How to Cope with an Overwhelming Workload
Whether you’re a student trying to manage your time and tasks better or working in the office with tight deadlines and client meetings; knowing how to manage a heavy workload effectively is an invaluable skill to have in any situation.
A demanding workload can be stressful and can sometimes feel like it has the potential to make or break you, so it’s important to be able to have the skills to cope when your tasks seem like they’re too much. Here are some of the best ways to not only better manage your stressful workload, but to also stay on top of your tasks and responsibilities in a calm and collected manner.
Imagine this: It’s Thursday afternoon you look at your extensive ‘to-do’ list for the week and notice that you haven’t even completed half of the tasks you’d assigned. You start to stress as you feel the only way you’re going to get through everything is if you work late nights and potentially sacrifice your weekend to have everything done come Monday.
Obviously, this is not ideal, but it happens to the best of us. So how do you survive an overwhelming workload?
Time management is essential nowadays, and with schools and workplaces both becoming more task-oriented, knowing how to manage a workload effectively with conflicting deadlines and priorities is a major advantage. The first thing to consider if your workload is unreasonable, is maybe you’ve taken on more than your fair share of the group project or put your hand up for more tasks than you can juggle. It’s important to own your work, but if your workload seems unreasonable, it might be worthwhile talking to someone about lessening the load or extending a deadline. After all, most businesses would agree that quality is better than quantity.
Want to know some great strategies to manage your workload? Here are our top 7 tips:
1. Write a List
We’re all aware that writing a list is a great way to start prioritising and planning out your day. The satisfaction of ticking off a task on your list is also a bonus, with the added benefit of making you feel like you’re on top of what needs to be done. So how do you go about writing that all-important to-do list?
When deciding what order to complete your tasks in, it’s usually advised to prioritise the most urgent or important task first and then work your way down the list. It’s a known fact that motivation levels lessen as the day goes on, so why not try doing the least desirable tasks first? This saves the procrastination from setting in later in the day.
Another tip: try to keep your daily to-do list limited to around 3-5 things that absolutely must get done, this helps your brain to feel less overwhelmed if it’s a more manageable number. To keep yourself on track, you could add an expected time of completion for each task, such as ‘30 minutes to complete the marketing spreadsheet’ or create a daily schedule, for example ‘2:30 – 3 pm: research current market trends’. You can use these times as a guide and check in after you’ve finished a task to see if you’ve stayed on track. Some people like to handwrite their to-do list, while others prefer to have an online version they can sync between devices.
Matt DeCelles, an entrepreneur and tech advisor is adamant on the use of services such as Trello to map out all the tasks for his company and help with managing workload stress. He says that it ‘gives a macro view of what’s going on and allows you to delegate tasks that may be better completed by another person’. Better yet, programs such as Trello don’t have to be just used for the workplace but are also perfect for creating study schedules.
2. Stick to Your Schedule
It’s important to frequently check your schedule to see how your week’s shaping up. If you think you’re feeling overwhelmed at the mere sight of your task, you might have too many commitments and not enough time to complete the work. Try to see what you can move around or reschedule for a later date. If you’re facing a large project or have a long essay to write, the best way to tackle the task is to break it down into smaller parts.
For example, if you have a 1500-word essay to write in five days and you have other things to do; you could allocate the tasks accordingly. The first day could be dedicated to researching the topic and creating a plan, the next three consecutive days spent writing 500 words each and then the fifth day could be spent editing, refining and referencing. Breaking down large projects makes them less intimidating and knowing what you need to do helps you remain focused on the task at hand.
3. Dodge Distractions
If you get distracted easily, this one’s for you!
People tend to be more productive in the morning and are more easily distracted in the afternoon. Try spending 2-3 hours straight on getting work done first thing in the morning, before doing anything else. Unless it’s necessary for your work, try to avoid reading the news, checking social media or even just lessen your time engaging in chatter with friends or others in the office.
Putting your phone on silent mode and using ‘do-it-later’ services such as Pocket to reduce time wasted in visiting interesting, yet distracting websites. Instead, put them to the side and come back to them later once you’ve completed your other tasks, this can act a bit like a reward for your work. If you know you’ve got a lot to get through and are worried about distractions, plug your headphones in and listen to some relaxing music to remain calm and focused. Having your headphones in naturally shuts out external noises, but also signals to your work mates that you are down to business.
4. Time is of the Essence
Time management skills are more than just a filler in the skills and abilities section of a resume. Being able to harness the ability to prioritise and manage your time when it comes to tasks is relevant to just about every industry.
One of the biggest time wasters is emails. Emails can really eat up your time, so to focus on your work; try setting a specific time to check your emails. Organise your inbox into folders for different projects. If you’re feeling really under the pump to complete a project, you could even set an out-of-office message.
Another great tip is timing yourself. If you know a task is only going to take 45 minutes to complete, set your timer for 35 minutes and evaluate how you’ve been tracking. Can you finish the task in 10 minutes? Did you get distracted during that time? Having a timer can be stressful for some, but a real push for others as they know they’re under time constraints without getting hung up on the time passing.
5. Streamline Processes
Are there areas where you’re spending a lot of time unnecessarily? If there’s a task you need to complete periodically, like writing monthly reports; you could set up a template that can be altered slightly to reflect each month. If there’s a document you’re constantly drafting and editing; it might be best to limit your edits to one to two times and then send to someone else to read over as a fresh pair of eyes.
Sometimes it can be hard to edit something you’ve written, especially with essays or reports, so getting another opinion is very handy. There’s an app for almost anything these days, so chances are that you can download a web or mobile app that streamlines your processes.
6. Know Yourself
Are you most productive first thing in the morning, or is your best work done at night? Whenever your ‘golden hours’ are, keep them sacred and make sure to use them to their full potential by assigning important work to that period of time. If you’re someone that needs motivation, maybe allow yourself a treat after each task accomplished, or pamper yourself after a hard day’s work.
If there is something that is taking too long, perhaps you need to do more research or reach out to someone for help. Some people work best with others, so study groups and collaboration sessions are the best to generate ideas when you’re stuck in a rut, or even just to motivate you to keep on track.
Feeling fatigued? Make sure you have an adequate sleep to function at your best. Maybe a coffee might help you get through an afternoon slump. Listen to your body and what it needs and remember to take breaks, even if it just means leaving your desk to walk around the office for 15 minutes. This is actually proven to benefit your brain, allowing it to recover quickly and stimulate learning and productivity when you’ve cleared it for a few moments.
7. Stress Less
I know, it is easier said than done, but a little less stress goes a long way. If you’re slightly anxious about completing a task, it can be hard to overcome that procrastination and get things done, which leads to leaving an assignment to the last day and leave you to work hard to get it done. However, too much stress can stop the thoughts flowing freely and ultimately waste precious time. Some of the best ways to reduce stress include focusing on the present, doing one thing at a time, taking regular breaks and celebrating when things go well.
Of course, it’s also important to eat healthily and be active every day. Good food fuels your brain and exercise increase your sense of well-being; releasing endorphins which boost your mood. Meditation is also a proven method to reduce stress and focus the mind. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try meditating or just sitting in silence, closing your eyes and taking in deep breaths of air.
Dealing with an overwhelming workload can be difficult, but knowing the best workload management techniques and practices will help to reduce stress and increase productivity.
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