Many of us take on more work than we are able to cope with which can lead to extreme pressure and stress. We may take on more than we can manage due to concerns around job insecurity or because we struggle to say no to our manager or colleagues. Whatever the cause, multiple studies have shown a considerable number of us feel mounting stress from demanding workloads, and the more stressed we feel, the lower our productivity and overall wellbeing.
Here are a few key techniques to cope with work overload so that you can try and bring your to-do list to a manageable level.
1. Manage your time
When your workload increases, it's more important than ever to practise effective time management. One of your time management main goals should be to recognise your priorities and focus on them, so that the most important jobs get finished before their deadlines. That could mean you'll have to put jobs that aren't high priority to one side, or even drop them altogether.
Get lots of other tips on boosting your efficiency and productivity by reading our article 5 things you should know about time management.
2. Wipe out bad work habits
Lots of little things you do during the day may add up to a major waste of your time, such as reading junk email, surfing the internet and chatting with co-workers. You may also think you're using your time wisely by doing lots of preparation and research for a project. But in reality, what you may be doing is putting off starting the work itself.
Identify all your time-wasting habits by writing down everything you do during your working day for a week. You'll soon see how much more time you could devote to realising your deadlines if you cut out or changed those small habits.
3. Make a list of everything you have to do
If you tend to work on several things at the same time, a to-do list is essential. So write down all the tasks you have to do and rate them 0-5, where 0 is the least important and 5 is top priority. Once you've done that, work through the tasks on your list one by one, concentrating on the higher-priority tasks first. Making a list can also help you recognise that you have too much to do in too short a time. If that's the case, concentrate on the next steps.
4. Don't try to do it all
You're not a super hero, so don't try to achieve everything on your own. Lighten your workload by learning to delegate to others who may not be as swamped with deadlines as you are. Now may also be the time to call in favours from co-workers who you helped when they were under pressure.
5. Learn to say 'no'
If your workload is already sky high, taking on even more tasks could mean you won't be able to complete any of them to a high enough standard. Stop and think before you agree to take on any new deadlines - only commit to those that are essential. If you decline politely, your employer and colleagues will understand.
6. Don't let it overwhelm you
When things feel like they are getting on top of you, find a quiet space or even at your desk, shut your eyes, clear your mind and just focus on your breathing. Aim for four seconds breathing in and four seconds breathing out. Do this for a minute or more and just keep focusing on your breath and your body as you inhale and exhale. You should feel the stress begin to wash away which will prevent you from being too frantic and will not only help productivity - which is reduced by stress - but is also good for your health in the long run.
How CABA can help
Our CABA advisors can also help at times when work or personal stress is getting you down.
CABA supports the wellbeing of past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and their spouses, partners and children up to the age of 25. For advice, information and support please: