How to Regroup Amid Increased Workload

Managing a heavy workload can be quite daunting. I mean we’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where work piles up and it seems like it will never end. Have you ever sat at your desk and said to yourself, “I have so much to do. I have no idea where to start!” Guilty! And you aren’t alone. Sometimes it’s self-induced. Sometimes it’s due to a co-worker being out of the office either planned or unplanned. And sometimes, plain and simple, there aren’t enough hands to get the work done. But how you manage yourself and regroup from it is important! Here are a couple of strategies we use at IDO that help us, as a team, regroup and manage workload stress more effectively.

Take Time for Planning! One hour of effective planning can save hours in the long run. At IDO, we spend every Thursday from 3p-4p to collaborate as a team on projects. We start with each associate ranking their upcoming weekly workload from 1-5. 5 (five) being SOS, send in backup and 1 (one) I am here with open arms ready to help! Rarely do we hear 5’s or even 1’s. Everyone seems to live in the 3’s but even there, workload stress is high when working on multiple projects on multiple sites with multiple project managers. Each Thursday, we dive into the work being done (and yes we get pretty granular), what we need help with, and how others can jump in to assist. We also talk about time in and out of the home office and where collaboration could occur offsite. We talk about the project specifics and who has the knowledge base (and time) to complete a task. When we hear each other’s needs in this format, it allows us to plan more effectively and pivot to help the greater good of the team (and their sanity)!

Use the Strengths of Your Team! Speaking of team…. better teamwork is the solution to regrouping more skillfully too. Whether it’s a leader of the organization, an on-the-ground member of the team, or even an out-of-the-box thinker that has little project perspective, everyone has unique strengths to bring to the table. In the pursuit of delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, becoming overwhelmed, and treading water in a heavy workload that seems neverending. It’s often not about how to complete the project more effectively, but who can help deliver this project. Everyone has unique strengths and brings value in various ways. Passing on a task that doesn’t play into those strengths, can free up time to do something that person is more proficient in – hence naturally making the process more effective. Might I even drop the “D” word, delegation? More to come on that. Every situation is different and offloading a project detail based on skill isn’t always an option. However, if that is an option, I highly suggest it. It empowers both parties, and others around, to get stuff done.

Focus on Priorities! Although at the moment when everything seems so time-consuming, not everything is a priority! One tool you can use to maximize your productivity (and focus) on the bigger priorities is the Eisenhower Matrix or Eisenhower Box. Developed by our 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, he led one of the most productive lives you can imagine which may be why most people said “I Like Ike” during his presidential campaign in 1952. A little more on what Ike’s resume looks like before I get too deep into what this tool does for prioritization. He was a General during WWII – planning/leading/executing invasions across 3 countries, President of Columbia University, served as the first Supreme Commander of NATO, served two presidential terms, launched the development of the Interstate Highway System, and started DARPA which is a government agency that develops modern technologies such as the Internet and GPS. He also developed NASA and the Atomic Energy Act using alternative energy sources well before his time! I mean, he was busy, and can you imagine his workload each day? He was also not doing everything on his own. He had to delegate work to others to again accomplish the greater good of the teams he was working on to be so successful. Using this method, he was able to sustain his productivity for decades and become one of the most pragmatic and organized thinkers of his time. His methods have been studied by many when researching time/task management theories.

So, back to the Matrix. Listing your daily or long-term tasks in this way allows for action to be taken on the things that matter the most. This also plays into the planning and delegation that we talked about above. Separate your tasks into 4 possibilities (a visual is below for those visual learners) and focus your priorities on those that are the most important and urgent tasks or actions. Following these simple guidelines will help visualize your needs and be able to lean into your team to help your workload.

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you do immediately)
  2. Important, but not as urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will or would like to delegate to someone else)
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you eliminate)

Take Time Out! Lee had mentioned this in a previous blog about working from home that our European friends have “taking time off” down to a science! I know you have heard of a “siesta” or “holiday”. These aren’t just fancy words they are actual practices that are beneficial to the individuals who utilize them. Mid-afternoon naps are common in most cultures. Also known as a “pizolot” in Croatia or “taaseela” in Egypt, European cultures strongly encourage taking time out to rest and recharge from the stressors of the day either through a nap or vacation.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, the siesta habit has been associated with a 37% reduction in coronary mortality, possibly due to reduced cardiovascular stress mediated by daytime sleep. Other simple ways to recharge are to take a walk or exercise. This type of movement helps invigorate your mind and body. Even standing up and stretching wakes up the body. Doing this multiple times a day is needed to keep proper body alignment. Also spending time with people that energize you like family or friends is a way to invigorate yourself. Even a simple conversation outside of your projects for a few moments helps. Lastly, I don’t want to be your mom here but really, try to get as much sleep as possible at night and eat healthily. Bedtime is bedtime, so get to it! That email can wait! Scheduling downtime may be as hard as managing workload but sometimes a calendar reminder to take a movement break or even turning on that sleep timer on your phone at night is needed to thrive.

Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance! The balance we all want is very different from one another, especially when dealing with an increased workload. Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home. It’s about choosing what matters the most to you and creating a balanced life. Maybe take a page from Dwight Eisenhower’s Matrix and write it down! You may be able to see what you may be missing and make the time to balance your life.

Work in Blocks of Time! As we talked about above, regular breaks are needed to keep your mind and body alert. You can use the 60-60-30 method. Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes and then take a 10-minute break. Take a walk, have a snack, or a have conversation. Then continue to work on the project for another 50 minutes followed but another 10-minute break. Finally, take a complete 30-minute break and unplug. Start the process over or if time doesn’t afford multiple, long-term unplug moments, change out the 30-minute break to 10-minute breaks every 50 minutes. This reduces the risk of burnout and improves the quality of work as well as energy levels throughout the day.

Increased workloads can feel like a gargantuan task to deal with and can cause a great deal of stress, burnout, and ongoing frustration. It can also cause big emotions that are hard to deal with alone. The answer is to tackle increased workloads head-on, rather than allowing them to fester into long-term effects. Lean in on your team and leaders and regroup. Encourage communication with your co-workers about workload and decipher if projects or tasks can be offloaded to alleviate some of the burden (or how you can help a fellow cohort offload). Plan, plan, plan, prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Take the time to do both and save yourself hours of wasted time on tasks that are not needed. Dwight D. Eisenhower was a baller time/task manager because of one simple step he took each day! Make that part of your routine to feel more productive and copacetic in the quality of your work. Lastly, take time off! Take a break, seriously it will do your body good. Balance work and life so that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor and not miss a moment at home or work. See what works best for you and share that with your team and leaders. You may be inadvertently helping another person by being open about acting on just one of these tips above.

And as always, if life/work gets to be too much and negatively affects your physical or mental health, it may be time to talk to someone outside of work. Instead of being unhappy and not being able to cope with an increased workload, talk to someone who can help. Check out your organization’s HR support or healthcare plan for online or in-person therapy options. If it’s an immediate need, text HOME to 741741 anywhere in the U.S., anytime. Crisis counselors are on hand 24/7 if you need help with any painful emotion like anxiety, depression, suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders.

Written by Anne Holden