Overwhelmed at Work? Here’s How to Get Your Killer To-Do List Under Control

Apr 01, 2015 - Joe Matar
Keeping busy at work is usually a sign of a healthy career, but sometimes it really does become overwhelming. It's easy to fall into the trap of accepting work gradually without realizing it's more than you should be taking. Before you know it, long, late nights, strong coffee and missed deadlines become the norm. Along with upsetting your clients and coworkers, falling behind on your work and feeling overwhelmed at work can take its toll on your health. People who are stretched too thin may develop higher blood pressure, diabetes, headaches and depression. Being overly tired can have the same effects on your body as being drunk. In short, it's no way to function. What can you do when you've worked your way into a black hole of bureaucracy? Here's how to blast through the rest of your tasks and come out on top:

Manage your time better

We're all aware of the importance of good time management, but not all of us practice it to the extent we should. Maybe it's because planning your time takes time. When you're truly swamped, you think you don't have time to plan. Wrong! It doesn't take long to draw up a quick list of priorities for the day, placing more urgent work first and more important, ongoing work last — and allowing time for miscellaneous tasks that crop up unexpectedly or that may otherwise fall through the cracks. Your increased productivity will more than make up for the time lost in making your plan of action. And remember: you don't have to wait until you're at crisis point before putting your plan together. (Click here to tweet this advice.)

Just say no

If you're self-employed or otherwise direct your own work, you may be in a position to simply refuse further jobs. Turning down work will give you the time and space to complete what you need to without your inbox overflowing. Saying no will be unthinkable for some of us, who have always been used to accepting work whenever it comes. This is a real condition known as ATSY (Addiction to Saying Yes). You may feel compelled to help others all the time, but it comes at the expense of your own time and effort. Try saying “no” to a client request just once and see how much better you feel.

Learn to manage expectations

When your schedule is truly stuffed, you're more likely to miss deadlines or under-deliver. Get on top of the problem early by negotiating deadlines and the scope of your work. You might agree to deliver a project in stages over a longer time frame, or deliver it after the agreed deadline in exchange for a discount. Perhaps you expect that your employer will take a dim view of revising your objectives in this way. Bring your concerns to your manager with a plan in place to accomplish what you can with minimum disruption to the business. If you can demonstrate to your boss that you've identified and eliminated the factor that caused you to fall behind, your manager may allow you to work with a reduced quota or workload for the next few months. Re-negotiating your workload might not create the time you need to complete your work to the usual standard, but it will go a long way toward helping you climb out of a hole. And while it might seem scary to go to your boss and tell her you can't cope under your current conditions, it really is best to do this as soon as you suspect you'll have a problem delivering. Your employer also has an interest in making sure you're on track.

Ask for help

If your workload can't be reduced, it may be time to bite the bullet and ask for assistance. Depending on your industry or role, this might not even be a step that's particularly out of the ordinary. For instance, it's not that unusual for an agency to outsource portions of its work during busy periods. Should your problems with workload continue in the medium- to long-term, you may want to look into recruitment services to add a new member to your team. Even if outsourcing isn't an option, you may be able to assign someone else to write reports or perform your lower-level jobs for you — that way, you'll be free to focus on your core tasks. Paul Breton is a Marketing Executive with Blue Octopus, an online recruitment agency in Leeds, UK. He blogs on HR, recruitment and technology - you can keep up with the latest on Twitter at @BlueOctopus.