How to Set Limits to Your WorkloadAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
Do you feel like you have more work to do than what you can handle? Do you have the feeling that, in spite of accomplishing a good number of tasks every day, your to-do list keeps growing?
Work overload is one of the major sources of stress in the workplace. And in situations like the current one, where the pandemic has changed working practices and generated job insecurity, some companies demand more from their workers and these, in turn, are willing to take on more commitments. The same is true for those who are self-employed; it’s easy to commit to more projects than one can handle in order to keep the trust of clients.
When you take on more and more commitments, there comes a point at which the increase in the number of tasks to be performed produces an increasingly worse result. The stress associated with the workload leads to fatigue, lack of concentration, lack of sleep, psychosomatic disorders, loss of motivation and, ultimately, a decrease in performance.
If you want to maintain a high level of productivity, both at a business and personal level, you must set limits. Facing hundreds of tasks every day on a myriad of projects will keep you busier, but it won’t make you more productive. You risk making mistakes, doing mediocre work and burning yourself out.
How can you set these limits? Of course, there are “vital” limits that you need to set and assume the consequences. You can tell your boss that it’s absurd, that you won’t work 24/7, and risk losing your job. You can tell a client that you can’t take on a new project because you won’t be able to take care of it properly, and risk them never asking for anything from you again. In my experience, people are more receptive than they seem to be in these situations, especially when they already know you do a good job.
On the other hand, you need to set a different kind of limits to your work, since not all things are the same and don’t need the same attention. To do this, you need a work method that allows you to clarify in an orderly way what are really those hundreds of actions that you always have pending. The GTD methodology (Getting Things Done) can help you create an organizational system based on the following categories of reminders:
- Actions that need to be done by you by a certain date go on the Calendar.
- Actions you need to do as soon as possible, but without a specific date, go to a Next Actions list.
- Actions that you need to do with the cooperation of other people are put in specific lists called Agendas.
- Actions that you have delegated to other people go to a Waiting For list.
- The results you have committed to are noted in the Projects list.
- And all those things you can’t commit to yet go into the Someday/Maybe list.
When you have everything in its place, and each place has a specific meaning, the cognitive load on your brain is reduced because you always know where everything is. This allows you to reflect and adapt your planning to your capabilities and priorities in each moment, and thus focus on what is important now, leaving aside the rest of things, which greatly reduces stress and all its consequences.