Whether you work for a startup or you’ve “survived” rounds of layoffs or a reorganization, you may feel your work is too much to realistically accomplish. For freelancers, it’s called “scope creep” — when the parameters of a project grow to include more tasks outside a freelancer’s contract or area of expertise.
In a salaried position, however, it’s more difficult to tell. Sometimes stress causes you to ask, ‘is my job too much work for one person?’ As salaried roles evolve, it may be harder to realize when too much work is being asked of you, or when your coworkers aren’t pulling their weight.
A lot of young professionals fall into the trap of trying to impress supervisors, climb the ladder faster, or simply hide that they are feeling burnt out. Furthermore, burnout can quickly become the new norm for millennials as they try to repay student loans, save for a home, and juggle countless other debts. Frankly, it can happen to anyone, whether they cope with Imposter Syndrome or are just concerned about layoffs and job security.
But no matter how skilled a professional you are, your day contains 24 hours just like everyone else’s. So here are a few strategies and questions to ask yourself to determine whether your job is just too much work for one person to handle.
We’ve listed four strategies you can take to pause, reflect, and move forward in your role.
Instead of thinking about the more conceptual aspects of your job, first assess the basics. List the actual tasks expected of you each day. Are there recurring tasks required daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly?
Write down a quick list of all of these tasks, estimating the average amount of time each one takes. If you tend to speed through tasks to get them all done, add on some time to account for this (no one should regularly rush through their day just to get everything finished).
A Workfront Study found being inundated with miscellaneous tasks was essentially the norm in modern workplaces. Employees at large companies (1,000+ employees) reported spending just 45 percent of their workday on primary tasks. The study found emails, meetings, and interruptions made up the rest. While it is impossible to eliminate every setback or side task in your career, you can stay aware and keep them to a minimum. If you are the type of person always to offer assistance, become aware of the power of saying “no.”
Tools such as Slack or Asana allow us to quickly tag or ping someone with a question, or general FYI-type messages. Sometimes, these notifications feel incredibly disruptive, or worse, an exploding to-do list.
Combat this by blocking time on your calendar for heads down focus time, pausing notifications, or establishing “office hours” for questions. Some people choose to address emails and messages or notifications a specific times each day. Share this with your team to manage expectations or make it part of your profile. Remember what they say about an urgency on someone else’s part doesn’t constitute an emergency on yours.
If you’re new to a particular career, answering the above question might be difficult. Maybe you have too much to do. Maybe a lack of experience slows you down. Is there a skill that would help you do your job, but you don’t have it? Are others in your profession knowledgeable about a certain kind of software, but you’re not?
Related: Hired partners with several organizations providing bootcamps, workshops, and other opportunities to upskill. Many even offer discounts to candidates on the Hired platform.
All of these factors can add up, causing you to feel overwhelmed and burdened throughout your work day. An experienced person in your industry can mentor you and suggest additional training if needed. On the other hand, a mentor can also coach you on how to talk to your supervisor if the problem really is just overload. While you may not have a mentor in mind, finding one and setting up a meeting is easier than you think.
Before you do this, think back to the start of your position — your application, interview, and the onboarding/training process. If a copy of your job description or job board posting still exists somewhere, carefully review it. Is it truthful? Do your job title and job description genuinely account for what you do on a day-to-day basis?
Take into account the duties of your coworkers. For example, do you find yourself doing a lot of work that technically falls under their job titles? Don’t ask these questions as a means to create resentment and find out who is “wrong.” Rather, ask them in order to find clarity and decide on a course of action.
If you do approach your boss, be sure to do so when you are calm and clearheaded — this may be at the beginning of the workday. Have specific examples in mind to demonstrate exactly why there is too much on your plate. Also, be sure to talk about the results of your workload. Was a major aspect of a project neglected or overlooked? Be prepared with potential solutions to balance the workload.
This isn’t about complaining. It’s asking for guidance on prioritizing and assessing what might need to be outsourced or moved to the next quarter’s goals.
The final considerations are time management and prioritization. In some scenarios, the other options in this article won’t cut it. For example, is your entire team currently overloaded with work, or are problems outside of work the true cause of your burnout? In these cases, review some time management basics. Some of the most common time-wasters include social media, worrying, and spending too much time on research and minute details.
Many professionals swear by creating a to-do list at the end of each workday. This allows the following day to run smoother. Another useful tool is the Action Priority Matrix, which helps to assess how high a task should be prioritized, if at all.
With these four questions in mind, young professionals in a fast-paced workplace can begin to take control of their workday. The key to successful reorganizing is to not let stress dictate your response. Small and steady changes can bring you back to sanity and strengthen your effectiveness at work.
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Originally published in 2016, updated by the Hired Content team in March 2023.