A woman leaning back in her chair in front of her screen with Post-Its on it. She’s taking a break after feeling overworked.
Image: fizkes/Shutterstock

Feeling overworked? Here are some tips to scale it back

14 Aug 2018

Sometimes, you have a lot on your plate and end up overworking to get things done. But it’s important to keep looking after yourself and not become overwhelmed.

We’ve looked at the dangers around overworking before and the importance of scaling work back for the sake of our health.

Many people will also be aware of the recent settlement in Ireland for an employee who was expected to deal with out-of-hours work emails.

The right to disconnect might start making its way around the world, but what are employees to do in the meantime?

Recent research from CoreHR shows that more than 40pc of employees say work negatively impacts their personal lives, and they worry about the effect it has on their mental health.

CoreHR CEO Dean Forbes said that while freedom from the standard nine-to-five jobs can be liberating, it also carries consequences as the line between work and home life become more blurred.

“This ‘always on’ culture can have big consequences for hard workers, who might be teetering on the edge of becoming a workaholic,” said Forbes.

“The distinction between the two is an important one. Whilst hard workers are driven by passion for what they do, for workaholics, that need stems from addiction.”

So, what do you need to do to help scale back your work and ensure you don’t become overworked, burn out or feel unwell?

We’ve got some practical tips that will help you get back to where you need to be and reset your batteries.

Figure out what’s really necessary

We’re probably starting on one of the toughest tips but trust us, it’s for the best. Whether you’ve been feeling overwhelmed for a few hours, days or the past month, stop what you’re doing and take stock of what’s on your plate.

Look at what you have to do, take a minute and think: ‘Is this really necessary?’ Your gut response will probably be ‘Yes, of course it is’ but really think about it. How important is that task right now? How time-sensitive is it?

The best thing you can do to get rid of that immediate feeling of being overwhelmed is to recognise that you simply can’t get everything on this list done.

When you force yourself to choose one task to take off the list, your mind will logically select the thing that is least pressing. Repeat this a few more times to lighten your initial load.

Learn your own routine

Some people work better in the morning, while others reach peak productivity levels in the afternoon. Take a week or two to observe your own energy levels and figure out when is best to do which tasks.

Sometimes, getting more done isn’t about working harder or longer hours, it’s simply about working smarter and knowing when is the best time to tackle certain things.

It’s also worth considering a common piece of advice, which is to ‘eat the frog’. This translates to tackling the biggest or most intimidating task on your list first to get it off your plate instead of having it loom over the rest of your jobs like an ominous cloud.

Once you’ve tackled the big task, take a break before you dive back into the rest of your work.

Set boundaries and stick to them

This is a really important part of not getting overworked or burning out. If you’re guilty of staying late all the time, start treating the end of the day like an unmissable appointment.

Don’t simply work through your lunch because you feel like you have too much to do. Set an alarm or a reminder to get up from your desk and leave for your lunch break. Stick rigidly to the boundaries you set yourself.

It’s also important to set boundaries with others. This means you have to learn to say no and say no unapologetically. This doesn’t mean you’re refusing to work, but be sure to evaluate what you already have on your priority list before you take on more work.

Explain why you can’t take something on or why there will be a delay if you do take it on by letting your colleagues know what’s on your plate. There is no reason for you to have to systematically stay late at work.

Get rid of all distractions

Sometimes, in order to feel less overwhelmed by your tasks, you need to just power through a couple of them to get going.

This will require you to not overthink or worry about how much else you have to do. Use the rule of three to focus your mind on three specific tasks and ignore the rest.

In order to power through these, it’s a good idea to block out some time where, if possible, you can turn your alerts and emails off, go somewhere quiet and immerse yourself completely in the tasks at hand.

Getting through those three tasks will help you feel a little less overwhelmed, and taking a break afterwards will stop you from feeling overworked.

Ask for help

In a perfect world, a reasonable workload is one that you can get done in the hours that you’re in the office, while still taking your lunch break and leaving on time.

However, we know that doesn’t happen all of the time, even if it’s just due to a busy period in work. But that doesn’t mean you should have to go it alone.

You will know what is and isn’t achievable for you in the time you have, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if and when you need it.

Taking on too much without any help will not only cause you to feel overworked, but it will lead to mistakes that could have a negative impact on your team.

Let it go

Don’t start singing Frozen just yet! Letting things go is the most important part of making sure you’re not overworked, which is why we’re pretty much saying it twice.

Remember when we asked you to check if every single task on your to-do list was strictly necessary? The only way for you to truly understand that concept is to become comfortable with the realisation that you cannot get everything done.

There will always be more work to do. After all, have you ever come into work and had absolutely nothing to do, to the point where you may as well have not come in?

Since that’s highly unlikely, remember that your job and your day-to-day tasks are constantly evolving, so you can’t possibly get everything done. The sooner you become comfortable with that, the easier it will be to let things go.

It also means you will develop the unique skill of being able to effectively prioritise things and boil tasks down to what is really necessary.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading