in the weeds is what happens when the demands of the shift gives you a sense of great overwhelm.
It usually starts when something doesn’t go as planned. Every server has an idea of how they want the shift to go. But something usually triggers the event, such as forgetting to put in an appetizer. Or they find out that something their table ordered wasn’t in stock. Maybe something as simple as all of their tables had too many needs at the same time. Whatever the reason, something happened, and they have to make up for it.
Tunnel vision sets in. Going through the motions, they’re trying to keep everything from falling apart. At this point, efficient multitasking is not happening. Tunnel vision is keeping you from seeing everything that needs to get done.
There have been moments where I’ve pulled crying servers out of the walk-in coolers, buckling under the pressure.
This doesn’t just happen in restaurants though. This can happen in everyday life.
The feeling of overwhelm that the world is moving too fast for you and you can’t keep up is a hard feeling to walk through. But it is possible to walk through. Here’s how I do it:
5 Tips to Get You “Out of The Weeds”
1. Take Inventory on What is Causing the Overwhelm
Many times, an exasperated server would look at me as if I had three heads when I would tell them to STOP MOVING.
Me- “Hey, stop for a second”
Them- “I can’t…. I’ve got…”
Me- “I know, dude. I’ve been where you are. Just trust me. You’re overwhelmed and you’re falling behind. Pull out your notebook.”
Me- “Seriously. Take out your notebook and a pen”
We would go table by table, and write down everything needed. This process removes us from the tunnel and out of survival mode. Now we can plainly see where everyone is in their dining experience and what we need to do to help them.
Personally, I am an avid bullet journal user. I love using it to write down my goals, my to-do lists, and my priorities. I use this method to take inventory of what each part of my life needs. Lists, spreadsheets, and “brain dumps” work well too.
2. Make an Action Plan (and use that overwhelm as a compass)
It’s usually at this point that I can see the stress start to melt off the server’s shoulders.
If I’m not falling behind myself, sometimes I will help them get all they need onto their server tray. The goal is to only have to walk around the kitchen once. Make a full circle to each station and get everything they need onto the tray if they can. Otherwise, make a plan:
Who can follow me with an extra tray?
Can I make two trips if I have everything I need?
In life outside of the restaurant, this is where I would prioritize the most important stuff first:
What deadlines must I not miss?
Which items would have the most dire consequences if I didn’t get them done in a timely manner?
Are there items I can put off a few days while I catch up?
3. Be Prepared to Alter the Action Plan
This is the hardest part for plan makers. See, most of us already set out with a plan that already went south. Now we have a new plan, and it made us feel so safe we want to marry ourselves to it.
But, because life doesn’t always go the way you want it to, don’t marry that plan just yet. The plan you made after you took you inventory was made to get you “out of the weeds” but may not be permanent. As your situation changes, as you start to catch up, or as life goes on, you will find it beneficial to be flexible. Remember to use your sense of overwhelm as a tool to determine if the problem you’re attempting to solve is actually being solved.
Who knows, you may even be able to pick up your original plan and run with it!
4. Check In With Your Inventory
This is important. Even though you have gone through the steps that have brought you back to where you’re supposed to be and you’re finally feeling the release of the stress and overwhelm you’ve been feeling, make sure you take the time to re-evaluate your inventory. It is so easy to let things fall between the cracks.
If you have any fallen or forgotten priorities in your list, it may be just enough to put you right back in that place of overwhelm where you started! And our goal is to stay out of that place, right? Right.
5. Know That The Overwhelm Will End
This may seem a little harsh, but sometimes it is a revelation that is needed. As servers are trying to figure out their plan to get themselves caught back up, sometimes the pressure is still really intense and they find themselves on the verge of giving up.
This is when I tell them that at some point in the near future, no matter what it is they choose to do, this will end. These tables will get up, and they will leave the restaurant. And new patrons will sit there, and the cycle starts over from scratch.
They may not have a great experience, or the experience may be redeemed in the end.
They may tip, or they may not.
Regardless of what they do or how well they do it, this will have an end.
And they will still be standing when it does.
In life, these stressors and this sense of overwhelm may seem like too much to handle. In the midst of writing out your inventory and coming up with an action plan to tackle the most important priorities, you may feel like giving up. You may hear yourself weighing the cost of doing whatever it is you’re doing and whether this is even worth it.
But I will tell you the same thing I’ve told servers time and time again. This will pass. Soon. Inevitably. Whether you give up or push through, the end will come. Maybe you’ll get through it with flying colors, or maybe you’ll have to chalk this up as a failure. Maybe, hopefully, you’ll learn something from it. But this moment will not last for ever.
You’re just, simply put, in the weeds.
It means you’re growing. And that’s a-okay.
Best of luck to you!