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How to Responsibly Reduce Your Overwhelming Workload

burnout overwhelm workload May 04, 2023

Have you been the “lucky” survivor of a layoff? Maybe gifted a role in an emerging department? Perhaps you were over-promoted, which happens more frequently than we like to believe. These white elephants often lead to immense workload. Even if you haven’t been ‘honored’ with opportunity to take on more work, we all live with the exponential performance expectations of capitalism.  

Chicken soup for the overworked soul includes sharing opportunities for growth, task and attention management, and reducing overall responsibility. Evaluate your responsibilities, consider which you can shed, and make a plan to do so.


Sharing or delegating work can be counterintuitive to achievement-oriented professionals. Most of us were raised with achievement conditioning, so it’s very likely that you struggle handing over assigned tasks when you know you can do it better. Or perhaps you convince yourself that training someone would take longer than doing the task yourself (this excuse works exactly one time).

Remember, your work may be a welcome development opportunity for someone else.

  • Delegate:
    • Share the necessary information: scope, details, goal, deadline, etc.
    • DO NOT SHARE your personal process or preferred method. Many paths lead to the same destination. Resist micromanaging or overexplaining; their own method will suffice if they can produce the desired outcome.
    • Check in and be available for guidance when necessary.
  • Peer support: work often comes in waves, if a peer has spare time or can assist, seek support in the name of cross training, skill development, and team effectiveness. This also works well when a peer can offer process improvement or efficiency with a different skillset. Welcome this, not as a threat, but as a solution to your overwhelming workload.


  • Outsource: If you have the means, consider outsourcing tasks that don't bring you joy or fulfillment. 
    • Personal Tasks: Grocery, laundry, cleaning, cooking, childcare, travel planning, etc. 
    • Work Tasks: Consider where the cost of a third party service, consultant, vendor, or virtual assistant makes sense. 
    • Look for work that is ideal for automation, such as: routine reports, data entry, scheduling appointments, routine communications, and any type of data processing or analytics.
    • Look for processes that seem antiquated, redundant, or more time-consuming than necessary.
    • Seek support from an automation expert in the name of accuracy and efficiency.
  • To-do list prioritization:
    • If it takes just a few minutes, do it now. Don’t let the little stuff weigh you down.
    • Rate items by urgency and importance to more effectively prioritize.
    • Ask your supervisor for guidance on prioritizing: if you are burned out your judgement may wane, and your time is limited. Asking which tasks are critical given the time you can dedicate will show you have the best interest of the work, team, and company.
  • Attention management: Forcing your brain to perform tasks outside its comfort mode can be mentally taxing. Try Daniel Pink’s method to plan work according to your circadian rhythm. Approximately eighty percent of people are natural or socialized “morning people.” They will experience Peak functioning in the morning, a Trough decline early to mid-afternoon, and Recovery in the early evening. Us few “night-owls” will experience these in reverse.
    • Peak hours are best spent performing analytical work, strategizing, and decision making.
    • Trough hours are a good time for administrative duties, emails, and mindless-tasks.
    • Recovery hours are great for insight tasks, creativity, and brainstorming.
  • Manage distractions: There are generally two reasons we get distracted, be aware of which is happening to mitigate it with an effective strategy.
    • Temptation: when we are drawn to a specific app on our phones, activity, or interest outside of work responsibilities. Every company within your phone buys your attention by creating addictive content. Know your temptations and silence them.
    • Brain break: when our minds wander, it typically means its time to recharge. Fill this distraction by giving the brain what it wants. Go for a walk, get a glass of cold water, practice breathing exercises, stare out the window, stretch, call a loved one for connection, or write in a journal.


  • Just say “No.”
    • Show good-faith consideration: Get the details of the requested task or project, including deadline, deliverable, expectation of quality, approximate time required, etc.
    • Say “No” shamelessly in the best interest of the work, which would not be done properly if you took it on without sufficient time and energy to meet expectations.
  • Reduce the mental load: Untether from work during off-hours. Resist checking in, especially before bed and upon waking. Its more effective to use this time preparing your brain to function well. Set boundaries and be sure you are meeting them both physically and mentally.
  • Internal job change: Reduce responsibility through a voluntary (de)re-motion, lateral job change to an individual-contributor role, part-time status, or personal leave of absence.

Chronic stress causes loss of mental agility and promotes irritability. This can impair your work, professional reputation, promotional opportunities, bonus, and even risk your job all together. Effectively and responsibly reducing your workload allows you to focus on your most engaging work where you perform the best. Apply your high-performance skills to effective workload management and feel the sense of overwhelm melt away.

For more in-depth tips on how to apply these methods watch for Life After Burnout: Reclaim, Recover, Renew, coming spring 2023.


Courtney Murphy is a Career Coach and HR Consultant who brings nearly 20 years’ experience in corporate HR with degrees in Strategic HR Management, Psychology, and Diversity and Inclusion. 

With a passion for social and organizational psychology, Courtney has extensively studied occupational stress to discover effective and sustainable methods to improve engagement and motivate performace.

Courtney simplifies relevant data and useful information to help employees and companies thrive in their success.


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