Taking on extra work can lead to project overload. Here’s how to get out from under it.
“I’m not sure what to do,” my client told me. “I wanted to show that I was a team player in my new role, so I’ve been taking on more and more projects.”
“Kate” set her coffee down and rubbed her bloodshot eyes, shaking her head.
“Now I feel like I’ve dug myself into a hole I can’t get out of, because there just isn’t enough time to get everything done. I’m drowning.”
Kate had started a new job a few months ago and, wanting to do well, she showed her eagerness to take on additional work and participate in lots of projects. On the positive side, this had given her the opportunity to get to know many employees and demonstrate her skills to her manager.
On the downside, in the process of trying to become well-liked, she had overextended herself. Now she was behind schedule on several projects. Her likability factor was sliding because she was the hold-up for a few high-visibility projects.
Kate and I spent the remainder of our coaching session talking through steps she could take to get back on track.
Create a project list. It’s easier to have a discussion with your manager when you have a something you can use that shows what you’re working on. If you don’t already have this, create a simple spreadsheet to list all your projects with columns that include the project name, description, deliverables, timing for completion, progress and priority level.
Prioritize. Look at all your projects or major work tasks and try to put them in order based on priority, with the most important items at the top of your list.
Determine where you’re off track. Consider the areas where you’ve fallen behind schedule. Are there any other employees who might be able to help? If yes, make a note of this on your project list spreadsheet.
Communicate with your boss. Review your project list with your manager. Explain where you’re struggling to keep on schedule due to your heavy workload. Ask for feedback on how you’ve prioritized your work, because your boss might know things that could change the priority level of certain items. Share your ideas about other employees who might be able to help, or action items that could be shifted to others.
Scrupulously guard your time. Block out time on your calendar each week for your key projects to ensure you’ll be able to meet deadlines and achieve your deliverables.
Learn your limits. Every person is different when it comes to the amount of work they can handle during a week, depending on what they’re already working on, their level of stress, their physical health, and a long list of other factors. Before taking on additional projects, review your project list and have a quick discussion with your manager.
For Kate, the most important aspect was learning to gauge her breaking point. That way, when she reached her maximum workload capacity, she could push back in a way that was professional and beneficial for herself — and her boss.