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How to make peace with your workload

By Kaitlin Madden,
Getting your desk organized is a good first step. Then organize your time and set priorities.
Getting your desk organized is a good first step. Then organize your time and set priorities.
  • Experts offer tips on how to handle a workload that seems to be too much
  • Multitasking is counterproductive. Instead make priority lists with deadlines
  • Approach manager with list of responsibilities and ask them to set priorities
  • Get organized, set deadlines, eliminate time wasters

( -- Swamped. Under the gun. Just trying to stay above water. Whatever office cliché you use to describe it, we've all been in that situation where we feel like we might be swallowed up by our workload.

But there are ways to manage your to-do list to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Here's how to make peace with your workload once and for all.

Get organized

"Clear the deadwood out of your desk, files and office -- and keep your office in shape. It enhances your capacity to handle other tasks and raises the probability that you'll find the items you do need faster and easier," says Jeff Davidson, a work/life expert and author of more than 50 books on workplace issues. "When something can be tossed, let it go. Most of what you retain is replaceable."

Joel Rudy, vice president of operations for Photographic Solutions, has more than 30 years of business management experience and agrees that keeping organized is a must.

"Messy work areas are nonproductive. If you can't find a file or report easily because it's lost in a pile of mess, you have a problem," he says. "Take the time to organize your work areas. Keep your important files, manuals and reports in an accessible location, which will maximize your efficiencies."

Ultimately, if you're feeling pressure at work, you don't have time to search your desk drawers for that long-lost presentation. Find an organization system that works for you and stick with it.

Make a to-do list, then cover it up

It may sound strange, but it works, says Jessica Carlson, an account executive at Blufish Design Studio, an advertising consulting firm.

Carlson says her team uses to-do lists to stay on task and highlight items that are a priority. "Cover up the list, except for one high-priority task at a time," she suggests. "This will allow you to focus better on the task at hand. It's easy to get overwhelmed if you're looking at a to-do list that spans an entire page. Focusing on a single item will make your tasks seem like they are more doable," Carlson says.

Stop multitasking


Yep, you read that right. Despite what you may think about multitasking, it's counterproductive. Unless you're drinking coffee while reading your morning e-mail, you're not saving any time by trying to do 10 things at once.

"If you find yourself getting involved in too many things, you may need to re-evaluate your involvement," Rudy says. "Your mind will wander from one topic to another and you may never accomplish a thing."

Rudy says the best way to stop multitasking is to create priority lists with deadlines. "When applicable, complete one project before you move on to the next one," he says.

Set time limits

Deborah Chaddock-Brown, a work-at-home single mom, says she's often overwhelmed by the demands of maintaining order in her home and running her own business. Still, she manages to "do it all" by setting a time limit for each task.

"I have the type of personality that flits from thing to thing because I do have so much on my plate," Brown says.

"So I assign time slots: For the next 15 minutes I will participate in social media for the purpose of marketing my business (not sending photos or playing Farmville) and that is the only thing I will do for the next 15 minutes. Then I'll spend 30 minutes responding to e-mail. When the time is up, I move on to the next task. That way, at night I don't end up with a pile of tasks to do even though I felt busy all day."

Talk to your manager

"Often, people are working on things that are no longer a top priority, but someone forgot to tell them [that they're no longer important]. There are usually clear priorities in the manager's head; he or she has just not done a great job communicating those with the employee," says Holly Green, CEO of The Human Factor and author of "More Than a Minute: How to Be an Effective Leader."

Green's suggestion? "If you find yourself with too many responsibilities, sit down, note the significant things you are responsible for, and go to your manager to have a conversation to discuss priorities and trade-offs. Talk about time commitments and interdependencies required to do each thing well and then ask what you should stop working on or work on less so you can get the right things done."

Green says managers should be willing to help sort out priorities, so long as employees have a can-do approach and aren't just complaining about their workload.

Eliminate time wasters

"If interruptions are keeping you from your responsibilities, learn how to deal with them," says Eileen Roth, author of "Organizing for Dummies." Roth offers the following suggestions to combat disruptions: "Use voice mail to cut down on telephone interruptions, set specific times for checking e-mail, turn off the alert that says, 'You've got e-mail' and give staff members a set time to visit with you," she says.

Justin Gramm, president of Globella Buyers Realty, exemplifies Roth's point. "E-mail had been a big time waster for me in the past because it was a constant interruption, causing me to lose focus on the task at hand," he says. Since deciding to check his e-mail only twice a day, Gramm says he has become much more efficient. "If people want to get more work done, they need to stop checking e-mail and get to work," he says.

Assess your workload before taking on new tasks

"The paradox of today's work environment is that the more you do, the more that's expected of you," Davidson says.

In order to better assess your workload, Davidson suggests asking yourself the following questions before agreeing to take on new responsibilities:

• Is the task aligned with your priorities and goals?

• Are you likely to be as prone to saying yes to such a request tomorrow or next week?

• What else could you do that would be more rewarding?

• What other pressing tasks and responsibilities are you likely to face?

• Does the other party have options other than you? Will he or she be crushed if you say no?

Want to know more?

Most of our experts recommended books for additional tips on how to maximize efficiency, but one book was mentioned again and again. Check out "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" for more information on how to make the most of your time and come to terms with your workload.

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