How to prevent overworking (with actionable steps and signs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A healthy workplace allows you to finish your work on time and still have some left to relax. Achieving work-life balance is essential in ensuring optimal productivity at work while taking care of your other life concerns, such as family, studies or hobbies. Knowing how to prevent overworking is important in enabling you to enjoy your work and keep your other life in balance. In this article, we explore what overworking means, show you the steps of how to prevent overworking and review signs you're overworking.

What does overworking mean?

Overworking occurs when you work very hard, work too much or for long hours. If you feel you're working beyond your capacity, whether it's physiological, mental or emotional, you're probably overworked. Burnout can quickly occur when you're overworking. Typically, prolonged workplace stress causes burnout and can cause feelings of exhaustion, decreased productivity and a mental distance from work.

Read more: A guide to managing a heavy workload (with advice and tips)

How to prevent overworking

Here are actionable steps of how to prevent overworking:

1. Prioritise and manage your time

All the tasks you handle are not equally urgent or crucial. Make a list of tasks, prioritised by importance and urgency and schedule a time to complete them. This helps you put the most important work first and gain control over your daily tasks.

2. Do one task at a time

Complete one task before beginning another. While multitasking might be beneficial at times, doing multiple things at once means putting a lot of strain on your mind. Several unfinished tasks in different stages of completion give you the impression that you're doing a lot but getting little completed. A completed task provides you with the satisfaction of feeling somewhat in control.

Related: How to balance studying and working full time (with tips)

3. Include simpler tasks in your workflow

If a task takes a long time to complete, you can divide it into segments. Once you finish a segment, you can have a rest or work on a simpler task to remain productive while re-energising yourself. Pick tasks that involve less mental or physical effort.

4. Delegate minor duties to other staff

It isn't always necessary for you to do everything by yourself. For instance, an assistant can take care of printing tasks as an operator key in entries on the computer while the telemarketer communicates with prospects on your behalf. The ultimate responsibility for completing the task remains with you, but you can easily delegate essential details to other staff. Make sure that each of the representatives reports the project status to you.

5. Seek help

Schedule a meeting with your line manager to inform them of your situation. Let them know that you've an excessive workload that you're struggling to complete and that you require help. Your boss might relieve you of some duties and delegate some responsibilities or provide you with extra help. Here are a few suggestions for informing your manager that you're overworking:

  • Consider your responsibility at the company: Your role at the company requires specific skills and a certain amount of work. Decide whether your current workload is appropriate for your position or it's a rare instance in which you're expected to work a little harder because your job requires it.

  • Try to be understanding: Your supervisor may have a lot of tasks to complete, so having empathy for their situation is important. Acknowledge that you're prioritising crucial tasks, while also letting them know you're feeling overwhelmed.

  • Share your priority list with your line manager: Compiling a list of all your current tasks and informing your line manager about them is the best way to show your work situation. Inform them that you're still dealing with a series of projects and perhaps they simply overlooked the fact that you're currently managing many tasks.

  • Provide a practical solution: Now that your manager knows your workload, you can determine which tasks on your priority list are the least important and request that they reschedule these tasks.

Related: 15 best jobs for work-life balance (with duties and salary)

6. Take frequent short breaks from work

Take walks and stretch, alongside regularly schedule coffee breaks. You require a much-needed break from work regularly. Instead of snacking every day, try going out for lunch once in a while. These brief breaks can help you work more effectively.

7. Reduce workplace distractions

Create time to check your inbox and respond to urgent emails. You can send non-urgent emails later. It's unnecessary to check every notification as it comes in. E-mails and chat messages are highly distracting and consume much of your valuable time. While doing important work that requires concentration, keep your phone in silent mode.

8. Don't carry work home

It's fine to bring work home once in a while, but try not to make it a habit. Consider your home to be a haven, a place to escape from the stresses of everyday life. Don't bring work with you and extend your workplace to your home. As much as possible, try to finish and leave your workloads at work.

Read more: What is the wheel of life and how does it apply to you?

9. Set your limits

As an employee, it's crucial to establish boundaries with your colleagues. The earlier you set these boundaries and the more strictly you adhere to them, the better your work-life balance becomes. For example, once you complete your work for the day, inform your team that you may not check your emails or text messages until the following morning.

When taking paid time off, adhere to the same guidelines. Complete all of your tasks before going on holiday and reach out to your team to assign your responsibilities when you're gone. Then, schedule an away text on your email and inform your team that you're out of the office and not in a position to respond immediately.

10. Use your paid time off

Employers provide you with paid leave for a reason, so make the most of it. After a busy time at work, it's a good time to use your holiday time off. This allows you to concentrate on yourself and unwind after your hard work. You can even use one day of paid leave as a mental well-being day to reduce your stress. By taking time off, you can return to work feeling ready and eager to be productive once more.

Related: How to work 60 hours a week: a survival guide

11. Use relaxation techniques

Aside from keeping you fit and healthy, physical activity helps relieve your stress and anxiety. Exercise causes the brain to release feel-good chemicals that make you happy and optimistic. You can also reduce work-related stress by jogging, walking, swimming or playing sports regularly.

12. Determine whether to look for a new job

If you've exhausted all other options, you may consider a new job. Looking for a new job that appreciates work-life balance than your current one is perhaps the last solution to feeling overworked. When looking for a new job, find out about the company's values and workloads. Also, research the company online to see if former employees have left reviews.

Read more: The benefits of flexible working and options available

Signs of overworking

The following signs could indicate that you're overworking:

Prolonged working hours

An increase in working hours is the most visible sign of overworked employees. A few late nights aren't necessarily concerning. If a team member is consistently first in the office and stays far beyond their planned schedule, it might be a clear indicator that they may be overworking. This problem can affect individual employees or the entire team.

Increased workplace stress

A change in stress tolerance is one of the most obvious signs of an overworked employee. Because of your extended working hours, you may experience a negative impact on your sleeping habits and self-care time. The direct consequence can be higher tension and irritability. These issues may also manifest in employee conflict with colleagues or being overly critical of their own mistakes.

You're taking longer than usual to complete tasks

Another sign that you're overworking is that projects that you previously completed fast and efficiently are now taking longer. It occurs because stress impairs an individual's ability to focus and is a major detriment to productivity. This aspect may only apply when an employee consumes a long period to complete a task and has little to no distraction at work.

You're making more or unusual mistakes

Even though mistakes are sometimes unavoidable, they are also evidence of overworking. If you notice frequent mistakes in your work, especially if this is a change from your usual quality, this is a sign of overload. An overworked employee has less time to review their performance and is much more likely to rush to what they're working on.

You're unwilling to participate in social activities

If you loved engaging yourself in social activities, but suddenly stop, cancel social engagements or withdraw from socialising, this might be a sign you're overworking. Cancelling a few social events to complete an urgent isn't a cause for concern. Once it becomes frequent and accompanied by other signs, it might be cause for concern.

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