What to do when you're overworked | What to do when you're overwhelmed at work

We tend to brush off our feelings of exhaustion and frustration when it comes to work. We’re just lucky to be working, right? It’s all just a means to a successful end, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, there comes a point when you’re working beyond your threshold. Yes, it’s good to persevere, push through and do what needs to be done, but there comes a point when doing it all just isn’t possible.

So what do you do when that happens? First, you have to realize what’s causing it and determine the difference between being overwhelmed and being straight up overworked. Either way, recognizing the problem is the first step to fixing it.

You Might Be Overwhelmed If …

Most jobs come with a busy season, whether it’s the Christmas holidays in retail or the pretax push in accounting. During this time, you might find yourself feeling exhausted and unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel, even though it will eventually come.

If your stress is seasonal, then you’re probably just overwhelmed. In most cases, the only thing you can do to break through to the other side is to hunker down, put in the extra hours and get it over with. Once you’ve made the once-a-year big push, you’ll be back on a manageable work schedule.

Here are some more tips to help you overcome your overwhelmed state:

  • Come up With a Plan of Action: You might be tempted to jump right into your big project, but outlining the way you’ll tackle it will help you do so more efficiently.
  • Pare Down Your Daily To-Dos: Staring at a lengthy to-do list won’t do anything but stress you out more. Instead, break it down into digestible sections so you feel like you accomplish something each day and are making strides toward the final, finished product.
  • Focus on One Thing: Multitasking seems like a good idea – until you start on a handful of different tasks without completing a single one. Put all your energy into finishing one thing at a time in order to chip away at your responsibilities.
  • Limit Weekend Work Time: If your plan is to catch up by staying late or working over the weekend, you need a better plan. Working extra hours will only backfire. If you must work on your days off, give yourself a strict time limit so you’re super productive and able to enjoy your free time.
  • Rest: Obviously, sleep is key to boosting your energy levels. Make it a priority to get enough sleep and to take plenty of breaks to refocus your mind, especially when work gets overwhelming.

You Might Be Overworked If …

If there’s no season to your extra tasks, hours and stress, then you’re not just overwhelmed. You’re overworked.

You likely feel as though you can never get anything done because you’re stretched too thin all the time. This is especially true if the work given to you comes with a high-priority flag from your boss – you can’t get it done quickly enough, but it just keeps coming down the pipeline.

If this is the case, then it’s time to speak up and tell your boss what’s going on. No overworked employee is a good employee. Overworking can lead to health problems, addictions, depression, impaired memory and increased insurance costs for companies.

Now that you’ve identified the problem, you have to come up with a solution, because overworking is no way to get the job done.

Here are 10 ways to approach the problem in order to facilitate a constructive conversation and solution with the one(s) giving you too much to do:

1. Say Something

The first mistake many employees make is to assume higher-ups know just how much they’re doing. Your boss simply might not be aware of your lengthy list of responsibilities, and when you accept new assignments without even a hint of hesitation, he or she thinks you’ve got the capacity to take it on.

That’s why the most important step of all is to tell your boss how you’re feeling so he or she is aware of the situation and can delegate – or even re-delegate – tasks in order to help you. No help will come if you don’t give the word, so that’s always the first step.

2. Mirror Your Manager’s Style

Not everyone communicates in the same way. In the time you’ve spent working under your boss, though, you have an idea of how they get a point across.

Instead of using your own tactics, flip the script and speak to your boss in a way that will make sense to him or her. This will open your boss’s eyes and improve the relationship between you, which is a win-win for any employee.

3. Make a List of Everything You Do

Yes, lengthy to-do lists are bad. When it comes to proving you’re overworked, though, write out everything. That way, when you sit down with your boss to say there’s too much on your plate, you’ll have enough evidence to prove it – and then some.

4. Harp on Quality Over Quantity

You never want to make your “I’m overworked” conversation sound accusatory or judgmental of your boss’s managing tactics. Instead, focus on your personal concerns regarding the amount of work you’re taking on.

A valid concern is if the quality of your work is suffering because of the sheer amount you have to do. With less to do, you could focus more and do a better job. Create a game plan that prioritizes the tasks you’d like to focus on and how much time it would reasonably take to deliver them with the quality you’d like so you can pare down the other tasks that don’t fit.

5. Come With Potential Solutions

Always have a game plan and solutions for handling the excess work. Gauge which projects you can still take on in tandem, propose extended deadlines or suggest a colleague or two who might be able to take the helm just as successfully as you have.

With a few options to choose from, your boss will be more receptive to your plan to take on less.

6. Outline Your Goals Together

You might already have a set of yearly goals. If not, take some time to write them down and go over them with your boss so you’re on the same page as to what you want to – and can – accomplish within a calendar year. You can go over your progress and tweak your goals/workload in update meetings, as discussed below.

This outline will also help you understand how you’ll be appraised in a year’s time. This will have an effect on any potential promotions, raises, etc., so it’s an important conversation to have.

7. Start Scheduling Project-Update Meetings

Once you’ve acknowledged the fact that you’re working beyond your threshold, you should make a point to check back in with your boss regularly to discuss how things are going.

In the weeks and months after your initial session, schedule routine meetings in order to discuss the positive and negative changes that have come with re-working your responsibilities.

8. Always Be Honest

The hardest part is having the talk, and that requires a whole lot of honesty on your end. Once you’ve gotten over the initial hurdle, you’ll have to maintain your openness in order to ensure your new workload is working for you.

If it starts to feel like too much – or never seems to taper off, despite your initial discussion – pipe up.

9. Make Time for Mental Breaks

You shouldn’t be at the office 24/7, and neither should your mind. Take advantage of evenings and weekends to rest and recharge. It’ll boost your productivity and improve your health.

You can also work little breathers into your workday. Grab a coffee and catch up with a coworker, or take a brisk walk outside between conference calls. These short breaks will remind you that there’s a world outside of work, and if you have better control over your workplace responsibilities, you can enjoy them more often.

10. Hold Your Ground

Chances are, your boss will be open to your initial plea for less work and will heed your request at the beginning. However, after time passes and you start excelling with less, you might find more tasks start to creep onto your to-do list, thus putting you in the position of overworking once again.

If this happens, you’ll have to be firm with your bottom line. Talk to your boss once again and specify which responsibilities have to go if you’re to take on new ones. Any reasonable manager will be happy to work with your requests.

It Might be Too Much If …

All of the above hinges upon your boss’s ability to take your concerns seriously, handle them swiftly and delegate more effectively. In most cases, this will be the case, and everyone will work better together for months and years to come.

Unfortunately, though, not all bosses have the listening skills required of your situation.

If you find your pleas fall on deaf ears, then it might be time to open yourself to the possibility of a job search. Of course, this is a worst-case-scenario, but the potential of overworking for the foreseeable future is much worse than going through the steps of finding a new job where you’ll likely be less stressed, more productive, happier and healthier.

Are you overwhelmed, overworked or over it? Tell us about your situation and how you handle it in the comments. And don’t forget to subscribe to Punched Clocks to keep up with the latest advice on managing your workload and learning to love your career.

Now, time to do less.



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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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