Career Woman

Five things to do when you feel overwhelmed by your workload


Australians work really hard. We are renowned globally for our strong work ethic and commitment to work. But sometimes that commitment can lead to physical and mental ill-health because we don’t know where to draw the line.

It has become such a problem that we now even have a Go Home On Time Day – an initiative started in 2009 by The Australian Institute. They found that:

  • Nearly half of all full-time workers are feeling overworked
  • Work is contributing to anxiety for one in four workers
  • Australians work the 12th longest hours in the OECD and ‘donate’ $128 billion in unpaid overtime annually to their employers.

The Australian Institute says, “The Go Home On Time Day is a great way to remind ourselves that life shouldn’t revolve around work alone and we need to start necessary conversations in our workplaces about work/life balance, the value of time, and time theft.”

The outcome is a win-win-win, because sustainable hours are good for everyone – employees, employers, and organisations.

So how can we go home when our workload is overwhelming?

Here are five simple strategies to get yourself home on time. Some of these ideas may not be possible in your situation, but I am sure there will be one or two that you could apply. Sometimes just small micro-changes can make big differences.

1. Unrealistic workload expectations

It is really tough when the organisational policies do not reflect what is needed for the people within the organisation. Unrealistic workload expectations are one of the greatest stressors, and if you are working in a place that does not have a positive workplace culture where open conversations can occur, this stress can quickly increase. But don’t give up. Change can happen – one small step at a time.

Action Items:

  • Check in with a trusted colleague to see if this is a work culture expectation, or if it is specifically an issue with your role.
  • Look at how you can re-prioritise some of the tasks to a later date or to another person on your team?
  • Organise to have an open and honest discussion with your manager about your projects and the timelines.
  • Managers – you MUST listen to your team members. Don’t lose your top talent with unrealistic expectations.

2. Mid-afternoon Exhaustion

We all have experienced the 3 pm slump. It’s that time of the day when we are so tired and our brain and body feel lethargic. Once this 3pmslump kicks in, it is hard to shake it, which means we are not as productive for those last few hours of the workday. This means we are getting less done and therefore falling behind. Prevention is always better than cure, so instead of reaching for caffeine and chocolate once the slump begins, why not put things in place earlier in the day, so you feel rejuvenated and enthusiastic all afternoon.

Action Items:

  • Lunch break – Walk outside to a park and eat your lunch without a device. The increased activity will increase blood flow and the fresh air will improve the likelihood of not feeling so exhausted and being more energised for the afternoon.
  • Food – Eat food that nourishes your body. Choose wholegrain bread, salads with protein, pasta with tomato-based sauces, fruit, vegetables boiled eggs, green juices etc.

3. Mountains of meetings

It’s one of the greatest workplace frustrations. Back-to-back meetings that often don’t lead to anything actionable or positive. They feel like one big waste of your time and of course, they really are if participants don’t respect and acknowledge that our time is precious.

Action Items:

  • Decide if a meeting is really necessary and only invite those who can make decisions and who will efficiently act post-meeting.
  • Have a very strict agenda with time limits for each item.
  • Choose a respected chairperson who is assertive enough to keep everyone on time.
  • Send this fabulous Infographic around so everyone’s clear on the ugly truths of meetings:

4. Distracted by distractions!

We are an over-connected society that is addicted to our devices and a slave to our notifications. All day, every day there are noises and sliders and popups and vibrations that take our attention away from what we are doing. When we are continuously distracted like this it means we get less done. Distraction leads to a reduction in concentration, learning, memory and recall. We can take up to 50% longer to complete our work and make up to 50% more mistakes.

Action Items:

  • Notifications and sounds – when you need to complete your work so you can go home on time, turn off all notifications, sounds and vibrations so that you can focus and concentrate and ensure your cognitive output is at its best.
  • Noise cancelling headphones – if you are in a noisy open office, invest in some good quality noise-cancelling headphones for when you need to complete work

5. Can’t help but say “yes”

One of the best ways to maximise your time is to learn how to say “no”. You see, when we consciously say “yes” to things that are not important to us, we are unconsciously saying “no” to things that matter to us. But fear gets in the way – fear of being rejected, fear of not being appreciated, fear of fitting in, fear of not being promoted, fear of lost opportunities – FOMO.

For example, when we consciously say “yes” to another meeting or collaborating on a project that is not really within our job description, we are unconsciously saying “no” to leaving on time so that we can spend quality time with our family / so we can exercise / so we can shop for good food rather than getting late-night takeaway / so we can read that new book / so we can catch up with dear friends / so we can visit ageing parents / so we can study / so we can read books to our children etc.

But saying “no” is hard. Here are a few really good statements that are worth learning so you know how to respond.

Action Items:

  • As much as I would like to help you, I simply can’t right now.
  • I’m afraid I simply lack the bandwidth right now to commit to doing this.
  • I’m really stretched thin right now and I promised myself I wouldn’t take on anything else.

Overwork and feeling like you have no control over your time can cause physical and mental ill-health. The Go Home On Time Day is a great initiative to remind us that it is OK to have a life! A life outside of work! When we have a life outside of work we are more likely to be our best selves during the workday.

What are you going to do to Go Home On Time?

About Heidi Dening

Heidi Dening is a sought-after keynote speaker, award-winning business owner, author and passionate educator who believes that resilient, healthy self-leaders create profitable, impactful businesses. She has over 20 years’ experience in business, education and health and is the only Australian to be selected as a Global Advisor for the IWBI™ (International WELL Building Institute™) Mind Advisory Board that looks at how our built environments impact our mental health, and the influence this has on our ability to perform at our best at work. Heidi has received many awards for her commitment to education and health, including an Australia Day Merit Award, Westpac’s International Women’s Day Local Hero Award, and in 2017, she was included on the honour roll for the global #CelebratingWomen project. She has worked with large corporations, small businesses, local and international communities and governments and has naturally become a role model for entrepreneurs, corporate executives, business owners and team leaders all over the world. Book Link (Her Middle Name Is Courage):

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