Take Back Control: How to Avoid Being Really, Really Busy at Work

As a sequel to my last post (how to deal with being really, really busy), I want to spend a little bit of time talking about what you can do to avoid getting to the point of work overload.

In truth, sometimes there is nothing you can do. This is true when you are senior as well as junior.

That said, here are my tips at two important points in your work cycle…

When your workload is slow: When your work slows down, you might find yourself feeling anxious about it.  If you have to account for your time at work using the dreaded billable hour or its equivalent you may be especially prone to a case of nerves when you experience a lull in work.  If you’ve had a few days with nothing much to do, check in with your supervisor.  Just because you’re slow now, does not mean you’re going to be slow in a few days. There might be a big deadline coming up you don’t know about just yet, in which case you should take advantage of the slow period! And get to know the norms of your office as well – do you work in a place where it is important to appear busy at all times, or is it ok to take it slow for a few days after a big project wraps. That should guide when you check in with your supervisor for more work if you’re a bit slow.

When you are asked to take on new work: If you have one supervisor, this is pretty easy to handle – if you find yourself drowning in work, ask your supervisor to help you prioritize your workload. They will have insight into what is urgent and what can be put on the back burner while you catch up.

If you report to multiple supervisors, who can all assign you work, this can be a little trickier.  If you’re already at capacity and someone wants to assign you more work, be upfront about what you already have on your plate. If there’s no way you can get to their project until the following week, say so. They can then work with your other supervisors to prioritize or they may ask someone else. The key to doing this well is to be receptive to their project, even if you cannot get to it for some time. So I might say to Boss A, “Yes, I can do that for you. I’m currently working on Project X for Boss B and Project Y for Boss C, and I will have some time to get started on your project on Monday.” If that timeline doesn’t work for Boss A, they will let you know, and you can work together to come up with a different plan in conjunction with your other bosses.

Remember…an important caveat for all this advice is to know your office – what is “busy” versus “too busy” for your coworkers? If the rest of your team is regularly leaving at 7:00 and you pack up your desk at 4:45 every day, you will seem out of touch if you always turn down more work.

[That said, it’s possible you can keep regular hours because you’re getting your share done efficiently. We’ll talk about how to handle grumbly/complaining coworkers who work round the clock in another post.]

Pic Credit: Chris Adamus (via Unsplash.com)

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