Posted by:
Anne Zimmerman

Anne Zimmerman

December 18, 2014

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Working Too Much?

My friend Emily is suffering through a rough time at work. Her company did a round of layoffs and she survived. Yes! But then came the downside—Emily is now doing her job plus the job of a co-worker who was fired. No responsibilities were taken away from her and there’s no extra pay. Yuck.

Each workweek is the equivalent of a marathon, with long days, dozens of e-mails, and not enough time to accomplish tasks. Last time I spoke to Emily she was on the verge of tears—she’s tired and overwhelmed. Here, a few ways to fight off burnout at the office.

Aim for balance. When you work too much it can throw your entire personal life out of whack too. Now is the time to be an advocate for yourself and your needs. Drink lots of water, get enough sleep, make an effort to eat healthy foods, and squeeze in some exercise. And have some fun, too—cutting loose and blowing off steam can be an excellent way to deal with workplace woes.

Take a breather. When you are swamped, your productivity often goes down because you don’t have large chunks of time to accomplish tasks. Make sure you set aside time in your day to devote to those things you really need to think about and focus on. Also be sure to schedule a few minutes before meetings to go over your notes and remember the items you want to discuss. The conversations will go faster and be more productive.

Record, record, record. Buy yourself a cute work notebook and carry it everywhere. Use it as a catch-all place to make lists, record notes, and write down random thoughts. When your brain is working overtime it isn’t possible to remember everything. If a co-worker stops you in the hall and asks you for a copy of an e-mail you sent four weeks ago, you might forget to track it down unless you make a note of it. At the end of the day, use this notebook to make a fresh to-do list for the next morning. Even if you arrive at work to find a new crisis, you’ll be able to keep track of the other things you really need to do.

Manage e-mail and voice messages. We’re all addicted to e-mail and other forms of quick communication. But during a frantic day, lots of new e-mails will only make you feel more stressed. Resist the urge to open new mail the second it enters your in-box. Check e-mail periodically during the day, and know that it’s okay if you don’t respond right away. Most people expect a prompt response, not an immediate response.

Go to lunch. Take advantage of the free time you deserve. Don’t work through lunch or breaks. Even 20 minutes away from the desk can help revive you and make you better prepared to cope with the afternoon’s dramas.

Say something. If you’re really feeling overwhelmed and sense that it will be a perpetual problem, communicate this to your boss. He or she may not realize your stress, either because you appear to be handling it well or because they are also overworked and preoccupied. Although it seems like there’s no help, talking to the higher-ups may produce a solution. And you’ll feel better and less resentful if you ask for one.