cope with work overload and reduce stress

Reducing what’s contributing to our stress levels can be easier said than done, especially when it’s work-related and we feel like that’s out of our control. Here’s how to reduce it, whatever your workload.

Stress is a normal part of life, but when it gets overwhelming, it can seriously affect our emotional and physical wellbeing, as well as our performance and productivity at work.

Many of us think it's our fault we're stressed because we can't cope with the high demands of our jobs. But the truth is, many people suffer from high stress levels because they have too much to do, or they've taken on more than they can cope with.

Whatever the cause, multiple studies have shown many of us feel rising stress from demanding workloads, and the more stressed we feel, the lower our productivity and overall wellbeing.

The good news is, there are a few things you can do to manage your workload more effectively - and reduce your stress levels at the same time:

acknowledge your limits

If you have an unrealistically heavy workload, admitting you can't do it all is the first step towards regaining control of the situation. If you have too much work on now, chances are, your to-do list will be even longer tomorrow.

Try to take control of the situation. One of the most important ways to do that is to get used to saying 'no' or 'not right now' to anyone who keeps piling work on you.

Or at least to make sure they have more realistic expectations of you. If you don't, the quality of your work, and ability to stick to deadlines, could suffer.

You may also find the exhaustion affects your physical health.

Saying 'no'; occasionally is much easier than having to deal with what happens when you say 'yes' all the time.

“I understand that I was experiencing stress, and perhaps depression, and I was constantly trying to meet unreasonable expectations so am now realising that I can enjoy a good work/life balance by being more realistic and setting my own reasonable goals.”


caba client

prioritise your workload 

If there’s no way you can complete everything on your to-do list, choose the most important tasks. Also try to accept that you can’t do everything. 

Some business experts call this process workload triage. Just as a triage nurse in A&E assesses patients to make sure those who need medical attention most urgently are at the head of the queue for treatment, you have to decide which tasks you need to get done, and which you don’t need to do. 

Try to avoid choosing the easiest, or quickest, tasks from your to-do list just so that you can cross some tasks off. It may feel satisfying if you’re tackling a long list, but they’re unlikely to be the best use of your time. 

One way you can do this is with the Franklin-Covey method of prioritising. This involves marking each task as one of the following: 

  • A: Urgent and important 
  • B: Important but not urgent 
  • C: Urgent but not important 
  • D: Neither urgent nor important 

Concentrate on the A tasks before moving on to the Bs and Cs. If you’ve already accepted that you can’t achieve everything on your list, tasks filed under D are the ones you should drop first.  

In time, you may learn to say ‘no’ to D tasks, and only ‘yes’ to the As, Bs, and Cs. 

take it one task at a time 

Multitasking isn’t the best way to achieve anything, even if you have several A tasks that all need your focus and attention. It can lead to a decreased focus and lower quality work. And mean your tasks take you longer to complete. 

Instead, decide on the best order to complete tasks which fall into the same priority category. Do the most important task first and only move on to the next one when you’ve finished. 

Get lots of other tips on boosting your efficiency and productivity by reading our article 5 things you should know about time management. 

stop bad 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 sometimes, this is another way to put 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. 

deal with deadlines 

Most of us know what it’s like to have an impossible deadline. Deadlines are often the biggest causes of stress in the workplace, partly because they’re seen as written in stone. 

If you’re working towards an unachievable deadline, you have nothing to lose by asking your manager or employer to consider extending it.  

If that’s not doable, you could ask for more resources to help you hit your deadline. You could also see if it’s possible to alter the task to make the deadline more achievable. If nothing else, you’ll have made your position on the unattainable deadline clear. 

If you accept a deadline, your employer or manager will expect you to stick to it. So instead of trying to impress them by attempting to achieve the impossible, manage their expectations by being more realistic. 

be good to yourself 

Don’t let work overwhelm you. If you have a heavy workload, regular breaks may feel like the last thing you need to do. But working through without breaks is far more likely to negatively affect your performance and productivity. 

Taking a 20-minute screen break can help you feel refreshed and more focused.  

Alternatively, try and find a quiet space to shut your eyes, clear your mind, and focus on your breathing. Aim for four seconds breathing in, and four seconds breathing out. Do this for at least a minute, focusing on your breathing and body as you inhale and exhale. If it helps you focus, you could count as you’re breathing. 

If you’re still weighed down by an impossible workload and drowning in deadlines, it’s time to ask for help. Your employer or manager may not even realise how much pressure you’re under, so don’t feel like you have to suffer in silence. Talking to your manager about your challenges isn’t admitting defeat, and can be far more beneficial than pretending everything’s fine when it isn’t. 

“I decided that if I was to stay in such a demanding job, I needed more time to relax, practice music and have time to myself. I asked my employer if I could cut back to a 4-day week and they agreed. I don’t think I would have made that decision without having done the online programme. My thinking would have been too narrow to see other options.”


caba client

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Who is eligible for support?

We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW)1, ACA students2, ICAEW staff members3, and the family and carers of members and students4

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