Feeling overwhelmed at work?
It’s 9:30 am.
We’ve logged in. 15 slack DMs. 22 emails. 4 meetings added to your calendar.
Is something on fire? Why are people in my DM’s this early? Are things ever going to slow down? Why am I in meetings all day? How am I supposed to get any work done?
You’re responsible for 4 teams and an endless amount of projects.
You’re asked to chair for ERG work.
There’s an “optional” team bonding event at 4:30 pm. You have to pick up the kids from daycare by 6pm. It doesn’t feel like an option because your boss asked you to attend.
You’re up for a promotion this year.
Is it ok to push back? What will your boss think? What will her boss think?
Is it time to have a chat with your boss about your workload?
I’ve been there. A lot of us have.
Life is hard. There are an endless amount of things to juggle. As you get older, there are spouses/partners, kids, pets, plants, aging parents, finances, home maintenance, grocery, cooking, and so much more. Living is more than a full-time job. Yet, we are expected to devote the majority of our weeks to a company so we can. How can it all work?
If you’re overwhelmed, the first thing I’ll suggest is to take a day off.
REST. Take a walk in nature. Do some guided meditation. Listen to soothing frequencies on Youtube.
With a clear head. Go into work or login 1 hour early.
Here’s a hit list to get your work-life under control.
1. Assess the challenges
What’s going on under the surface, girl?
- Is it too much work than humanly possible in a 40-hour week?
- Do you have all the tools you need?
- Can training help?
- Are break room leftovers for breakfast and lunch killing afternoon productivity?
- Maybe you are getting too many notifications on your phone during the day…hmm.
Take some time and figure out what’s going on. You may be surprised that the issues you have are more to do with time management versus actually having too much work on your plate.
I was shocked to find out how much I could get done with only 30 minutes of focused downtime.
The following tips will build on your ability to get your focused time back during the day.
2. Prioritize and Pick 3
Yes. Trust the process.
First, write down everything on your to-do list. You can use Trello, Airtable, Notion, a few post-its. It doesn’t matter. Just get it all into a view where you can see the work in front of you.
Prioritize the work into a few buckets.
- Things my boss asked me to do
- Things my team asked me to do
- Things that give me a political advantage
You already know where I’m going with ‘misc’. LOL. All work doesn’t need you to do it. Find a way to get it off your plate.
From your list, pick the 3 most important to get done today. These tasks will be more important than anything else including answering slack messages, emails, or attending stand-ups. Block your calendar for three 30 min increments, find a hotel cube or headphones – and get it done.
The only things that deserve your time are the things your boss has asked you for, your team has asked you for, and things that give you a political advantage in your organization. I know we all want to be nice and helpful, but it should not be at the expense of your mental health or sanity.
So we have a list of misc. work to handoff. What is the most tactful approach to this?
Honesty. We have a bandwidth challenge.
How do you get volunteers?
Most companies have junior associates or employees. Some have interns. You have peers. You have team members.
If you’ve done a good job at building relationships and have a strong personal brand at the company, this is easy to do. For example, I mentor a few junior employees monthly for 30 min so they’re always happy to help.
Here are some misc. types of work I’ve been able to give to junior employees:
- Research pros and cons of a few tools and make a recommendation
- Administering feedback surveys, analyzing results
- Create presentations
- Write documentation
- Lead repetitive meetings (think stand-ups)
- Competitor research
- Software configurations
There’s a lot more that can be added to your list.
4. Block Your Calendar
I block my calendar every day for a few critical activities:
- Heads down deep work time (morning and afternoon)
- Lunch (sometime between 11:30-2 for an hour)
People who live their lives with their calendars always open for the taking are doing themselves a disservice. I’m speaking from experience as a former IT Project Manager who did this and I never had a moment to eat, work, or do anything meaningful because I was always at meetings. Probably 70% of those meetings weren’t productive.
Give yourself the ability to get work done during the workday. You’re too busy after work and good lord do NOT get in the habit of waking up at 4 am to get ahead of the day.
8 hours is a lot of time. Use it wisely. Block off your calendar.
5. Automate Everything and Batch Similar Tasks
Start thinking strategically. If you automate repetitive tasks, that makes you REALLY valuable to an organization.
It also saves a lot of your time.
Gmail has automation.
Workflow management systems have automation.
Zapier automates tons of things.
You can also automate things like:
- Training – get a ring light and get into it
- E-mail signatures
Speaking of which, get out of slack and email all day.
As a general rule, I batch read email and slack messages. I also bulk respond to email and slack messages, but not in real-time. This is the key.
If you have a dedicated collaborative time of day you prefer to engage, bulk create slack and email responses and schedule them to send in the future. During the rest of the day, put an away message that you’re working on a high-priority project and can only respond to emergency requests. You can even put an auto-responder on your email as well. Do it for a week or two and then remove the emergency auto-responses. You’ll be surprised how much quieter things are.
This does two things:
(1) It forces the person wishing to engage to double-check they need you for “the thing”. You’ll be surprised how many things resolve themself when you’re just unavailable.
(2) It forces people to respect your time. They know you’re working on something of high priority. Is their request a high priority? Probably not, they’ll figure it out (without you). Success!
Your working default should be mostly asynchronous. This allows you to optimize your time.
6. Say No, Nicely
Remember those 4 meetings that got added to your calendar? Get out of them as quickly as you can. As a matter of fact, get out of every meeting you can.
If you really love the camaraderie of being around like-minded professionals, there are better options than useless meetings. If your boss schedules the meeting, please oblige them, however.
How to remove yourself:
- Check to see if the meeting has an agenda. If not, send a quick DM or email to the organizer that you would love to support, however, without an agenda you’re unsure how to best contribute to success. Mention you’re happy to follow up with notes after.
- Politely respond maybe with a note that you’re working on a high priority item and will try to attend. However, you may have to follow up with notes after.
Trust me – there are higher impact activities to participate in than sitting silently with a camera off on zoom scrolling through tik tok.
Also, for a limited time, every time something extra-curricular comes up at work, your response will be “I can’t this time, can you let me know next time the opportunity is available?” This goes for ERGs, Happy Hours, D&I events, whatever. For now, the answer is No until we get your workload under control.
7. Eliminate Distractions
If you’re in an office, camp out in a hotel cube or conference room for about a week. Make yourself hard to find. When I used to commute into an office, some days half my day would be gone just chit-chatting. Constant work frands stopping by your desk. Chatter after a meeting in a conference room. “Going to lunch”.
Girl, get your work done and get back to things you really want to do. Whatever they are.
For remote workers – Put that phone on airplane mode during deep work time. Close all 57 of those tabs. Find some alpha waves on YouTube and Get.It.Done.
8. Stop Multi-tasking & Context Switching
This ruins lives.
You end up doing a lot of things poorly.
According to psychologist Gerald Weinberg, each extra task or ‘context’ you switch between eats up 20–80% of your overall productivity. This means it takes you longer to get your work done.
Do one thing at a time. Get it done. If there’s a dependency on something or something else, apply pressure to get them to do it in real-time. Be nice about it, but try your best to unblock anything that comes up until it’s done. It’s ok if they say no (nicely), but at least try. If the other person can’t do it in real-time, ask them for a time commitment and only pick the task back up when you can get it done.
9. Chat with Your Boss
You’ve taken a week or two to set up your work life to optimize your time. You still can’t get your arms around all the work in a reasonable workweek.
This happens too and it’s ok.
Here’s how I recommend you approach things.
- Gather intel from your peers. You’re a time optimizing machine. How are they faring with their workloads? Have casual conversations when the time feels right (lunch, 1:1s, end of workday, etc..). Note: If everyone on the team is overloaded, there is something organizationally going on outside of your boss’ control.
- Before meeting with your boss, it’s important you brainstorm solutions for them to consider.
- Do you have the most projects or teams to manage? Can you offload to some of your peers to even out the distribution of work on the team?
- Are you already overseeing junior team members and can pitch on forming a team under yourself?
- Are there projects that can be canceled because they are no longer strategic to the organization?
- You should think of a list of possibilities before speaking to your boss.
- Think of the outcome that would make you the happiest, your boss the happiest, & the org the happiest. Is there a win-win-win?
Make sure the chat is logically structured and delivered so that you put your boss in the best position to make the best decision.
So how did I do? Do you still feel overloaded? Or do you have a set plan to tackle your workload? Remember, the key is to own every minute of your day. Timebox your job as much as possible to 40 hours and protect your calendar and your time.
What other suggestions do you have to tackle work overload? Share below in the comments.