It’s not you, it’s the workload


All the time management strategies in the world won’t help if there is simply too much work to do. Start saying no and taking back your day.
Hourglass dropping sand to display time passing
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Like many of us over the past two years, we have been inundated with time management, remote work strategies, resilience, mindfulness and even yoga training to try and help with the growing phenomenon of overwhelm and burnout.

No one is asking the question though about workload.  Many workers are now bearing the brunt of decades of downsizing and over two years of a global pandemic that have resulted in people expected to do the workload of two or maybe three people.

It’s time to say “no” more

However, saying “no” is tough, and for many it results in feelings of guilt or anxiety. It all starts with defining your boundaries.

Healthy work-related boundaries define how much of yourself you give to your career and guide how you form relationships with managers, colleagues, and clients. They also help make time for the important things, like the people and activities in your life outside of work.

Boundaries can mean the difference between career/work fulfilment and burnout.

When it comes to setting boundaries, ask yourself:
  • Who am I willing, or not, to give time to?
  • What do I want, or not want, to do or achieve?
  • When do I need to protect time, and when do I want to make myself available?
  • Where can I put in place contextual markers about the physical locations of work, play and rest?
  • Why would I give one person or activity attention over another?

Managing boundaries, however is generally about the discipline of maintaining them, and letting others know when they have been crossed or are at risk of being crossed.

It starts with learning how to say “no” politely and respectfully.

People are reasonable when they know why

Most people will be reasonable when they understand why you are saying no.  In fact, boundaries, once clear, are often respected by others.  If someone does ask you to do something that is beyond your capacity, give a clear explanation as to why you are unable to take on this task or piece of work. 

It may be just a timing thing.  Offering a compromise, like later in the week or offering to take on a small part of the work, will increase the chances of a favourable response and a maintaining of the relationship.

It’s a skill we need to learn, so that we are able to do it elegantly and respectfully.  It might seem awkward at first, but practising or rehearsing out loud, saying out loud the following phrases, can be helpful when you need to use them for real.

  • Unfortunately, I can’t commit to this as I have already prioritised [other work] for this week.
  • My schedule is full right now and I can’t take on anything more.
  • I’m unable to help you right now, but I can next week.  Shall we schedule a time to revisit this?
  • I’m not the right person for this. Have you considered asking [name] who I believe has expertise in this area.

Being authentic, truthful and open about what you are doing will make it easier for you, and others to get things done. Creating boundaries will make you easier to work with and allow you to have more control over your time, energy and attention.

Donna McGeorge is a best-selling author and global authority on productivity. Her book series, It’s About Time covers meetings, structing your day, and doing more with less. Find out more about Donna at Donna McGeorge: Speaker, Author, Facilitator, Coach