How to Handle a Heavy Job Workload

Ever get close to burning out from a heavy workload? Your boss is pushing you to complete twenty tasks this week, yet you know you can only handle five or six. So you stay late and dine on coffee and pizza, trying desperately to finish at least ten.

And after you finish ten tasks (sans sleep and a healthy meal), another twenty tasks hit you next week, giving you a total of thirty. Deeper and deeper you sink as the weeks drag on.

Sound familiar?

As a former manager, I often heard about cases like this from my team. Heck, I experienced cases like this myself. Over time, I developed a way to compensate for these unrealistic & heavy job workloads. I had to; I would have gone insane had I not.

  1. First, it’s important to realize that it’s not always possible to complete all the tasks you’ve been assigned. Your boss may make you think you can. Even you may think you can. But c’mon, be realistic. Look at all that work. If you feel that troubling pinch in your gut, then trust your gut: you have too much work.
  2. Second, let your boss know. Not all managers are able (or willing) to help you lighten the load, but you still need to alert your manager about this condition. Give your boss a chance to fix it if possible.
  3. Third, find out the source of all these tasks. Someone asked for this work, so go seek that person out. Ask that person how urgent and necessary this work is; chances are, some of it can be postponed or done by someone else with more time.
  4. Fourth, prioritize your tasks. After speaking with the sources, you’ll have an idea of the urgency and importance of each task. This can allow you to prioritize each of the tasks and do the most urgent and most important first. Ideally, your manager should help you with this, but if he/she is not able to, do it yourself.
  5. Finally, do the work. Do them in priority order. Realize that some of the items won’t get done. If you can, set clear expectations with your team and the sources of work. This isn’t always easy, as many will argue and try to coax a higher priority for their task. But hey, there are only so many hours in the day. The more they argue, the less time you’ll have to finish everyone’s tasks.

In my opinion, your direct manager or project manager should handle this kind of task prioritization for you. That person would/should also have the power to delegate and balance the workload across the team, which is something you may not have the authority to do.

Unfortunately, managers aren’t always able or willing to do this. If that’s the case, hopefully these tips will help.

What have you done to handle a heavy job workload?

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

6 thoughts on “How to Handle a Heavy Job Workload”

  1. This is all too familiar. To your list, I would also add: RELAX. Your mental state matters greatly as you handle an impossible workload. If you don’t RELAX, your anxiety will cause your work, as well as health, to suffer.

  2. true thanks but what about a person who is shy and doesn’t know how to say know or argue that he can’t afford all the load.

  3. @BJ, great question. I would suggest tackling this problem from the core, before a heavy workload is even in the picture: shyness, or a lack of assertiveness. I can think of a few options for this:

    1) Seek assertiveness training. That is perhaps the most effective, but most time-consuming and costly option.

    2) Pick up some books on building self-confidence, which may offer some great tips.

    3) Look for some websites on building self-confidence. I can think of some techniques I’ve used (e.g. using “small wins,” reframing the situation, etc), but I’m sure there are tons of websites with even more tips out there.

    Of course, this won’t solve the immediate problem of a heavy workload. And burning out from a heavy workload sure has a way of negating any self-confidence gains that one could make from classes, books, and websites.

    So as another alternative, I would suggest finding someone at work who you can trust, like a mentor. If the person is at a higher level than you, even better. The person doesn’t have to be in your department though; another department is probably preferable anyways. A good mentor could help you deal with such a situation.

    Another idea: talk to your teammates. See if they feel the same way. Perhaps they do. Sometimes a team of people can feel overworked, but not realize that others are in the same boat – they think they are the only person being overworked. If that is the case, sometimes a group has more power than an individual when approaching a boss to discuss workload balancing.

    Okay, I just thought of another idea: consider taking up meditation or some relaxation exercise when you get home. If there is no way to change your workload, perhaps you can change the way it effects you. Sometimes you can intersperse small relaxation methods throughout your day, like a 5-min break in your car to do breathing exercises with soothing music or something.

    And a last-ditch idea: find another job. I know this isn’t as feasible in today’s economy, but I’ll throw it out there as an option anyways.

    Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *