Getting Real About Workload (Energy)

“Too many tasks, not enough time.
I’m just not getting to the important stuff.
We need more people.”

Complaints about job overload are common in today’s workplaces. Whining aside, the effects of overload show up in more subtle ways, too. Growing overtime. Frequent sick days. Widespread stress leaves. Resignations.

Unfortunately, one of the most common approaches to balancing workloads is to keep piling on the tasks until someone falters or falls over. It’s assumed that if you handled a certain load last year, that you should be able to manage it (and more) again this year. That conclusion is often reached without looking at what else may have changed.

Adding new technologies also leads to automatic assumptions about increased capacity. And sometimes, you just get so enthused about a new opportunity that you knowingly and willingly take it on, even though it’s likely to send you into multiple spasms of overtime.

Overload is not always easy to see. Appearances can be deceiving. A building manager could not get the resources he needed to rebuild the foundation of a public building that had been sinking and shifting on its piles for years. Why? Because the maintenance crew did such a stellar job of plastering cracks and painting over the evidence, that the ‘powers that be’ didn’t believe that the problems were serious.

This happens with job load, too. When you believe the job really matters and you see yourself as a team player who doesn’t complain, you, too, may unintentionally play the accomplice – whitewashing job load problems and their effects.

The only way to ‘get real’ about workloads is to make it an ongoing point of conversation. Don’t assume that others will sort out problems on your behalf. Colleagues and managers may not have real information on which to base their decisions.

Keep your colleagues and managers informed about the status of your work and the tasks that are on your plate. When new tasks are delegated your way, ask how it stacks up in importance compared to other activities. Engage others in resetting priorities with you.

Collect and share data. How long does it take you to do a certain kind of task? How long does it take others? What shortcuts you have learned that you might share with others? What have others learned that could help you do a more efficient job? Don’t just commiserate… swap real information and solutions.

Recognize that not every moment of every working day is really working time. Breaks, lunches, stat holidays, annual leave, administrative tasks, celebrations… are all important for your health and the longevity of the organization. They all eat into time available for special projects and regular activities.

Estimate what portion of your day is actually available for planned action. If you are in a service position (i.e. – computer help desk, retail sales, or hotel clerk), you already know that most of your day will be spent answering questions and helping others. If, on average, 75% of your time each day is spent responding, it’s folly to plan to spend a half day on tasks that need your undivided attention. It just won’t happen. You’ll set yourself up to feel frustrated and overwhelmed – and conflicted about the service you provide to others.

Track projects to see how long they take to complete. This will help you better estimate time for future tasks. It will also give you some idea about what time might be free for new initiatives next season or next year. Suppose last year’s major project took 30% of your time and ongoing regular tasks consumed the other 70%. If you are looking at taking on a new project that will take half of your time to complete, you know that you’ll be overloaded by 20% unless you make other arrangements.

As you plan for new projects, look for new ways to address regular tasks. What could be postponed, delegated to someone else, done in a less detailed way? Where could extra resources be used to handle pieces of the new project or take over some of the regular tasks?

Remember, getting real about workload is everyone’s responsibility.

© Patricia Katz MCE CHRP of Optimus Consulting is a speaker, author and consultant who helps individuals and organizations restore the rhythm of renewal to work and life. To bring Patricia’s expertise to your organization, contact her at or toll free at (877) 728-5289.