How to prioritise your workload

The ability to “grin and bear it” when stress mounts is a positive attribute in the business world. As a result, many professionals feel uncomfortable asking for help when they’re feeling overloaded; they don’t want to risk having their boss or colleagues view them as someone who cracks under pressure. However, failing to speak up when you know you’re in over your head can lead to issues far more damaging than image problems: such as burnout, missed deadlines and ultimately eroded trust with your colleagues and managers.

Here are some tips for addressing the issue of “work overload” proactively with your manager and prioritising work:

Ask your manager to provide input on business priorities. 

Your manager may not know how full your plate is so help them visualise your workload by making a list of ongoing projects grouped by priority. Have your manager confirm that you’re focusing on the most important tasks according to business needs, and then discuss whether deadlines for those assignments are realistic. Ask for his/her guidance in prioritising lower-priority tasks as well, so you can plan ahead appropriately for when those items will become top priorities.

Ask to delegate some responsibilities. 

Once you’ve determined which projects require immediate attention and when other workload spikes are likely to occur, work with your manager to identify tasks that only you should handle based on your role or expertise. Then evaluate the remaining items on the list. Are there responsibilities that could be assigned to another colleague or business unit temporarily? Could you team up with another employee to ensure deadlines are met?

Consider bringing in outside resources.

If, after discussing workload demands with your manager, it becomes clear that no one in-house is available to support you — whether it’s because they lack time or don’t possess the right skills or expertise — you may want to consider engaging temporary or contract professionals. Leading firms often hire interim employees to prevent core members of their teams resigning over workload issues.

If you’re worried about losing face by asking for help, remember that missing a major deadline likely will be more damaging, both to your psyche and your team’s results. The best thing to do when your workload balloons past the point where you can manage it is to put the business first and ask your boss to help you find practical solutions that will keep projects on track — and you performing optimally.