How to Tackle an Overwhelming Workload

An overwhelming workload is familiar to many professionals. For those seeking a promotion or to impress a new boss, turning down additional work can stymie progress on those fronts.

Although taking on a bigger workload can certainly impress, it has numerous downsides. In a haste to complete all your work on time, the quality of such work may suffer. Alternatively, you may not have time to attend to certain work, potentially making you look unmotivated despite it just being done to time.

Once you accept a significant workload, it’s not prudent to change your mind, a move that can make you appear hesitant and unmotivated to peers. To help avoid poor work and a damaged reputation, here are seven ways to wisely tackle an overwhelming workload:

1. Segment Your Schedule

Breaking up your projects into mini-goals is easier and less daunting to accomplish, making completion of large projects more organized and realistic. Rather than manually crossing out tasks on a notepad, digital scheduling platforms make adding, removing and grouping items easy.

For example, if you’re representing your company at a conference, you can schedule that task in several segments. You can separate tasks based on those relevant to the travel required to get there — like booking transportation and hotel accommodations) — what you will be showcasing on the screen as a supplement to your speech — such as preparing a slideshow or document supplement — and prepping your spoken dialogue.

Divvying your schedule up reduces the chances of oversight since you will be looking meticulously at each building block of a task.

2. Check Your Calendar Daily

Especially when confronted with a large workload, it’s crucial to check your calendar daily to ensure you’re up to date. If you anticipate missing a deadline, then it’s best to let those involved know immediately. A daily calendar will provide you with a timely barometer of how realistic it is to finish each task on time.

Setting up your schedule is only a part of handling a bigger workload. Establishing a habit by checking that calendar is just as important, even if it requires you setting up a pop-up notification or alarm to do so.

3. Efficiently Manage Repetitive Tasks

Most jobs require some tasks that are repetitive, including responding to the same questions on a daily basis or compiling similarly themed spreadsheets. You can help manage a large workload by identifying which tasks can be duplicated due to repetition, saving time and energy.

For example, it’s useful to keep a sheet of similar email responses you’ve sent out in the past, answering common questions daily or weekly. Instead of typing up a new version of the same content, copy and paste what’s previously written while modifying key words for personalization. Similarly, you can make duplicates of a spreadsheet template that’s otherwise blank, to have formatting all prepared whenever you need to create a new sheet.

4. Prioritize What You Dread Most

Long work days can lead to exhaustion, with that feeling of weariness increasing throughout the workday. As a result, it’s recommended for both productivity and mental well-being to tackle tasks you dread the most early on, while your energy is still high. For example, if there’s a particular client that’s difficult to deal with, approaching them early in the day while you’re energetic can result in a more productive experience. You’ll be less irate at potential mishaps, while also knowing you have the full day to amend anything that needs attending.

Additionally, saving your most desired tasks for later in the day gives you something to work toward. Speaking with a client you’re on excellent terms with, who you know won’t bring any conflict, can be a great way to finish the day. If there are potential choppy waters on the horizon for a specific task, you can save time and energy by getting it out of the way early.

5. Share Your Schedule and Collaborate

Keeping a schedule feels natural for most, though this schedule can serve little purpose if time use isn’t efficient or if the schedule is inaccessible. Keeping your schedule on a cloud-based platform, like Google Calendar or iCal, prevents any worries regarding leaving your schedule somewhere.

Another perk of cloud-based schedules is the ease of sharing them with collaborators. Sharing can be especially useful if a particular task is unlikely to get finished in time. In that case, you can share your schedule with your boss or coworkers, either for advice on which items to prioritize considering the limited timeframe or actual help from them.

6. Take an Occasional Break

Taking a break upon accepting a large workload may seem counterproductive. In reality, taking a walking or lunch break at work has been found to reboot employees, making them more productive upon returning. Employees who took a break reported fewer headaches, lower back pain and eyestrains than those who did not take a break.

If you’re bogged down in work and have reached a point of frustration, get out of your workspace and take a walk, grab a bite to eat or listen to some of your favorite music. Happy people are more productive, after all.

7. Gain an Understanding of Your Limits

One of the perks of an overwhelming workload is that you will gain a better grasp of your limits for the future. If you’re already chronically exhausted at work, then accepting more tasks is a bad idea. Also, if you are aware of a workload amount in the past that led to poor results and poor sleep, there’s no shame in turning the extra work down. You can also ask to distribute one of your present tasks elsewhere if you take on the new workload. Regardless, knowing your limits is a great way to avoid an overwhelming workload in the future.

Have you used any other tips to better tackle an overwhelming workload? Be sure to subscribe for more helpful advice.


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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