How to deal with a busy workload

When work is piling up, it’s easy to get stressed out. However, there are some tips you can employ in the workplace to help ease the pressure
by Bethan Rees

April is National Stress Awareness Month, which aims to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for the modern stress epidemic. 

The Mental Health Foundation published a report in May 2018 titled Stress: are we coping? The report includes findings from a survey commissioned by YouGov, which received 4,619 responses. It reports that in the year leading up to April 2018, 74% of UK adults felt so stressed at some point “that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope”. The UK-wide survey also reveals that 16% say they have self-harmed, and 32% say they have had suicidal thoughts and feelings while experiencing feelings of stress. 

A busy or heavy workload can be a leading cause of stress in the workplace. While this is sometimes unavoidable, there are ways you can deal with a pile of work without becoming stressed. Here are some tips that may help you cope with the strain.
Prioritise by importance over urgencyParkinson's law, a theory first articulated by author and historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. In short, if a deadline seems far off, we tend to spend more time to complete a task – even if it could take less time. 

This often couples with a workplace tendency called ‘urgency bias’. This is where we focus on the tasks in front of us over those further ahead, even if those that are further off are more important overall.

Focusing on the importance of a task, rather than its deadline, allows you to put your energy into your most vital tasks early.

In an article for Forbes, Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing for HALO Recognition, a provider of employee recognition and incentive programmes, warns against prioritising projects based on linear timelines. “If a client will not be available until a certain date, we push the deadline for a client project to as close to that date as possible,” he says. “Try your best to prioritise based on importance first, and employees will use Parkinson’s Law and urgency bias to their best advantage.”

One method you could use for prioritising is the Eisenhower Matrix. This helps you identify the tasks that are most important and urgent, allowing you to manage your time more effectively. 
Be open about your challengesIf you’re struggling, sharing your challenges can help. Letting your manager and colleagues know that your workload is mounting will allow them to help you prioritise.

Writing for Open Access Government, Jeanette Wheeler, HR Director at payroll and HR software provider MHR, says: “It’s important to be realistic and manage expectations. Depending on who is waiting for your tasks to be completed, there may be time for a small delay without affecting those who are waiting. It’s all about priorities.

”With stress, it’s also important to communicate how you feel. Let your manager or colleagues know if it feels like you have too much to do. Ask them to look at your worklist and your deadlines, see what is achievable and make a priorities list so you know what you should be working on first.“
Just say noAs is usually the case, there is value in being honest. While you may wish to be seen as a team player, picking up work that your colleagues are struggling with is not always wise. If you are stretched in completing your own tasks, saying yes and doing a poor job may do more harm than good for yourself and for your team. Saying no to additional work in the first place may be a better option.

Kenny McPhail, head of learning and development at recruitment company Oliver James Associates, recently shared his top tips for managing workloads effectively on the firm’s blog. ”It’s too commonplace to say yes to workloads out of guilt or fear of what the other person/team will say,“ he says. ”Why don’t you implement a pause period before you accept specific workloads? Just remember to be purposeful in your actions as setting boundaries and saying no can actually help you reach your goals.“
Take advantage of quiet momentsWhen you are having a quieter time, don’t feel pressured to fill every second picking up additional projects to help others. Leave on time, see loved ones and try to enjoy your more relaxed days. Staying at full capacity at all times is more likely to lead to burnout which will not help you or your team in the long run.

Writing for Inc., Ken Lin, founder and CEO of personal finance company Credit Karma, promotes the benefits of recharging during quieter periods. ”Over time, your job will always expand and contract in terms of your areas of focus and responsibility,“ he explains. ”Take advantage of the quieter moments to go home and spend time with your family and breathe out a little. There will always be more long weeks around the corner.”
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Published: 05 Apr 2019
  • Career Development
  • The Review
  • Test
  • workload
  • stress
  • mental health
  • Career advice

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