Confronting the to-do list: Four common responses to being overloaded

Confronting the to-do list: Four common responses to being overloaded

Overload is something we invariably feel at some stage or another. We see it in our team, or our management group, or maybe it has become a constant for us, and everyone around us.

Many of us know that a high workload is not a constant stream of work, but an intermittent shift from ‘a lot to do’ to ‘too much to do’. Things are a little bit different in the workplace, and as our careers progress our roles shift into these limitless responsibilities.

Things no longer fit into nice, neat, achievable tasks that can easily be ticked off to give you a sense of completion. This lack of ‘completion’ is really quite hard to deal with. We all seek a sense of finality with work in order to feel a sense of satisfaction, but in today’s world it becomes more elusive than ever.

So how do most people deal with overload? Here are the most common ways:

Work harder, faster, longer

This is the first response to overload, particularly from high achievers. It really taps into our idea of wanting things to be complete, and it is admirable to take responsibility for this and to charge ahead. Unfortunately, particularly as you rise up the ranks, the more you do the more that is given to you. And as your efficiency and output increases you are invariably asked and expected to do more. You end up taking work home, you may even love it – doing more, achieving more, but you may also be losing perspective on what you are giving up at the same time.

‘Not in what we agreed’

Some people will immediately point to their job description, employment contract or recent project meeting – referring to contrary evidence of what was agreed to. For those who are looking for a way to reduce the increased demands and responsibility, there is a logical option in finding a set of rules for which you decide what to do.

Although this reduces the stress and tension associated with overload and scope creep, it is also a little disarming to those around you. It works against the essence of teamwork and often results in some fairly aggressive finger-pointing.

Delegation

This is a step forward in effectiveness. Finding ways to get things done that reach beyond your own two hands is an excellent way to achieve more.

Those skilled at delegation and managing resources tend to be a lot happier and also end up achieving a lot more. Of course, those who simply try to palm off work through laziness will receive a lot of pushback. But when someone who is busy asks for a helping hand, it’s amazing how willing people are to help out.

Strategic prioritising

This is the best way to manage overload. Move beyond the word ‘prioritising’ and think more specifically about what it means. It is really hard to get past the idea that everything you do is as important as the next. Again, we love that feeling of completion and prioritising feels like doing the opposite. It requires letting go of some activities.

If you have a continuous dialogue with your manager or business partners about the criteria of what is important, what are the key desired outcomes and what is the best use of your time it will go a long way to making sure that everyone is aligned and achieving what you personally and your stakeholders really want to be achieving.

It is highly unlikely that everything you did this week is ‘mission-critical’ – so straight away you should be able to highlight some areas of improved efficiency. It becomes an issue of health – being in a state of constant overload is really unpleasant, and completely unsustainable.

This article was first published on LeadingCompany’s sister site, SmartCompany. 

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