How to handle too much work

Frozen headcounts and redundancies can pile on the pressure – but, as Calum Robson figures, staying on top of it simply requires objective planning and rigid self‑discipline

Additional stress in the office is the last thing you need when you have exams to prepare for – so finding yourself next to a newly-vacated desk, with someone else’s workload to take over besides your own duties, is no picnic.


First off, don’t even think about complaining. No-one is saying you should be grateful simply to have a job at all – far from it – but it’s best to demonstrate a positive outlook, at least until you work out whether what you’ve been asked to accomplish is do-able. So force yourself to take time out for a long, cool, objective look at things.

What should be your priorities? Ask yourself what’s most important and what’s most urgent – don’t assume they’re the same. If particular tasks require the input of colleagues, it might better to e-mail them to get the ball rolling while you focus on tasks you can get going with yourself.

Be realistic about what you can get done, given the time available. It will seem less overwhelming to list each step in an overall project – for instance, instead of ‘Produce monthly report’, list all the tasks that will lead up to final production, such as ‘Collect figures from line managers’, ‘Collate and check figures’, ‘Write commentary’, ‘Mail draft to FC’ and so on. Yes, this will make for a longer list of things to do – but when you realise that each task is achievable in, say, 30 minutes, an hour or even a whole morning, you’ll start to thunder through them and see a satisfying collection of ticks gathering on your task list.

Increase in workload? Yes – but also a learning opportunity; think how your time management skills will improve. Let’s face it – they’ll have to.

No no no

No-one wants to appear unhelpful, especially if working for an organisation where fear of job cuts hangs over everyone’s heads. But this is no time to roll over and die simply because a pushy or devious colleague is trying to take advantage of your considerate nature.

Practise saying out loud, ‘I can’t do this right now’. Try not to use an apology, which implies unearned guilt and can invite more forward types to see how far they can push you. Be firm but empathetic; if continually pressed on a specific task, ask for time to consider their request, give it a couple of hours (or time that you judge is reasonable under the specific circumstances) and get back to them with an even firmer ‘no’.

The more you say ‘no’ (obviously within reason), the easier it will get – and the better able you’ll be to get through that workload stress-free.


"Ask yourself what’s most important and what’s most urgent – don’t assume they’re the same"