Future of Work

Stay positive and don't forget to delegate - how to manage a heavy workload

A share trader checks share prices at the German stock exchange in Frankfurt, December 18, 2008.  REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach (GERMANY) - RTR22OPM

Here are some ways to alleviate work-related stress. Image: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Sarah Watson
Global and New York Chief Strategy Officer, Brown Brothers Harriman, New York
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The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “How do you manage a heavy workload?” is written by Sarah Watson, global and NY chief strategy officer of BBH N.Y.

It’s an unavoidable fact of life that sometimes your workload will get really heavy.

But, you have a choice: Either you’re owning it, or it’s consuming you and burning you out. It’s all about what you tell yourself. Approaching your heavy workload with a song in your heart and a commitment to accomplish something great is what’s going to get you through. Here are my tips for managing a heavy workload:

Stay positive no matter what

You have to be ruthless about what’s going on in your head. Every second spent on disempowering thoughts about how this is too much for you, how it isn’t fair, how you lack the intellectual or human resources to complete it, is another second spent not solving the problem. And you don’t have any seconds to spare. The internal conversation has to be purely about what you can do to solve this, so you must be optimistic and action-oriented.

Cut out any conversation that isn’t helping

It is amazing how many “meetings” fail to move things forward. I ask myself during every conversation, “What purpose is this serving?” If we are speaking only to complain, blame, or commiserate, I cut it off. Every single moment must be used to move things forward.

Focus, focus, focus

There will be professional commitments (e.g., networking events) beyond your workload that you have to navigate. Weigh carefully which must stay and which can go. Before saying yes and committing to something, take a hard look at whether attending a certain event, for example, is viable, given your workload. Spending the day trying to figure out whether or not you’ll make it is draining, and disappointing peers is never fun.

Get enough rest

I am more optimistic than ever about how long it really takes to get things done. I often find I can crack things in a fraction of the time when I put my mind to it—especially when I am well rested. I always protect my time to sleep, wherever possible. I’d rather make it an early night and wake refreshed than work another day with diminishing returns.

Delegate even more

It is obvious to say you have to delegate and get serious about what you are and aren’t going to do. But it’s all part of the mindset of ownership. When you make powerful requests of people, they usually step up and surprise themselves. I’ve so often found that the people I assumed were swamped with work actually relish the opportunity to show themselves in a whole new light.

Regain sanity

When you go through a really intense period at work, set aside time to get some balance back. You’ll burn out if you don’t. Spend some extra time at the gym; try yoga or meditation; take a trip; connect with those you’ve missed—just enjoy something relaxing or rewarding and unrelated to work.

Shoulder a workload that’s sustainable

Remember, work is a marathon, not a sprint. If your workload isn’t sustainable, you must resolve this issue. It is completely reasonable to expect that you’ll experience unusually intense periods of work, but if it’s ongoing, you need to speak to someone and make some changes.

Remember the bottom line

When faced with managing a heavy workload, your frame of mind will be the decisive factor in your ability to remain calm, focused, and successful. Whenever you sense yourself beginning to get overwhelmed, look to see where you can improve your outlook, or make powerful requests of others to obtain the support you need.

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