April 16, 2024

Career Couch: It’s Not Mount Everest. It’s My Workload.

A. First, realize that you are far from alone. Many people working today feel overloaded, says Susan Zeidman a portfolio manager at the American Management Association who specializes in interpersonal communication skills and management. “People feel as if they have two or three jobs, not just one. It’s the No. 1 complaint from the recession among people we survey,” she says.

One way to approach the topic is to acknowledge that you have acquired more responsibility in the last year and want to rise to the challenge, but could use some help in judging what tasks need to be done first and which ones can wait, says Ann Latham, president of the management consulting firm Uncommon Clarity in Easthampton, Mass. .

“Your attitude should be that you want to prevent yourself from having to cut corners or having the wrong things fall through the cracks,” she says, “because that’s in the best interests of the company.”

Before talking to your boss, carefully analyze the components of your workload to gain an objective picture of the situation, says Allan R. Cohen, a professor of global leadership at Babson College in Babson Park, Mass., and co-author of “Managing for Excellence.” Find out who receives the reports, memos and other work projects you do — and whether they actually use them.

“That’s how you determine what activities are critical, what can be dropped and whether some pieces can be delegated,” he says. “It will also help you decide if there are any activities you are doing more for your own satisfaction than for meeting organizational needs. People often produce reports no one looks at.”

When you meet with your manager, have some options ready for dealing with your workload and frame the discussion in terms of how you can do a better job, Mr. Cohen says.

Q. Is it possible you could damage your career by asking for help?

A. You risk negative fallout only if you complain to your boss that you can’t handle your job. “Don’t go in there saying, ‘I have too much work’ because your boss has too much work, too,” says Joanna Broussard, president of the BizMark Group, a business development consulting firm in Chicago. “It’s much more politically astute to offer some solutions and ask for support.”

And, as Ms. Zeidman says, “If you cannot complete your work and meet deadlines, you’re much more likely to suffer consequences.”

Q. Is there anything you can do to lighten the load on your own, like delegating some work to colleagues?

A. If you have a collaborative relationship with co-workers who do similar work, you can ask if they can help you with certain tasks, but generally it’s better to go through the chain of command, Ms. Latham says.

Let your supervisor decide whether work should be delegated and to whom, because it’s possible co-workers may be busier than they seem. “You can always suggest someone else on your team that might be able to handle some of the work, but I wouldn’t directly delegate to others unless you’re specifically given that authority,” Ms. Broussard says.

Q. Could it be that the way you work, rather than your workload, is to blame?

A. It is possible that your problem isn’t too much work, but a lack of efficiency. Ms. Zeidman suggests keeping an interruption log to see if constant distractions — whether from people, e-mail or Facebook updates — might be why you aren’t meeting your obligations.

“Let’s say you’ve planned your day but people come into your office and sit down and talk about their vacation while you need to do your budget report, or there are always crises calling you away,” she says. “It might be that it takes you an hour to settle into work in the morning.” Once you identify the things that are eating away at your time, you can tackle them by trying to stop the interruptions or getting down to work faster.

It may seem paradoxical, but you can raise your efficiency by taking breaks during the day — a quick walk, a few stretches, a visit to a colleague down the hall. Just don’t use the breaks to procrastinate, Ms. Broussard says.

You may also need more training or better tools to improve your efficiency, Mr. Cohen says. “Look at colleagues that do the same sorts of things you do,” he says. “Are they faster? And, if so, what tools are they using?”

Q. Is there a way to prioritize tasks so the workload feels more manageable?

A. Yes, by prioritizing work so you perform the toughest tasks first, Ms. Broussard says. “We tend to do the easiest and simplest things first, because we don’t want to deal with the hard stuff,” she says, “but the harder stuff is what we need to do.”

To make the big projects less daunting, break them down into smaller pieces. “Sometimes,” she says, “we feel overwhelmed simply because we don’t know where to start.”  

E-mail: ccouch@nytimes.com.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=86234478c15b08e446ba6c52946b183a

Speak Your Mind