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Work Overload: Signs of Burnout and How to Reclaim Your Time

At some point, everyone has felt a work overload creeping upon them. Don’t consider yourself a failure of productivity for not getting things done. Do this instead.

Work Overload: Signs of Burnout and How to Reclaim Your Time

With toxic productivity cultures and job demands exceeding an employee’s hourly bandwidth, work overload has become a staple part of many working cultures. Whether your business has a bad work culture, you struggle with planning your time, or you simply have too many tasks to do, everyone feels the weight of work overload from time to time.

In this article, we’ll be addressing work overload, exploring how it comes to be and how we can put habits in place to ensure it doesn’t happen too often. We’ll discuss how to create better habits, the power of reaching out for support, and ways that you can incorporate self-care into your daily professional life.

Let’s jump right into it.

What causes work overload?

Being overworked has almost become synonymous with the working world. From seemingly endless work to blurring the lines of work-life balance with the increasing availability of technology, work is now everywhere we look. 

Most common contributors to stress among Americans
Source

However, considering that 70% of workers dream of having a different job and almost 30% say they’re burnt out on a daily basis, something about corporate America has to change. There are three main ways that work creeps into our lives and leads us to become overworked:

  • Bad Work Culture - If your business starts their job postings with ‘fast-paced work hard, play hard culture’, run for the hills. Companies that prioritize overworking their employees often dish out more work than people can handle, damaging their employees’ mental health as they fail to cope with the expectations placed on them.
  • Lack of Workers - Work overload can be a result of employees on vacation, people out sick, or even just the fact that the department is understaffed. If an employer has hired too few employees to run an organization, the remaining employees often have disproportionately large schedules and tasks to work through. This is especially the case for fast-food workers. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, these understaffed working conditions were often purposely created by large corporations like McDonald’s.
  • Taking on Too Much - We’ve all been in a position where we say ‘yes’ just a few too many times and end up with far too much to juggle at once. If you’re in the habit of being a ‘yes-person’, just know that it can easily lead to a total work burnout. 

Work overload can creep up on you one task at a time, with team members accepting tasks or being forced into a corporate culture that expects too much of their employees. With work-related stress at an all-time high, the associated health problems that now impact large fractions of the workplace cannot be overlooked. 

What are the impacts of taking on too many tasks?

By working long hours to stay on top of endless to-do lists and finding difficulty achieving a balance between their professional and personal life, many people now find themselves constantly stressed at work. If you think you might be overworked, there are several telling signs that you should look out for. 

Can you relate to any of the following five signs of work overload?

  1. Lack of time for self-care
  2. Continuous sense of stress 
  3. Snapping at people
  4. Apathy
  5. Making mistakes or missing deadlines 

Let’s break these down even further.

Lack of Time for Self-Care

The word ‘self-care’ was one of the most Googled terms of 2020, demonstrating how integral these daily practices have become to the lives of many. Whether it be writing in a journal before bed, lighting a candle and meditating, or taking a relaxing bath, everyone practices self-care in different ways.

A common problem with work overload is a lack of free time, working hours eating into your day, and overwhelming time you would have otherwise taken for yourself. If you find yourself skipping out on the sauna to stare at a spreadsheet for another hour of the day, you might have already fallen down the work overload rabbit hole. 

Stress

With 23% of workers describing their stress levels as high in 2020, it’s hard to deny that most people feel stressed throughout the course of their working week. From feeling easily agitated, overwhelmed, or having difficulty relaxing, stress can heavily permeate our everyday lives.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have on your task list, you are likely experiencing a sense of stress. While older generations took the ‘muscle on through it’ approach, people are now realizing the devastating impact stress can have on the human body.

Stress can severely impact your general health, from causing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, to boosting the likelihood of heart disease and gastrointestinal problems.

Snapping at People

One of the main signs of stress is irritability, with an inability to handle work overload or ask for help - leading to frustration. If you find yourself snapping at colleagues, friends, or even your partner when your work is on your mind, you’re likely feeling the pressure of the workplace.

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Apathy

With hours of work ahead of you and a set of task priorities to figure out, you could eventually start feeling completely numb. If you’re waking up without the energy to do anything, your apathy could be attributed directly back to the business burnout you’re undergoing. 

From being inefficient to lacking the joy when doing things you used to love, you should evaluate if your apathy is a side effect of all the work you’ve still got left to do today.

Making Mistakes and Missing Deadlines 

When you simply have too much work to do, even the most efficient of us have to let one of the balls drop. If you suddenly start turning in projects that are riddled with errors or can’t keep up with your deadlines, you’ve got a surefire sign that you should try to reduce work overload. 

Although it may be counterproductive to take on less work, you’ll actually be helping out your colleagues and manager by giving your full attention to your professional projects. Work should be somewhere you don’t mind being, not a place that drives you to a complete sense of overload. 

How do you handle overworking?

Once you start recognizing the signs of work burnout, you’re one step closer to being able to treat it. 

There are several ways to avoid work overload and start recovering your own time. You could try:

  • Reworking your habits
  • Planning your weeks ahead of time
  • Learning to say no

Rework Your Habits

Once you start objectively evaluating where your stress comes from, you’ll be able to begin to reorder your priorities. Although, of course, it’s great to work hard for the company you work for, you need to put your own personal life first. 

Instead of staying up into the early hours of the morning, actively ask for help, let your team or your manager know that you feel overworked, and ask for less. You’ll then be able to spend less time working and more time focusing on your own health.

Top responses to stress among Americans
Source


One of the most important tips to avoid burnout is to create and practice a regular sleep schedule. Make sure you get those daily 8 hours to start putting your own health before your work tasks. Bring essential habits into your life, like getting enough sleep, taking breaks, moving your body, and eating healthily. 

Plan Your Weekly Time Budget Around Your To-Do list

Creating a daily time budget can help prevent work overload by allowing you to plan out the hours you’ll be working more efficiently. By focusing on getting an hour of quality work done, you’ll be able to do more in a shorter period of time. Equally, time blocking will help you focus on the important tasks in your day first, meaning you won’t be left scrambling to finish something as it strikes midnight.

A leading development officer for the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association, Alicia González-Ramos, suggests ranking all of your tasks from 0-5, with 5 being the most essential. You’ll then work through those tasks, with the most important coming first, helping you better manage your time. 

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Learn to Say ‘No’ to Team Members and Managers

There is no shame in explaining that you’re currently going through a work overload and that you need to turn down a task or project. One of the easiest ways to do this is to create a weekly time budget, then show it to those that ask for more of your time. Suppose they see that you’re already using up all your time resources for the week. In that case, you’ll then be able to blame your full calendar if you’re not comfortable saying ‘no’.

By turning down some tasks, you’ll spend more time working on the to-do list you’re already busy with and less time overworking yourself. At its core, work overload comes from having too much to do and not enough time to do it. By saying ‘no’, you’ll be able to avoid work overload and manage your time better.

Take control and reclaim your time

At some point, everyone has felt a work overload creeping upon them. There is no shame in recognizing that you’re overwhelmed at work and asking for less, or simply for a little bit of help from your company. 

Don’t consider yourself a failure of productivity for not getting things done. More often than not, achieving balance between work and life will allow you to boost productivity. Take care of yourself and the rest will follow.

If you’re looking to take control of your time, be sure to reach out for support, make your struggle known to your business, and put habits in place that will manage your current tasks. Little by little, you’ll be able to remaster your week and take back your time.  

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