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  • Kate Mulligan

Overworked? - Tips on Balancing your workload for improved Well-Being

A woman, likely in her mid-fifties to sixties, with silver hair and glasses, is sitting thoughtfully on a couch, looking at her laptop screen, with a notepad, pen, and a pink cup on a coffee table beside her.

Workload remains the most prevalent culprit behind work-related stress according to CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work Report 2023. Let’s explore some things that may help improve the levels of stress experienced at work.

The demands of the workplace can often feel overwhelming, it's good for us to acknowledge the impact workload can have on us and our teams. I like to believe no one comes to work to do a bad job. To quote Peter Ducker - “A bad system beats a good person every time”. So what are the changes we can make to the system (the way we work) to improve our wellbeing?

Team leadership and team culture play a big role - as team leaders, here are 6 practical tips to support you and your teams to manage and improve workload.

1. Focus on Outcomes

Focusing on the outcomes you want to achieve can prevent you and your teams from getting lost in the details. Articulating outcomes and connecting your work to these outcomes provides purpose and direction. It also helps you filter out the tasks that don't contribute to your goals, allowing you and your teams to work smarter and more efficiently. Keep it simple!

2. Stop Starting, Start Finishing

Encourage a focus on completing work that is already in progress before taking on new work. As a team leader, ask how you can help get work finished, are there blockers or dependencies you can help to remove. It may help to maintain a work in progress limits and put extra attention to where work is being delayed or waiting. Finishing work started not only gives teams a sense of achievement but also reduces cognitive load, helping to stay more focused and feel less stressed. This is one of the BVSSH principles that we can all do with being reminded of from time to time.

3. Make Work Visible


Make the workload visible and keep it up to date, this will allow you and the team to clearly see what work is on your plate. An added step could be scheduling the tasks in your calendars, giving a better idea of how much time certain work and priorities take.

This visual representation can help teams stay organized and reduce stress by providing a clear picture of their workload. It can give teams the data they need when considering taking on new work. Make the most of the work management tools you are already using in your team. As a leader, fostering an open environment of trust and psychological safety among teams is important in maintaining this transparency.

4. Know where work is coming from

It may help to recognise where work is coming from and manage unplanned work. It's inevitable that unexpected work will arise, but being aware of its sources can help you find ways to improve workload and priorities. This awareness can also aid in minimising the influx of unplanned tasks. Consider these some sources of work that you and your team may encounter:

  1. Planned work - part of your team backlog and system of work to achieve team goals

  2. Direct ask - from a stakeholder or leadership to do something not planned

  3. Indirect ask - ‘this is top priority who can jump on it’ or ‘if only this non priority thing would be done it would be so cool’, you are given rewards in the form of recognition motivating you to pick up extra work that hasn’t yet been prioritised

  4. Bugs and 'emergencies' - When something has gone wrong and needs to be fixed. This type of work might be a symptom of another issue or may not genuinely be an urgent matter. Take a minute to assess its priority before jumping in.

  5. Scope creep - This is when the definition of done for the work already on your plate keeps growing.  ‘Ooh that looks nice, what if we include this too and add this’. Before you know it, you have doubled the effort to complete the work, or added extra features that were originally not prioritised.

5. Saying 'No' to unplanned work

To manage workload you and your teams will need to say no to work that pushes the limits. Overcommitting can lead to burnout and a decline in productivity. When confronted with new demands, consider whether they align with your existing priorities.

Learning to refuse is essential for safeguarding well-being and accomplishing objectives.

Recognizing when workload reaches its limit isn't always straightforward. As a leader, you can provide support to colleagues who decline tasks and encourage an environment where the team feel safe to talk openly about their capacity and the impact of accepting additional work. 

Here are some helpful prompts for gracefully declining:

  1. "Given my current workload, I can only begin this at the month's end, or I won't be able to take it on at all."

  2. "I need to see how this aligns with our team objectives. Let's discuss it during our next team planning session to determine its priority."

  3. "Since this task doesn't contribute to our current goals, I'm unable to pick it up."

  4. "Which of my current priorities would you like me to stop working on order to accommodate this new request?"

6. Schedule in your rest

As team leaders, setting an example by prioritising rest can significantly influence our teams' ability to recognise its importance. By intentionally scheduling periods of rest and openly talking about them, we not only demonstrate its significance but also encourage others to follow suit. Leading by example in prioritising rest sends a powerful message to our teams, it fosters a culture where rest is celebrated rather than seen as a sign of weakness.

According to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith rest comes in many forms from spending time alone (social), to taking a bath (sensory), spending time in nature (emotional), digital unplug (mental) or taking a nap (physical). Rest allows your body and mind to recover from the activities of your day-to-day life, you can choose to focus the rest you get around the rest you need.

Schedule your rest and prioritise it:

  • Daily Breaks: Incorporate brief respites into your daily routine, such as short walks, power naps and movement sessions.

  • Weekly Breaks: Dedicate intentional blocks of time to disconnect from work, engaging in hobbies, socializing, or enjoying extended periods of relaxation.

  • Monthly Breaks: Set aside time each month for more deliberate wellness activities. Use this opportunity to engage in fulfilling experiences like a leisurely stroll in the woods, indulging in a pyjama day, or spending quality time with loved ones.

Rest boosts productivity, reduces stress, and enhances overall well-being, it is the time our minds use to digest what we have been working on and bring us back with increased focus, creativity and performance.

Remember that your well-being is a top priority. Hopefully, these tips can help you and your teams achieve a healthier balance while still excelling in your work.

The author, Kate Mulligan, is the co-founder and CEO of Restspace a UK based organisation helping people get the rest they need at work.

Learning resources:

If you found this article useful, you might be interested in additional Sooner Safer Happier learning resources to enable you to lead with these behaviours:

If you want to explore your learning journey book a call with our team!


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