When Work is Too Much

Highlighter pens next to a stack of filled out productivity notepads

Are you working too much?

In a perfect world, you’d have a manageable workload. You would feel comfortable setting boundaries with your boss. And you wouldn’t feel guilty for taking regular breaks. 

But the reality is that we find it hard to say no to work, we don’t let our managers know when we have too much on our plate, and we feel guilty when we’re not working all the time.

Managing your workload isn’t just about improving your efficiency and productivity. It’s also about making sure that you’re not taking on an excessive amount of work. And while a heavy workload might be seen as a badge of honor in today’s workplace, it’s taxing on your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. 

If work is getting to be too much, here are different strategies you can use to cope and lighten your workload. 

Put everything down on paper

When work is busy, everything feels big and heavy. When your mind is swirling with deadlines, calendar invites, and responsibilities, it’s hard to know where to even begin.  But when you write things down, you can take what’s in your mind and empty it out on paper. 

Doing this will help relieve your mind of the heavy burden of storing everything you need to do. And things are so much clearer when they’re laid out in front of you.

So the next time work is getting to be too much, take out your notebook, and just start jotting down all the tasks and responsibilities that are weighing on you. Don’t worry about organizing this list or making things look tidy. Right now, it’s all about getting things down on paper.

When you’re done with this exercise, you should feel lighter and more clear-headed. Just the mere act of writing things down can help you release work stress and tension. And what’s more, you’ll have a clear and specific to-do list to work from.

Asses what’s truly important 

There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Make sure that you’re not overburdening yourself with busy work that is not aligned with your true priorities

Look at the list that you just created and start sorting through your tasks. Circle the ones that are truly important and urgent. 

Ask yourself: 

  • What needs to be done today?
  • What can wait until tomorrow or next week?
  • What can be eliminated or delegated to someone else?

You should see your workload trimmed down considerably. Only focus on the priorities that must be accomplished today. If you have free time left over, then take on additional tasks from your to-do list. 

Break down an overwhelming assignment 

When you have competing demands, it’s hard to think clearly about how to approach a big task. So the next time you have a big, complex project to do, try breaking it down into easy, actionable pieces. 

For example, let’s say you have to organize a big work event. Break down your project into small steps. Define your budget. Create a guest list. Book a venue. Research vendors. 

Then, create a timeline to help you determine what tasks you must finish and by when. Make sure to add these deadlines to your calendar and check-in regularly to ensure that you’re meeting them. 

If you’re juggling multiple projects or assignments, use a project management pad to help you keep your work streams in order. 

Set boundaries

We know it’s easier said than done, but setting and communicating your boundaries is an essential skill to have in the workplace. 

You might feel nervous about setting boundaries, especially if it involves saying no to your boss, but you will become more confident over time. If you’re new to this practice, take small steps at first and ease your way into it. 

Use technology to your advantage. Just because our devices make us accessible 24/7, doesn’t mean you have to always be available. If you’re an iPhone user, turn on the Focus feature and set “do not disturb” hours. If you have trouble ignoring email, then set email auto-responses to communicate your office hours or to convey that your response will be delayed due to x or y project.

Have a script on hand. If a coworker or manager asks you to take something on, have some scripts on hand so that you know exactly what to say.  Some examples you can use include:

  • I’m currently working on X project, and wouldn’t be able to do Y project in a timely manner. 
  • I’m currently working on X project, which needs my time and attention. But I can redirect my attention to Y project if that’s a bigger priority.

By providing some context on what you’re working on, you’re saying no in a professional but firm way. And by asking your manager about their priorities, you’re expressing your willingness to work as well as clarifying expectations. 

Combat perfectionism

Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? It might be increasing your workload.

It’s understandable that you’d want to do well at your job. But perfection doesn’t exist. And if striving for perfection is getting in the way of your progress, then it’s time to hit pause and let go of these unattainable standards. 

Here’s how you can avoid perfectionism at work:

  • Do a work sprint. Set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes and try to get as much done as you can. No editing or obsessing over typos or trying to make everything look perfect. Your main objective is to reach the finish line.
  • Delegate tasks. Your need for perfection can negatively impact your coworkers and manifest in micromanaging or being critical of others. Let go of the need to control and accept that not everyone is not going to get it right or perfect the first time. But everyone deserves a chance to learn and improve. So delegate tasks to lighten the load. 

Take a mindfulness break 

When work is draining you, it’s important to step away from it all and reset. 

The next time you have a busy day at work, take a moment to close your eyes and count to ten. Or walk around the block for ten minutes. And make sure to take your lunch break outside and away from your desk. 

For more advice on how to find calm in a busy work environment, read our guide here

Written by JiJi Lee.

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