Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 41;   October 12, 2011: How to Stop Being Overworked: I

How to Stop Being Overworked: I

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If you feel overworked, you probably are. Here are some tactics for those who want to bring an end to it, or at least, lighten the load.
A member of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus keeps 60 hula hoops going at once during her pre-show act March 27, 2008

Looking like a human Slinky toy, a member of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus keeps 60 hula-hoops going at once during her pre-show act March 27, 2008. With enough skill, it's possible to manage large numbers of hula-hoops. But no amount of skill is enough to manage some else's hula-hoop. Stay in your own hula-hoop. Or hula-hoops. Photo by Samantha Quigley, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs.

Last time we described some of the ways people acquire more work than they can handle. Sources include job design, assignments by supervisors, a sense of obligation, political tactics, and many more. Let's turn now to strategies and tactics that can reduce your workload while maintaining your image as a productive, dedicated team member or employee.

Ask for help
Asking for help can be difficult. For some of us, asking for help is equivalent to admitting deficiency, because we feel that all requests of us are by definition reasonable.
Reasonableness is subjective. A request is reasonable only if you regard it as reasonable. When someone else considers a request of you to be reasonable, that might be interesting, but it isn't definitive. You are the ultimate arbiter of reasonableness.
Asking for help doesn't mean that you're unable to do the work. It might mean that you're unable to do the work in the time required, due to other demands on your time.
Ask for time
The key For some of us, asking
for help is equivalent to
admitting deficiency
to keeping your workload light is preventing the arrival of new tasks and responsibilities. And the most effective preventer is the perception by others that you have responsibilities more important than whatever they were about to pass along to you.
One way to build this perception is to ask for more time to complete a task. But don't ask for more time after you've committed to a particular deadline. Ask instead before you commit — make it part of your agreement to take on the task.
The general formula is "Yes, I can do that, but I would need a little more time to do it than you had in mind. I can do it by X." You might not get what you're asking for, but the requestor, and any other observers, will gain an appreciation for your workload, and that could deter any additional requests.
Stay in your own hula-hoop
Controlling the urge to take on work voluntarily can be difficult. Work that remains undone, and which blocks your own progress, is especially tempting, as is work that a political rival wants to do. To control these urges, remember the hula-hoop metaphor.
The essential idea is that doing your own work becomes impossible when you start trying to do the work of others. If you try to do your own job and some else's too, you'll do neither well.
Whenever you find yourself considering taking on a new responsibility, ask yourself, "Why am I considering doing this?"

These three strategies are powerful, but they don't cover every case that can lead to overload. For instance, they don't help defend against the abusive supervisor who knowingly overloads subordinates. Abusive overloading is the topic for next time. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: How to Stop Being Overworked: II  Next Issue

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