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Effective strategies to cope with an overwhelming workload


I was a workaholic. With an overwhelming workload of approximately 70 hours a week, I had little time to spend with my family, see my friends or pursue any of my interests. Why did I do it? I guess for many of the same reasons as anyone reading this article.

I was brought up in a working class family where education and achievement were hugely important. I was usually second or third in my primary school class but my father’s response was always “why were you not first?” I never felt good enough.

I did reasonably well academically and eventually achieved my goal of becoming a senior manager in an organisation I felt proud to work for. However my feelings of inadequacy never quite left me and I felt that I had to work harder and better than anyone else. I was always that enthusiastic person agreeing to take on additional work, getting involved in new projects, attending lots of meetings, wanting to be in control and therefore finding it difficult to delegate. It was hardly surprising that there were times went I felt I had an overwhelming workload.

I worked in the public sector where the only constant was change. I can hardly remember a year where there was not a restructuring, new ways of working, new policies and procedures to be followed. And then came the cuts. Fewer people to provide the ever improving services we were striving to achieve.

Does any of this sound familiar? I was fortunate. In my continuing battle to improve myself I attended a leadership course. As part of the course, I was allocated a coach who helped me to recognise that I could achieve the results I wanted without working ridiculous hours and to enable me, at a crucial time in my life, to free up time to spend with my family. Years later I can look back on this coaching as a turning point in my life. I am sure the coaching I received was instrumental in my decision to later retrain and become a business coach myself.

Strategies for an overwhelming workload

So what strategies did I use following my coaching to help me manage my workload more effectively and which I have since used to help clients in a similar position?

- Pareto’s Principle – the 80/20 rule. In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country, observing that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the wealth. This later became known as Pareto’s principle, that 20 percent of our output is responsible for 80 percent of results. You can apply this rule to almost anything. In the workplace identify and focus on the 20% of things that really matter. Make a list of them. Those 20 percent produce 80 percent of your results. If something has to be delayed or left undone make sure it is not part of the 20%.

- Learn to delegate. How can staff develop and grow if they are not given responsibility? Learn to delegate effectively, giving clear and concise instructions. Agree deadlines and provide support if needed. Don’t forget to provide feedback.

- Learn to say no. Do you really need to go to that meeting? Can you ask someone else to go instead? Be more in control and don’t always allow others to make demands on your time.

- Be organised. How much time have you spent searching for a document either on your computer or on your desk? Have you missed an important meeting because you haven’t put the date in your calendar? Spend some time organising these files, tidying your office, and keeping your calendar up to date. Working in a tidy, organised office, you will save time and reduce what feels like an overwhelming workload. Visit Planners & Checklists to help get your office or home in order.

- Keep to do lists. List tasks according to importance and/or urgency so you can plan your day and focus on priorities. Use our digital tools to do this and as a bonus the tool will congratulate you on your way! Plan in terms of priority and remember the 20/80 rule!

- Be realistic about deadlines. Look at your to do list, estimate how much time each task will take to complete, and be realistic about what you are able to achieve in a given day / week.

- Don’t be a slave to email. Do you have your email switched on beside you and look at it every time you hear an email arrive? Don’t! Switch off the alert and only check it two or three times during the day.

- Ask for help when you need it. Don’t allow things to get out of control. Most managers would rather know there was a problem sooner rather than later when it may then be harder to resolve. Make a clear list of the issues, possible suggestions, and be prepared to work together on a solution.

- Try to limit multi-tasking. As a woman, I struggled with this! However by not giving each task your undivided attention, mistakes are more likely to happen and tasks are not properly completed.

In case you are wondering, yes, I did reduce the hours I worked following my initial coaching. I don’t think I ever achieved my contracted 35 hours a week but I certainly drastically reduced my hours. I never received any complaints that I was working less effectively and I was able to introduce some balance into my life.


Pat Hayden

Pat trained with the Institute of Leadership and Management and was awarded the ILM level 7 Certificate in Executive Coaching. She is registered with the Life Coach Directory, as well as being a member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), the recognised professional body for business coaches. Pat specialises in career and work life balance issues. She is a volunteer at the Shaw Trust / Careers development Group (CDG) and provides coaching to long-term unemployed job seekers, helping them to improve their confidence and motivation, their CV's and interview skills. Pat has an IDeA Certificate in Leadership and regularly attends the London Coaching Network which helps her to remain up to date with developments in the coaching world.


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