It may feel like you need to work as hard as possible to succeed in your career. After all, this is the message you receive from your boss (although not explicitly) and when you see your coworkers putting in more hours than required. In fact, working like this will only diminish your productivity. Plus, work overload and stress are closely linked. In other words, it may feel like the right decision to put in more hours, but dealing with work overload in the long term has a negative impact on both your job and personal life.
1. Figure Out Your Priorities
If you’re already overwhelmed with work and your boss assigns you another project, you may feel that there’s no option but to work longer days. However, if you stop to figure out your priorities, you may find that your workload is actually manageable.
Some tasks on your to-do list may have no defined deadline. Instead of pushing to finish everything as soon as possible, ask your boss what you need to work on first. Use the opportunity to discuss your workload and mention any activities you’ll need to push back to focus on high-priority work. It’s no easy task for managers to assign reasonable workloads to all their employees. There’s a good chance your boss is unaware you’re struggling to keep up and will be happy to reduce your assignments.
2. Improve Your Time-Management Skills
It’s no good prioritizing tasks if you continue to work on whatever appeals to you most. Often, the highest-priority work is the least enjoyable, but you’ll need to muster some self-discipline and tackle it first anyway.
This is just the start of good time-management practices. Another thing to do is monitor how you’re currently spending your time. Then, you can figure out how to improve. You may notice that you’re becoming distracted far too often, which means finding ways to remove distractions. Alternatively, may need to reduce the number of times you check your email throughout the day.
3. Tackle Bad Habits
Another advantage of monitoring how you spend your time is that it will draw your attention to your bad habits. You may think that you’re just glancing at social media for a few minutes a day. When you add up the time, though, it could be significantly longer.
Furthermore, even productive activities can turn into bad habits if you spend too long on them. For instance, if an idea pops into your head while you’re working on something unrelated, you may be tempted to drop everything and do some research. However, you could easily lose whole hours this way. A better approach is to make a note of your idea and put in the research later when you can dedicate the time. Make sure to decide in advance exactly how long you’ll spend on this research.
4. Give Yourself Permission to Say “No”
If you agree to every project that comes your way, your boss will think you have plenty of free time. It’s fine to say “no,” especially if someone else on your team is just as qualified. In fact, as well as preventing work overload, being willing to say “no” shows leadership qualities. Your boss will appreciate that you’re aware of how much work you are able to take on — this gives your boss confidence that you’ll deliver work by deadlines and avoid burnout.
In addition, think about what activities you previously decided were necessary and determine if you could eliminate some of them. This may include non-essential meetings or back-and-forth correspondence that would be better resolved with a phone call.
5. Work Set Hours
To decide how many hours they should be working, many people add up all their work tasks and make that their total. A better approach is to start with 24 hours and subtract the hours you need for other activities. For instance, figure out how much time you need for sleep, exercise, family, social life, exercise, hobbies, and self-care. Whatever remains is for work.
Once you have the total (bear in mind that it may differ for each day of the week), decide which hours of the day you’ll work. The amount of flexibility you have will depend on your job, as there may be particular times of the day you do need to be working. Even in this case, though, you can assign tasks to specific hours — this will help you work around your productivity levels and mood at different times of the day.
Never feel as if you need to stick rigidly to the original schedule you make. In fact, it is far better if you continuously make adjustments. Some activities may require more time than you originally thought, whereas you may be able to cut back on others.
6. Have an Objective for Every Day
At the start of every day, decide on one or just a few main tasks you want to complete. Make sure you also know what steps you’ll need to take to achieve them. If you’re able to meet your objectives, you’ll have had a productive day even if some other items remain on your to-do list.
7. Practice Relaxation
Include breaks throughout the day for a chance to breathe or take your mind off work. It’s even better to step away from your desk and leave your electronics behind. Regular 15-minute breaks for a glass of water or herbal tea (avoid using the opportunity to consume even more caffeine), a short walk, stretches, or even a brief meditation will help you regain your focus.
Initially, you may feel stressed about taking breaks when you’re already overloaded by work. However, you’ll find that regular breaks improve your concentration and you’ll be able to achieve more. This is a far better option than pushing yourself to do as much as possible — you’ll only feel exhausted and be more likely to make mistakes.
In addition to these short breaks, make sure you schedule time off work for a proper break. It may seem like the company needs you, but it will survive without you for a week or two. Ultimately, this will be better for both you and the business because you’ll return rested and fresh.
8. Use Tools and Software
These days, there’s tech for every problem you can imagine — and that includes helping you with work overload.
Collaborations take up far more of your time if you need to be constantly messaging team members back and forth. Project management software is a necessity for keeping everyone on the same page. Plus, you can use it to set your own priorities, meaning you’ll be sure that you’re working on the right thing. There are many options for project management software, but Asana is a top choice for its customizability, features, and ease of use.
For the rest of your workplace communication, use a tool like Slack. Messages are instant and you can talk to just one coworker or an entire group. Plus, you can share files, make video calls, and look back through conversations to find previously-shared information.
Automating processes is a key way to reduce your workload. If This Then That (or IFTTT) allows you to connect your apps to respond to cues. This eliminates the need to manually do actions like post reminders before an event starts, log the time you spend in different locations in a spreadsheet, or search for a specific piece of information you need at a certain time each day.
Much more than just another digital calendar solution, Calendar uses artificial intelligence to learn about how you work and to help you optimize your productivity. It offers analytics to show you how you’re spending your time, allows others to request meetings with you that you can accept or reject, and it syncs with other calendar apps, like Google and Outlook.
9. Delegate Tasks
There’s no need for you to handle every piece of work that crosses your desk. You can potentially delegate anything that doesn’t closely relate to your job description. As you progress in your career to more senior positions, you’ll find that delegating becomes an ever-more important skill — not to mention ever more necessary for dealing with work overload.
Delegating doesn’t mean you’ll lose control of a project. In fact, you should request regular updates — perhaps your coworker could add files to the cloud for you to check progress and make suggestions. When you collaborate like this, you’ll often find that the work is much higher quality than if you tried to do everything yourself, especially considering you won’t be stressed and you’ll have time to concentrate and assess the smallest details.
10. Contract a Virtual Assistant
If the rest of your team is already overwhelmed as well, there may be no one on your staff to delegate to. In this situation, a solution is a virtual assistant. The great thing about virtual assistants is you never need to ask them if they have space in their schedule — their role is to take over any work you lack the time to do yourself.
Of course, there’s always a risk when you contract a freelance VA that the person will be unavailable one day, leaving you in the lurch. With a virtual assistant from MYVA360, though, you’ll always have someone to support you with your work overload, including with new tasks that crop up. We have a whole team of VAs with a wide range of skills and knowledge. We’ll assign you a regular VA, but we’ll always have backups on standby — you can even request a second virtual assistant for those extra-busy days.
Right now, you can receive a 10-percent discount on our services. Schedule a consultation to receive your virtual assistant for executives at this special price — and see what a difference having a VA makes to coping with work overload.