Less Is More: 5 Things to Do When You Are Overwhelmed at Work
Nearly everyone is complaining about having too much to do at work nowadays. The reasons may vary from ambitions and overcommit to just being unable to say no to extra work — but the result is always the same: you end up at risk of not managing to do everything you had planned.
Experts say that overworking is not sustainable in the long term for both the employer and the employee: its consequences range from simple tiredness to exhaustion and emotional burnout. So, what can be done if you feel overworked?
1. Talk to your boss about your overwork
Easier said than done: none of us want to be considered a “no” person or “not a team player”. That’s why talking to a boss and admitting that the workload is too heavy is difficult even for the most hard-working employees.
However, if you are overwhelmed, it’s best to let your manager know: it doesn’t mean that you are lazy or uncommitted. A reasonable manager would appreciate your honesty and ability to adequately assess your personal resources. Being honest and giving a heads-up as early as possible is essential for achieving the desired changes.
A good way to let your boss know that you have too much on your plate is to come to them with actual solutions. Suggesting ways to optimize the workflow or redistribute workload shows initiative and responsibility. Speaking up when you feel you’re not handling the workload well is not about being lazy and difficult to work with, it’s about preventing your team from missing important deadlines and goals.
2. Focus on small tasks
A thousand mile journey begins with a single step. If there’s no way to reduce the workload and you’re feeling anxious about it, it might be a good idea not to concentrate on the big picture. Instead, focus on what’s right in front of you, doing work in chunks of smaller tasks — and your anxiety will gradually fade.
When you’re not confident in your abilities, start anyway. Our negative thoughts are our worst enemy: they keep us from achieving more and contribute to our lack of confidence. Learn to ignore them and just get to work.
3. Learn to say no to extra work
No matter how hard-working we think we are, taking on every task available doesn’t mean being successful. Quite the opposite, in fact. And sometimes saying no is just as vital for the long-term progress of both your team and yourself. As questionable as it may sound, doing more does not always equal working better. Go ahead and ask yourself which one makes you feel better: accomplishing fewer tasks, but doing it really well, or wading through a massive list of assignments and ending up with below average results?
Don’t be a perfectionist. Many of us tend to judge ourselves too harshly, but perfectionism and our attempts to be as good as we “should” be only served to work against us, leading to negative thoughts, low self-esteem, and disappointment. You can be good enough without the extra work and being always busy.
And sure, sometimes overworking can feel rewarding. When we have a lot to do, we feel we’re needed, irreplaceable, in demand. However, the usual result is stress and exhaustion. To prevent this, we need to learn to evaluate our capacity and know exactly how much work we can handle.
4. Measure your productivity
When you find yourself feeling often overwhelmed, taking a look at what takes up most of your work time can be extremely valuable. One of the most efficient ways to do that is to visualize your tasks and record the time that you spend on them. And timesheet software can help you do just that: see where your time goes, analyze the big picture, and see where you can (and should) improve. Something like a free version of actiTIME timesheet can be a great help here.
Normally, a quick glance at the results of your time-track is enough to tell what work assignments consume most of your time. Think on the ways to increase your efficiency at work. Seek support from your team: think of delegating part of your work to your colleagues or redistributing it. Optimize your work process so that routine actions take less time, and set priorities so that the most important to-dos get done first.
5. Adopt some productivity tools
There are countless productivity tools out there, but for most people, the goal is to adopt the smallest number of tools necessary to stay productive. There is no need to start using to-do apps, collaboration tools, mail extensions all at once. Start with something that will protect you from office distractions. Brain.fm or Noisli can easily help you relax, relieve stress or focus while at work.
Another important step here is to adopt something restricting you from using social networks and mobile apps. Freedom allows you to block distracting websites, apps or the entire internet. Working distraction-free will help you concentrate on the, and who knows, maybe even break the habit of checking your phone every couple of minutes.
Saying no to extra work and delegating part of your current responsibilities to your colleagues doesn’t paint you as not committed or unproductive. Remember: more input doesn’t necessarily mean more output. And if you do have a lot of work to do and it makes you feel anxious, just start anyway. Taking that first step will help you go the entire distance.