3 tips for managing your overwhelming workload

Imagine this: whilst trying to beat the insane traffic, you get a phone call from a sick colleague who needs you to cover for her.

After the arduous task of finding that car park lot, you bump into your boss who casually informs you of the three new meetings for the day.

As you switch on your computer and you watch your 50 emails being downloaded, you know the vicious cycle is about to kick in – you begin to wonder how 2015 could possibly be a better year!

Piling workloads, pending deadlines and dependent people? You’re not alone. Real or perceived high workload will inevitably impact ourselves and the people around us.

In a recent online survey by Regus, it was found that 33% of Malaysians feel they are living with extreme stress and 48% feel that their stress has increased over the past five years. The perceived stress affects their sleep (48%), their relationships at home (54%), their well-being (73%) and most significantly, their health (77%).

With the existence of “time famine” and time being the new money, you could either allow time-consuming workload to crush you, or gain the right attitude, knowledge and skills to conquer it. Amongst many workload-against-time tips, here are my top three life changing ones:

1) The before breakfast ritual

Growing up, I would constantly find excuses as to why I was unable to complete tasks which my mom had asked me to do. She would say, “Hetal, if the President of the United States of America can run the entire country, I’m sure you can find time to buy that bag of potatoes for me.”

So really now, isn’t it amazing how some people are able to do it all and still look reasonably calm and composed?

Laura Vanderkam spent time gaining insight into the schedules of CEOs and wrote her observations of their typical morning rituals in her book What the most successful people do before breakfast. Here, she discovered that the secret to it all was as simple as giving your mornings a makeover. She also found out that on average, they were waking up between 4.30am and 5am.

Research by Harvard biologist Christoph Randler discovered in 2008 that early risers were more proactive, thought long term and felt more in charge. Furthermore, those who arrive at the office before their colleagues say they relish that first hour or two that provides quiet, uninterrupted time to focus.

In a recent personal experiment of “making over my mornings” to cater to the sudden expansion of our business, I’ve found that a few simple changes have allowed me to not only get more done, but a higher sense of control.

I’ve also created a no-choice-at-all system, but to wake up only an hour and a half earlier and get going with three things well-taken care of by the time work starts:

1. My meals for the day and a quick workout

2. Address all follow ups from the previous day

3. Work on one “big elephant”.

I end up walking into my working day feeling like the song that goes, “I’ve got the power!”

2) What achievement is and isn’t

During our training sessions, we tend to question – who are achievers and who aren’t? Achievement isn’t about what you do, how long you take to do it, nor about how much effort you put into doing it – it’s about whether it has been done and how well it’s been done.

In an activity about achievement, participants are asked to complete a maze within 15 minutes.

About 95% of the time, participants would have high will to complete the task, they would scramble, put in ginormous amounts of effort, scratch their heads and search for a hundred different options. The scenario is one of chaos and frenzy at the end of which there would be minimal success.

I would then ask the question “How could you have actually completed this task within five minutes?”

With great, clear outcomes and time-based questions in mind, comes great solutions and therefore actions. Just by thinking, they were able to complete the exact same task again, but within three minutes.

Research by renowned professor of psychology and behavioural economics Dan Ariely suggests that setting strict deadlines leads to better and more consistent performance than setting generous or zero deadlines. In fact, when more time is allotted to complete a task, people can end up creating a “mountain out of a molehill”.

What this simply means is before you start on your pile of heavy workload or a heavy task, ask yourself the powerful question, “What is the one big elephant that I need to focus on in order to complete this task within xyz time?”

3) Avoid saying “No”

Nick Taranto, co-founder of Plated.com says, “You can only cut so many pieces from the pie. Work-life balance means making decisions around where, who and what you’re going to sacrifice because you can’t do it all.”

A lot of other books and research would also strongly suggest saying “No” to tasks when you are overloaded. However, I’ve come to learn from personal experience not to.

After all, if they could fly a man to the moon, I’m sure we can sort out most other requests. Do you remember the last time someone said “No” to you? How did you feel and what reactions did it evoke within you?

Whilst we may have grown to be adults and have learnt well to manage our emotions better (well, some of us, anyway), internally, when we are refused, our feelings parallel that of a child whose mom refused to give a sweet!

I like to think of high workload not as a threat to you which you react to, but something that you can respond with creative solutions. So, rather than saying “No”, I’ve learned a few counterintuitive new tricks:

1. Delegate effectively downwards or sideways

2. Suggest an alternative or even better do-able

3. Refer on to someone else who would definitely love to help

4. State what you can do rather than what you can’t

5. Pay for it to be done

6. Re-prioritise and do take this on if it’s a high potential opportunity

7. Do it, but extend the timeline using a logical explanation.

Of course, if you’re dealing with a complete pushover, go right on and give them a big fat “No”!

All in all, doing a makeover of your time, investing time in smart “elephant” strategies, and thinking creatively should help you conquer most workload-against-time challenges.

Hetal Doshi – Suhana Daswani is a professionally qualified organisational psychologist, certified professional coach, and the founder of O Psych Sdn Bhd, with an expertise in work performance, team dynamics and emotional intelligence. To get in touch with her, drop an email to editor@mystarjob.com.


Related articles:

Get lucky: 3 mindsets that help you ‘score’ at work

10 ways coaching improves managerial performance

Like this article? Follow us on Facebook to keep up-to-date with our latest insightful articles and career advice.