You're not a complainer, but you are overworked.
Your week, month, or maybe even quarter is already jam-packed with assignments and projects. Each time your manager approaches your desk, you cringe, wondering what'll be dropped into your lap next. Although you desperately want to scream “Enough already!”, you don't want to seem lazy or selfish. You have too much on your plate and simply need a more reasonable workload.
To be fair, many managers won't realize you're feeling overwhelmed and overworked until you voice your concerns. After all, they're (hopefully) not hovering over your computer all day or keeping long lists of your every assignment. That means that if your plate is overflowing, you need to speak up to get things to change. Here are a few steps to take to tactfully tell your boss that you simply have too much work.
Step 1: Seek advice
Before having a conversation with your manager about the amount of work you have, find someone you trust. A second opinion can be extremely insightful, whether it's from a co-worker, a family member, or a friend.
Be honest with them — and yourself. Ask questions like “Is this timeline realistic?” and “Am I managing my time correctly?” The goal is to challenge yourself and gain an outsider's perspective to determine if you're truly overworked. Sometimes, the unfortunate fact is that you're just going to have to work more than you'd like. It's when work starts to disrupt your work life balance that this becomes an issue.
If at the end of this trusted conversation you find you really are overworked, chat through ways to remedy the issue yourself. If you've already tried every trick in the book (or on Google), you'll want to continue to step two.
Step 2: Host an honest sit-down
If you've done everything you can to alleviate your excessive workload but are still drowning in assignments, it's time to consult with your manager. Schedule a time for the two of you to catch up.
To prepare, outline your list of assignments. A quick word of warning when doing this: Don't be petty. You don't need to include the built-in responsibilities of your day like checking emails or responding to Slack messages — everyone has to do that. Simply list your assigned tasks.
During this meeting, be honest and seek guidance. Ask your manager to help you prioritize. Are there certain deadlines that are more important than others? Is a client expecting one project before another? This will help you map out a plan of attack and feel more confident moving forward with your workload.
Step 3: Re-evaluate your time usage
In that same meeting with your manager, re-evaluate how much time you spend on routine responsibilities.
Some obvious time consuming tasks might emerge, so ask how much time your manager expects you to spend on each of those projects. Should that monthly spreadsheet really take two days to prepare? If so, great. If not, rethink your strategy. Ask “What do you suggest I do instead?”
In the same vein, if your company favors meetings, take some time to comb through your calendar and address those recurring ones. Do you find these meetings beneficial? Are you contributing? Are you the only one who can represent the team? If not, see if someone else can attend — or if your department actually needs to attend at all.
Now, if your manager isn't receptive to steps two and three and responds in a “suck-it-up” fashion, then keep reading.
Related: Productivity Tips That Really Work
Step 4: Prioritize your tasks
At this point, you've already made a list of your assignments. If you haven't already, organize it by deadline. Plan to keep this list at your desk and update it on a daily or weekly basis.
The next time your manager pops over to deliver you another assignment, pause for a moment. Ask “Where should this fit in with my ongoing tasks?”
Let your manager see what's on your plate. It's a respectful nudge to them that you've already got a lot going on. Sure, you're still taking on another task; however, you now can take a practical approach because you know what needs to be accomplished first, second, third, and so on.
Step 5: Say no
If you simply cannot handle another task and your manager isn't receptive to the above steps, you'll need to learn how to say no.
If you're the type of person who always says yes, especially in the workplace, this will feel uncomfortable at first. However, there are simple strategies you can use to let your manager down easy:
Strategy 1: Buy yourself time. When your manager asks you to tackle another project, buy yourself time before making the decision right then and there. Even if you know you cannot possibly handle one more thing, take a few hours to “consider” it. This seems more thoughtful than immediately saying no. Say something like: “I really have a lot on my plate right now. I can let you know this afternoon if this is possible.”
Strategy 2: Provide a proactive solution. Instead of outright shutting your manager down, try to provide a way to get the task done without overworking yourself. It could be that your co-worker's workload is a little lighter, so maybe he or she can help out. (You might want to consult with them first, though.) Or perhaps you can take on part of the assignment; the other half can go to the co-worker. Even if your proposed solution isn't the answer to the problem, you at least seem proactive and like you want to provide a solution.
The simple fact is that many of us will feel overworked at some points throughout our careers. It's when work starts digging into your personal life that it becomes an issue.
Just remember: Before requesting a meeting with your manager, be sure to convene with a trusted cohort. Make sure you're actually overworked — not just overwhelmed.
If you are overworked, meet with your manager and have an honest conversation. Seek advice and support. Be open-minded. Is there anything you could be doing differently? If your manager is unreceptive, you'll have to tackle the issue yourself and try saying no. Of course, if it gets too bad, know there are more career opportunities out there. You're never stuck.
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