The pace at work is relentless and the personal to-do list just keeps getting longer.
Some of us know this to be our only state of existence: a never-ending onslaught of “too much to do.”
It’s helpful to start by being aware of your own line where ‘a lot to do’ becomes ‘overwork’. At what point do you begin to feel overwhelmed, or hear the inner voice of resentment? Take a moment to close your eyes and systematically think of all you have on your plate. Go through each of the main projects and notice how your body reacts to each of them. There might be some where you are excited to do them, or at least feel fine about having to do them, accepting they are a part of your role. These projects are your “Yes.” And there will be some projects you think of where you get a clenched feeling inside. These projects or commitments are causing a “no” in your body and may be a sign they are contributing to ‘overwork.’ You want to consider how to problem solve them, set a boundary, delegate, or find an alternative approach to the work.
Make sure you don’t end up with Koala Bear Syndrome; that’s when you’ve been nice said yes to too many things and you’ve piled on. You take it silently for a long time. At a certain point it will be ‘too much’ and you will explode or become burned out. Instead, be paying attention to your “Yes” and your “No” along the way and keep yourself in a state of challenge but not overwhelm.
Here are 5 things you can to pull back on overwork:
Make sure you go into every project having a clear sense of what the outcome is, and don’t get started until you do; this will help prevent spinning in confusion or the time-wasting of re-work.
If you are working with people who are uncooperative and cause a lot of drama, try to work out the root cause of the issue with them as early in your interactions as possible. This is helpful because otherwise you will continue to react to each email, disappointment, and aggravation with them, causing a lot of emotional turmoil and having to either do their work for them or re-do your own work.
Use Proactive Boundaries
When we don’t set proactive boundaries, we’re working from a place of reaction. We wait until things build up and we get overwhelmed. It can feel like a game of Whack-A-Mole if you wait until people intrude on your time or attention to try to fend them off; you’ll never get ahead of the overwork.
Be proactive about communicating your boundaries to others. Tell people ahead of time how you are available to interact around work. Each time you discuss taking on more work, put it through the filter of how it is in the service of your goals/your group’s goals. If it’s not, ask the person assigning it if it’s still a priority.
Develop the habit of asking “by when do you need this?” This can help prevent you from feeling like your entire day is blown up because of an early morning email without a clear deadline attached. Put a line in your email saying you are heads down working on a project and the hours of the day you are available to respond to them.
Set Reactive Boundaries to Problem Solve Your Overwork
Your manager is often not aware of all of the projects you have on your plate (ironically, they are likely very overwhelmed, too). A great way to address this is to bring a one page description of all you are doing to your meetings with them. It should be a visual that conveys the ‘shock and awe’ of how much you are already doing – and that’s only in your work life! Show this visual to your manager and walk them through it: “These are all the things I have on my plate. I want to be able to do what you just assigned me, where would you prioritize it?”
Alternatively, try to find a way to say “yes” by tweaking the request: “I could do this for you if I could have til the end of the month, not end of this week. If we could pull in a contractor I could have this for you by the deadline. I could do this for you if we postpone this other project you’ve asked for.”
Otherwise, say you appreciate them thinking of you to do the work, but you are not able to find a way to say yes given what’s already on your plate.
Few of us are disciplined enough to be strategic about our priorities so everyone expects we’ll ‘do it all.’ Clarity is your best time management tool. Are you and your manager clear what is expected of you – can you tie the work you are doing to the expectations of your role? Or are you doing the work of 2-3 other roles as well? If you are doing the work of more than your role or work that is above your level, then use the 1-sheet idea above to share this information with your manager so you can initiate discussions to get the title and compensation to match your workload.
Give Yourself a Break
Here’s how to say you are burned out and need a break:
· Be specific about the support you seek or the break you need
· Set up alternative problem-solving solutions in your absence
· Give a sense of reasonable expectation when you will return or others can expect to rely on you again
· Be “Off” when you are “Off” so you actually rejuvenate
Be proactive about having regular and ongoing workload and well-being conversations going forward so you can plan for your needs to rejuvenate, not react, when it’s gotten to be too much for you.
Overwork is part of the others’ expectations these days. But there are things you can do to take care of managing yourself along the way to help prevent overwork from turning into burnout.