5 Ways to avoid being overworked

In the information age, when almost everyone in every office is a knowledge worker, we’re paid to process information. And since there’s an infinite amount of information, there’s an infinite amount of work. For everyone.

So your boss is probably giving you enough work every week to fill three weeks — if you let it. If you work a certain way, it could also fill only three days.

My point is that people who feel overworked in some respects choose to be overworked. Here are some choices to make instead.

1. Force your boss to prioritize.
Because processing information is not an objective task, you can do a good job or a bad job or any kind of job in between. Which is to say that you don’t have to do a great job with everything. You can’t, right? Because your boss is giving you too much work.

So you have some choices. First, you can try to force your boss to prioritize. Say to him or her, “If you want me to do project z perfectly, then you need to get projects w, x, and y off my plate.”

Maybe your boss will think project z is so important that he or she will clear your plate. But most likely, your boss will say, “Forget it. You need to do everything.” This is an open invitation to start experimenting with cutting corners.

2. If your boss won’t prioritize, do it yourself.
Please don’t tell me you don’t believe in cutting corners. It’s the layman’s term for prioritizing, and you probably perfected it as a way of life in college. In fact, cutting corners is what college teaches best.

Over the course of a semester, you were assigned sixteen 400-page books to read, plus you had to write papers about them. You also had to show up for classes to find out what was going to be on the tests. Of course, there was no way you could read all 6,400 pages you were assigned — that would be impossible in the allotted time.

So you figured out what you could skip. You determined that the best way to get out of the reading was to go to the lectures, because professors lecture about what interests them, and their tests reflect their interests.

Now back to your workplace, where you have too much work to do. Here’s how the losers handle it: They complain about being overworked. They keep accepting more work, and trying to do it perfectly, and complain. And their bosses keep dumping it on them and saying there’s nothing they can do about the workload. Meanwhile, neither of them is prioritizing, neither of them is taking responsibility for the situation, and each is blaming the other.

If you boss insists on giving you more work than you can do, you should start cutting corners. Do everything very quickly, and ignore the idea that it needs to be done perfectly — it can’t all be done perfectly. Your boss refuses to prioritize for you, so you’ll have to do everything as best as you can.

3. Get comfortable with ignoring some tasks.
For some of you, even doing things less than perfectly will take too much time. In this case, you’ll have to blow some stuff off. So experiment and see which things can fall through cracks without anyone noticing.

You already do this. Someone at work sends you an email demanding a response. But before you have time to reply, another recipient does so, so you just delete the original message. Try this approach with work you’re not a central force on and see what happens.

4. Stop complaining before it ruins your life.
I can already imagine the comments flying about this column. Some of you will say that you’d be fired for following the above advice. But what’s your choice? You’ve already told your boss you have more work than you can get done in a day, and he or she didn’t scale back. Do you want to continue to just complain about it every day? Probably not, because complaining is toxic.

Besides, do you really want to work 15 hour days to get extra work done for a company that doesn’t respect its employees’ time? Why should you give up your personal life because your boss can’t prioritize?

Instead, take control of your life and create a situation where you stop complaining about having too much work. If you’re fired for not doing all the work, you probably didn’t want to work at the company anyway. And if you’re not able to scale back, consider that you might over-identify with your job to the point that you’re working harder than you need to because you can’t imagine not being perfect.

5. Take responsibility for being overworked, then change it.
OK, suppose you love your work and you’re happy working 15-hour days. That’s fine. Just don’t complain about it.

What I’m saying is that if you complain about having too much work you should look in the mirror — it’s your own fault, and you can change the situation by drawing boundaries at work. Be an adult by taking responsibility for your time, and complain only when you have a solution.

Star performers don’t talk about being overworked, they talk about time management. The best time managers excel at it because they’re good at figuring out what they don’t have to do. The best time managers have the confidence to say, “I’ll still be a star even if I don’t do that task.”

This reminds me of Gina Trapani, who edits the Lifehacker blog. Gina and three other editors put out a publication that has more readers than just about every local newspaper in this country, and many national magazines. Surely she’s a very busy person. But her productivity tips belie a Zen-like balance in which she isolates the most important things and lets other things languish if need be.

Want an example? In order for Gina to blog every day, she has to keep up with hundreds of other bloggers so she knows who to link to. These blogs come to her via direct feed. What does she do when she’s falling behind and blog posts are piling up? She clears out her in-box and starts over. “If something’s really important,” she said at a panel I attended, “someone will email me about it.”

This is great advice from someone who’s succeeding in an area where most people would succumb to information overload. Clearly, the way to do good work is to know when it’s time to not do it.

Posted in No image, Productivity
47 comments on “5 Ways to avoid being overworked
  1. MS says:

    Good advice. I’m predicting the Yahoo boards will tear it apart. The truth is that in most jobs you can’t do it all and do it perfectly, and if you find a job where you can, you will be pigeonholed in that role for life (or as close to life as the corporate world allows).

  2. Gerhi Janse van Vuuren says:

    Just a quick comment before I read the rest on Yahoo. I think I’m going to love the comments there today. The first two will set them off like wild dogs. Can’t wait to see what you’re other points are Penelope.

  3. Gerhi Janse van Vuuren says:

    Ok, the Yahoo finance guys aren’t awake yet. Or maybe they’re drowning under their information overload.

    Back to Penelope’s post. I do all five and it works.
    1. I’ve sat down with my boss and said, I don’t think this is important. If you don’t mind I’m not doing it.
    2. I prioritize what I work on when. I know what a deadline is, I can read a calender, I know how long things take.
    3. The previous guy in my post left a list of things he did. I started of trying everything. Then I asked why do we have to do this one thing. Everybody ensured me it was vital. Nobody asked me about it, ever. I stopped doing it two years ago. Nobody has noticed so far.
    4. I stopped complaining a while ago. It really helps a lot with cutting down stress.
    5. I’m fixing it. You’re right Penelope. Knowledge work will never be finished. You fix yourself and get on with the job or get a job you can get on with.

    And just a short note for the trade_4food commenter on Yahoo (For some reason I can’t post on Yahoo). A doctor or a pilot are not knowledge workers in an office. Just how does this article apply to them?

    • Rob says:

      I disagree – Dr’s and pilots are information workers – they do it in real time – Dr looks at signs and symptoms and makes a valued judgement based on a database of previous information (previous cases – reseach etc). A pilot takes information, aircraft position, weather, aircraft performance indicators and planned destination and again makes value based decissions using historic data to make (hopefully) the right decission with the best outcome (we get to our destination without dying!)

  4. Shefaly says:

    @ Gerhi Janse van Vuuren:

    A doctor may not be a knowledge worker, but a doctor with targets for efficiency, reducing waiting lists, revenue targets for private patients (over publicly funded ones) etc WILL be tempted to cut corners. Of course, I make this observation from a UK perspective with our nationalised, universal access, free-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare system.

    The tips here are a sub-set of a vaster skill set called ‘managing your boss’ (which, from the sound of it, is what you do) or an even bigger topic called ‘managing expectations’. Cutting corners does not even begin to make its way into things one should consider.

  5. ~DJ FunkyGrrL~ says:

    Only financial security is to work for one’s self In my opinion, many employees take on extra tasks (outside one’s job description) to score brownie points with the boss, someone he/she will look upon as invaluable.

  6. Birda says:

    Great advice Penelope. I try to apply the 80/20 Rule to spend 80% of my time on the most important 20% of my work.

    In turn, I aim to make that work 80% “great” and fit for purpose. Striving for some unobtainable perfect ideal is a waste of my time and my company’s money.

    Work smart on the right things, refuse work outwith your remit, and leave your martyr colleagues behind you to burn the midnight oil on their own!

  7. Gerhi Janse van Vuuren says:

    Shefaly,

    Penelope starts her article with these words (thereby defining a target audience):
    “In the information age, when almost everyone in every office is a knowledge worker, we're paid to process information.”

    By your own admission a doctor is not a knowledge worker. Therefore this article and the advice to ‘cut corners’ does not apply to them. Transfering advice given to Knowledge workers into an office to another field without taking the context shift into account doesn’t invalidate Penelope’s advice.

    Penelope continues to write and define ‘cutting corners’ as: “the layman's term for prioritizing”
    How is that not part of managing in whatever form?

    Whether I call a task prioritizing and managing or cutting corners, doesn’t matter if what I do is the same thing.

    Yes, I do manage my boss. But I also avoid overwork (and sometimes just plain work). Cutting corners is vital. Isn’t time management (for instance) based on the idea that we can cut corners of our minutes?

  8. Reflective Counsel says:

    Though we desire to do “A+” work, I have been learning (slowly) that “B” or even “C” work will get the job done in an acceptable fashion. Remember those are still passing grades…. This is a very difficult lesson for most driven professionals to accept, but it eventually becomes critical to survival and sanity!

  9. Joshua says:

    Great post. I’ve seen many, many coworkers caught in the trap of “it all needs to get done.” They complain all the time about their overwork, but never step back to evaluate what’s really important

    Some people even become addicted to overwork. It validates their self-worth to imagine that the company leans on them so much.

    For me, the key takeaway from this post is that priorities happen, whether you choose them or not. *Something* will suffer and not be right, even if it’s your family and home life, or your health.

  10. thom singer says:

    I am not sure I agree with some of your points, but the most important thing you say in this article that EVERYONE needs to hear is “Stop Complaining”

    A good lesson to learn is that others do not care about how hard you have it at home or work. If when asked “how’s work?” you complain and carry on about the negative it will hurt your reputation in the long run.

    I am sorry that your life sucks, but keep it to yourself and find something positive to say. Even if the only thing you can say is “Work is good because my office is made up of diverse and dyanmic people”….spin it to the bright side or you will become known as a “negative nelly”.

    If you really do not like your situation, go out and find a new job. You will find, however, that it will probably not be perfect either.

  11. David at SlowDownFAST says:

    #5 – Yes! We do control our own destinies, despite what complacency may have led us to believe. We can take responsibility for being overworked, overwhelmed, overburdened, and unhappy, and take action to change whatever situation we’re in.

    Once we determine that we have a role in what ails us, we can hold ourselves accountable and set out to do something about it.

  12. ex-msft says:

    I spent many years at Microsoft. There, managers deliberately overloaded workers with tasks, because the logic was that the most important tasks would automatically rise to the top, and the ones that you never got to, well, those were clearly not that important, and eventually whoever requested the task would either change it, revise it, or forget about it. Of course there were thsoe people who did everything and worked ridiculous hours. Those people were not necessarily rewarded for doing so, because they didn’t prioritize their work, push for priority, or make the case that the task was unimportant.

    * * * * * * *
    Oh. This is so interesting. It turns the idea of overload on it’s head: Overload is an important tool for helping people to focus. I like that. Makes me look at my too-long to-do list with a more loving gaze :)

    -Penelope

    • Melissa says:

      Yes!
      I’ve come to realize that my overlong to-do list is what keeps me efficient and prevents me from working on stuff that seems important but doesn’t actually matter.

      Of course it means that I’m failing when I don’t accomplish everything I plan for myself. But so what? It’s just failure.

  13. Rachel says:

    Interesting. Try being a designer is this world with an ego maniac boss who wanted it done yesterday. In his world, there is no such thing as saying “No” and slowly burns the people around him.

    People want to know how I’ve worked under him for seven years and I always respond with – “I listen to the request, assess the situation, prioritize my schedule, then RENEGOTIATE.”

    I agree about the complaining. People who do it are a drag and don’t get anything done. They are truly the unhappy people and blame everyone else for their situation except themselves.

  14. Rachel says:

    Love the advice today — an article that strikes at the core of what I’m working to achieve in both my personal and professional lives. Thanks!

  15. Nina Smith says:

    Penelope, here's another one to add to the list:
    6. Get comfortable with declining meeting invitations.
    The best feature in Outlook: "Decline and edit the response before sending" to the meeting organizer. If you don't think you can add value, then don't be afraid to say, "Sorry I cannot attend, but please forward the notes so I can follow up on any action items."
    Meetings and conference calls are a drain on productivity. Most just add to the workload. Better to skim the notes (which take about 3 minutes) and save an hour of time. Peter Drucker once said, "One either meets, or one works."
    I'd rather get my work done!
    * * * * * *
    Great advice. Thanks, Nina. I have been thinking that most meetings do not need to happen and that the only time you really need a meeting is when it’s a pep talk/cheerleading session — all other business could be carried out individually.

    Here’s my post on that:
    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/10/10/how-to-run-a-meeting/

    –Penelope

  16. ACE says:

    I’m relatively certain that these posts are created solely to enrage the folks (drones) over at yahoo, and for that I’m endlessly grateful. The minute I started reading this one, I was giddy with the thought of clicking over to yahoo and reading their misguided venom.

    Having the ability to read the comments here on a regular basis and then spending some time reading the (majority of) comments over at Yahoo is practically its own sociological / generational experiment. It truly represents the dichotomy between the new economy and the old guard. I love it. I love picturing the folks over at Yahoo, (and in my mind it represents the management from “Office Space”) and then I come over here and I envision young, motivated, entrepreneurial folks all looking for the best ways to manage work/life and get ahead in today’s ever changing economy.

    And now having said all of that, I do find value in some of PT’s most vociferous antagonists and I agree that her career path has been wholly unique and that in some ways she is probably disconnected from a lot of the more mainstream (and excellent) careers out there. However, I think you can take a lot of what is said here and while not being able to apply it directly, can certainly understand the gist and find a way to apply it in the more traditional workworld.

    mi dos centavos
    * * * * * * *
    Thanks for your two cents! I like your comment a lot becuase you desribe what I love about the people at Yahoo. I read the Yahoo comments becasue they are a peek into what the rest of the world thinks, and I know what you mean about how the blog and Yahoo together are sociologically intesting. Also, in a weird way, those Yahoo people keep me grounded in a more mainstream reality than i might otherwise exist in. And I think that’s probably good.

    –Penelope

  17. Chuck says:

    Appropriate level of excellence.

    For people who have trouble cutting corners (myself included), just realize that you must strive for the appropriate level of excellence.

    Striving for perfection is rarely the best option; you must choose to find the level at which the job gets done most effectively and most efficiently.

  18. Matt M says:

    “If your boss won't prioritize, do it yourself. ”

    Spot On. This is what differentiates the do-nothings from the ones who get things done. I have never been in trouble for making decisions. I have had my priorities changed, but that’s what I wanted in the first place.

  19. Wendy says:

    I really enjoyed this column as well, and wished I’d read it many years ago. The one other thing you could add that helps people prioritize is “get a life.”

    If you have outside interests about which you are passionate — whether spending time with your family, playing music, or turning your pouch into a “superdog” — it can suddenly be much easier to focus and prioritize so that you can leave at a reasonable hour.

    If you’d otherwise be going home to an empty apartment and an evening sitting watching TV, it’s easy to end up working longer and later.

    I’ve found that since having a family, the tasks at work that otherwise seemed “essential” to “get done now” are not always that important.

  20. Kathryn says:

    One word: triage.

    (Good post.)

  21. Yvonne says:

    I don’t know what planet you’re living on but if I ever had to ask any of my bosses in my career span to prioritize my job or take something off my plate their first priority would be to find a replacement for me!

    I agree prioritizing ones work is a must but asking my superior to do it for me is totally out of the question. Get real!

  22. Jason G says:

    “If you’re fired for not doing all the work, you probably didn’t want to work at the company anyway.” That is the most irresponsible and childish line in the article, but I think it sums up your overall compitance as a writer, and a buisness woman. -1/5 You really need to stop writing articles, and give the cole’s notes version to a professional writer who is willing to produce this garbage for you.

  23. M&M says:

    You are a Penny from heaven! The stressed folks on the Yahoo board are the type that wish there were more hours in the day. With so much information overload these days, if you dont prioritize you wont even have time to read the paper – that’s counterproductive in my consulting industry. I factor in reading and thinking time.

  24. M&M says:

    Penny,
    When I did my MBA the profs deliberately overloaded us with work. They knew we could not possibly go through everything. The people that were good at spotting what’s important rose to the top. The rest were forever complaining.

  25. Gino De Young says:

    Just a note on the Yahoo people’s reaction – and this may have been discussed before – I think a lot of the disconnect is that Yahoo does not present this content for Knowledge Workers and similar professions. If you sling hamburgers at McDonalds, this might not apply, and if you’re a doctor or a lawyer, same…

    This is especially true when Yahoo presents the article on the home page, and you get dropped in with absolutely no context.

    A bit of looking into the background of the column and Ms. Trunk and it makes absolute sense to me.

    * ** * * * * *
    Thanks for the comment, Gino. I think you’re largely right on this, but I also think that the commenters from Yahoo are a good reminder that not everyone is thinking the same at work. There are extreme views on all sides — I think I am extreme sometimes, too — and I like that we hear both ends of the etreme on this blog thanks to the commenters from Yahoo.

    -Penelope

  26. Phil says:

    Having read a few of your articles on Yahoo Finance, I decided to read a little more about you. I will be up front and say that 80% of your work advice is truly not good advice. If you are trying to reach out to the Gen Y’ers, you are doing them a disservice. You seem to have a cult following of anti-workers on this blog who seem to have an heir of entitlement to them. I love the condescending remarks towards the Yahoo Finance readers made by people on this blog comment section. The great thing about it is that the majority of the negative comments are from real working people, and I can guarantee they are not corporate drones like your fans make them out to be. Most people don’t like to work, but unless you are naturally wealthy or a lottery winner, you have to. A good worker is someone who has a good attitude and does their best to do their job to the best of their ability. Always give 100%. If you cannot fulfill what is asked of you, as long as you can show you did the best you could in the time given, the vast majorities of bosses will not be upset. You just need to let them know how you are progressing ahead of time. You are hired to fulfill a duty and if you are unwilling to do that or cannot do so, move on to a job better suited for you. Stop sending the wrong ideas out to the newbies to the work world.

  27. Mike says:

    Penelope, you hit the nail right on the head (to use a cliche, which takes less time) when you write “since there's an infinite amount of information, there's an infinite amount of work.” I’ve worked for 20 years at organizations that consider it’s ok to function as “black holes” of work… places where you fall in, and can’t get out. Wouldn’t it be great if the boss would say “You know, half this stuff we’re doing is garbage. Let’s throw it out and work on the stuff that makes a difference.” Great article!!!

  28. tyoung says:

    It's hard to believe you have a career giving this advice. Very irresponsible. Advising people to ignore tasks they deem irrelevant is only helping them appear to be under worked. Eventually that task is going to be completed and your advise is to let it go back into the tracking system let it be reassigned to someone else???(Would you recommend this to your own employees? If so at what point does this endless merry go round of reassigned tasks end? ) If your target audience is having issues prioritizing then how do you expect them to possess the ability to measure the importance of one task to another? Most tasks that can be overlooked are not resource intensive so how can this help? Are you suggesting that people are overworked due to tasks that should have not been assigned in the first place? How much research did you do on small tasks that can go unchecked and what were your findings? Is this a real problem? How many tasks can you ignore before its going to come back and affect your career? What would your reaction be if you found out your entire staff was ignoring tasks you assigned? Most employees work inside of a task manager, when filing the report for ignored tasks what is your recommended reasoning when populating these fields? When confronted on incomplete tasks what reasoning should be given?

    It seems your article is based on opinion lacks any concrete research to help validate your position. I would be interested to see the data that helped you rationalize some of your comments. Any thoughts Trunk?

  29. Jay Gaultieri says:

    Penelope’s advice may be sound for single or at most married and childless creative and IT professionals with master’s degrees who work on a contract basis and are willing to up and move every year or two to some area of the country (or another country) that they don’t know, while living in rented furnished apartments and driving leased cars whose operating costs are deductible.

    The rest of go to work because we need to pay our mortgages and buy groceries. We do the job we’re told to do because we are paid to do it. Honestly how can 90%+ of us go to our bosses and say "If you want me to do project z perfectly, then you need to get projects w, x, and y off my plate."? My own boss would probably laugh, others who follow your advice would have projects w, x, y, AND z cleared off their plate because they’d be fired.

    I graduated one December and a close friend graduated in May. I took jobs that paid my rent and allowed me to buy food. He pursued a meaningful fulfilling career where he could be like Penelope Trunk. Ten years later my student loans are paid off and I own my house. He’s working as a children’s librarian now, a job he enjoys, with modest pay and benefits and he only got that after abandoning the Penelope Trunk path.

    Ultimately decisions about how the company I work for is run is not my concern. My concern is my paycheck, and I’m a lot happier for it.

  30. Kathryn says:

    I’m sorry, but I can’t ignore this comment.

    I want to live in the delusional utopia where P.T. lives- I think that we should take into account that based on Penelopes Bio, even her Baby knew what a cow she is at a young age. Most Baby's would say "mama" first.

    This bears no relevance to her career history or ability to give advice. It is ignorant and a blatantly sexist attack. You should be ashamed.

    You should also improve your familiarity with babies. In my generation of the family, first words were “dog”, “ball”, “no”, “bye”, and “woof”. Thus I would argue that your statement is not even factual.

  31. Jackie says:

    So much piffle over one little word: “expert”. It’s Yahoo that calls their writers experts, not Penelope. If Yahoo more properly called her a “columnist”, then maybe you wouldn’t have hundreds of blistering comments every week indignantly demanding to see her Harvard PhD in Careerism. There is no single thing called a “workplace”, so no single set of rules will ever apply. Penelope writes from her own experiences, as do all writers. If her opinions don’t apply to you, then ignore them. No need to wail on her like you’ve been dealt a personal injustice.

  32. king spadina says:

    Thanks again for another great column – I’m going to pass it to some folks at work.

    Jay Gaulteri wrote:

    ——————–
    My own boss would probably laugh, others who follow your advice would have projects w, x, y, AND z cleared off their plate because they'd be fired…. Ultimately decisions about how the company I work for is run is not my concern. My concern is my paycheck, and I'm a lot happier for it.
    ——————–

    If you have the workload that most professionals do, you already prioritize whether intentionally or unintentionally, controlled or uncontrolled – simply by the fact that you can’t do everything. So rather than just a blind rule like first-come-first-serve, I agree with the good advice to engage your boss / client in a discussion and agree on scope and expectations.

    If you’re not in this situation and you don’t face the need to make trade-offs: congratulations, but it may mean you’re not exploring all the work you could be doing. If you’re really in the loop the *possible* jobs to do should exceed the time you have available. So the people who always get everything done – are they really helping the boss or are they flying under the radar?

    And do we stay until the job is done no matter what? Two points – sometimes you can pull all-nighters and you still can’t get it done. There just isn’t time in the day or the night – again if this never happens to you, congratulations but maybe you should be asking for more work. And second point: consider that getting out of balance and overworking now means you trade-off home life, outside interests, courses, etc. that among other things help you work harder later. So are you really helping the boss if you burn yourself out?

    People who don’t admit that there are trade-offs are a big part of the problem, because they can set up unrealistic expectations and make it harder for the rest of us. But in the end a successful pro knows how to have that discussion with the boss/client in a way that doesn’t get yourself fired.

  33. Joseph says:

    Exceptional post Penelope and nice comment king spadina. The abilities to prioritize work and quietly let go of low priority tasks are critical to high performance. I wish I had more of those skills. I am working on it.

    * * * * *
    I’m working on it too! It’s very hard to do it consistently.

    -Penelope

  34. d says:

    follow this advice, and you won’t have to worry about being overworked. or even just plain worked.

  35. Jay Gaultieri says:

    “People who don't admit that there are trade-offs are a big part of the problem, because they can set up unrealistic expectations and make it harder for the rest of us. But in the end a successful pro knows how to have that discussion with the boss/client in a way that doesn't get yourself fired.”

    I have a pretty good boss. If an employee stays very late he will tell them to leave because he wants them to have a life. If a process doesn’t work, he changes it. If his staff is overworked he hires more people (I was one of them). He engages constant communication between his bosses, his employees, and other departments. And even my boss would still think I was joking if I told him I wasn’t going to do w, x, and y.

    Most people don’t have bosses like that. Telling them you won’t do things will get you fired.

    * * * * * * *
    It’s not WHAT you tell someone, it’s HOW you tell them. If you lay things out in a logical way and are respectful in how you talk, then many bosses — and it seems like yours would be one — would understand the problem and take some action.

    –Penelope

  36. Joe Blogger says:

    What it all comes down it is one word: communication.

    I don’t agree with all points, but prioritization (one way or another) is accomplished through communication.

    1. Force your boss to prioritize – really, it’s not what you say, but how you say it – and even then people don’t get it. I’ve never been able to force anyone to do anything they did not want to do. Some bosses I’ve been straight up, told them that what they wanted was not do-able, and they picked what was important. Other bosses did not care and wanted things done anyway – less here: bosses that can communicate, do. Those who cannot, just expect you to do everything. For heaven’s sake, don’t **force** anyone to do anything because you will get yourself in a world of hurt.

    2. If your boss won’t prioritize, do it yourself. – You can do this, you may already do. However, make sure your boss knows you are doing this, and point it out. Communicating too much covers your own arse, than not communicating at all.

    3. Get comfortable with ignoring some tasks.
    This is probably the worst advice I’ve ever heard. I’ve witnessed bosses have accused employees that they are ignoring tasks even though those same employees are going ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ to get things done. Ignoring things WILL get you in a world of hurt – IF you don’t know what to ignore. Again, communication IS the key. Communicating with bosses and coworkers will allow one to find out what is and what isn’t important, and if you choose to ignore it – you at least know what you are getting into.

    4. Stop complaining before it ruins your life.
    Complaining does ruin your life, but you should not stop doing it. Complaining is just the surfacing of underlying problems. If no one on top of you wants to do something, complaining has the potential to mobilize your colleagues to do something about it. You cannot take on an organization just by yourself, and quitting is not always an option.

    5. Take responsibility for being overworked, then change it.
    Yes, in the end it is partly your own responsibility. If you dont like the situation, you can go somewhere else, and sometimes that may be the case. It would be great if we could all find an environment that suits our needs as individual employees, however that is not always the case, and you don’t always get good matches. As commenters have posted, people have mortgages and expenses, and like my father’s generation keeps telling me “just take a job, and deal with it for as long as you have to, at least you’ve got income”. I find that sometimes you need to do what you need to do in order to make it, and quitting is not an option.

    While it would be nice if we could follow these steps without repercussions, the truth is that all workplaces are not the same. Communication is what is needed to make everyone a happy employee – not ignoring issues, forcing people to do anything, or cutting corners. If you cannot communicate with your boss, then maybe that is a sign of things to come, and you need to start looking elsewhere before things get uglier.

  37. Gonzalo Sanchez says:

    P. I enjoyed your post, very much. And I don’t think is saying something really new.
    Probably most critics are because a misread, or because true hurts (a lot).
    I think (and luckily my boss also does) that good workers are those who can help their managers and businesses to identify which of their tasks and processes really add value, and I mean, really.
    Prioritizing is just a consequence of value addition analysis (concious or unconcious).
    Is prioritization (and negociating priorities)skills not the first thing work assesments look for when evaluating managerial potential?

    However, before even think to change attitudes at work, it is necessary to change mindsets in private life.
    “I have a morgage thus I need to put up with anything at work?”. That is the reading I make from some comments.
    Well, you choose that!, did you evalutaded in depth if you really needed a morgage? does it add real value to your life?. Did you priotize freedom and development vs. owning a house?

  38. Peggy Duncan says:

    And if you first get organized, streamline how you work to eliminate wastage, and then choose technology that can help you finish quicker (and learn how to use it), you’ll be able to do more work faster and do it well. For example, you may be doing some tedious, mundane reporting that a macro/formula in Excel would reduce to the click of a button. I’m a personal productivity expert and am talking from experience.

  39. Amy says:

    Amen. Just found this for the first time after you posted a link to it. I’ve been telling people for years that no one will create their boundaries for them and that they need to play an active role in their workload.. I am going to send his post out to some folks. Maybe if they won’t listen to me they will you.

  40. H. says:

    Oh God, Penelope is right. It’s our problem when we complain. I experienced this recently when I started suffering from a burnout from work. It was getting too much and I had started considering stepping down to another position (that I’d have also loved. It had less pay but I wouldn’t have minded if it meant I had a more streamlined and simple workload). And then I thought – I do like my work and these responsibilities actually help me grow because it’s challenging. I need to just learn to manage work stress and I started resarching about it. Somewhere, I knew the fault was mine. I was trying to do a lot perfectly + worried about it when not working. I worried about it even after delegating. I needed to learn to not only LET GO of some aspects and prioritize, delegate more efficiently with trust, and draw boundaries. Once I actually started letting go, and demanded LESS of myself (and others), I recovered my sanity. I just need to keep at it now. I sometimes worry about “sliding downwards” but it’s something I am still trying to figure out and balance. It might just be my high expectations of myself.

  41. lynax says:

    Hey Penelope,
    That is the greatest advice I’ve read this year. My work life is a growing mountain and leaving me no room for personal time. I used to be very ambitious, but now I just feel damn frustrated because I can’t give my best when I have to spread myself out all over the place. But I will follow your advice and hopefully, my life will change for the better.

    Thanks!

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  43. Dasha Golubeva says:

    It might sound strange, but there are actually quite a lot of people who don’t get stressed by overworking. A couple of weeks ago, we ran a survey with 2 thousand workers of various job positions. Almost 90% said they regularly overwork. But among these people, almost 40% still feel they maintain a good work-life balance! I guess we should have added a text box in the survey to ask them how they manage not to get oveloaded by extra hours :) If you’re interested, you can read the survey results here – http://www.wrike.com/blog/Snapshot-Work-Life-Balance-Realities-Wrike-s-New-Fascinating-Infographic

  44. karen says:

    I am wondering how all of this pertains to being a high school English teacher.

  45. David says:

    Sorry but I disagree with a lot of this. Absolute tosh. We live in an era of immediacy where everything has to be dome and done quickly….we are all overworked in these austere times. This week I have been absolutely overloaded beyond belief with a co-worker (the only other person in the country who does the same role as me) off on holiday and my boss, who is based in another country, away as well, with nobody I can delegate to because the roles we do are specialised. I am going to speak to my boss when he comes back in 2 weeks but it’s not just when people are away that it has an impact. Your article is an idealised load of old tosh that really doesn’t reflect the situation a lot of us find ourselves in, with customers expecting us to reply to emails and voicemails at all hours of the day and night. In the ‘always-connected’ world we are expected to respond. We are expected to. Period. Doing what you suggest is baloney. Sorry. It’s just not real world. Trying to do what you suggest, I would be labelled as ‘lazy’ ‘not commited to the cause’ and lots more besides. The long hours culture we have in the UK came from the US where work always comes first. IT SUCKS!

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