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Why Managing a Heavy Workload is as Easy as Juggling Three Elephants

Pressure, stress, more pressure, more stress, and as if that wasn’t enough, the boss asks you if you would mind staying late to finish some work because they are going away for a long weekend and won’t be in tomorrow.

Don’t you find it irritating when someone says ‘would you mind …’, because they’re not really asking you to consider their request, they are assuming that you will say ‘of course not, what would you liked me to do’, whilst inside you’re screaming at them, ‘of course I mind. I have got a life outside of this place you know. Just because you can afford to take time off …!’.

If you’ve been following my blogs this week you will have seen a theme running through them, namely the subject of developing your emotional intelligence – or EQ - to help you to reduce the stress and pressure that you feel in the work place.

And by now you know that your first step to greater well-being is self-awareness, and taking full, personal responsibility.

But you may be wondering where to start. It’s all very well talking about personal responsibility, but it’s usually other people who are causing the trouble, right?


The beginning of your EQ journey is likely to be the most difficult because we human beings are fantastic at looking outwards and around us, anywhere but inside, to our core, our soul, our heart.

Words such as ‘but they didn’t keep the deadline’, or ‘they gave me the wrong information’ trip off our tongues so easily it’s frightening. We continuously provide justification for why something (for which we are responsible) didn’t bring the expected results.

But tell me this. Who is in control of you? It isn’t a trick question. You already know the answer and so do I. And assuming you are serious about getting a grip on your life, what are you going to do about it?

Let me present a scenario that I come across in the majority of workshops I deliver. We start the discussion about personal responsibility, and then the blame game starts. ‘The project isn’t working because xyz doesn’t come to meetings’, or ‘they haven’t completed all the activities and they’re holding us up’.

Next a fascinating, in-depth discussion takes place about who is responsible for what, until I ask participants if I might challenge them. Of course they say ‘yes’, and I ask them the same question that I asked you above: ‘what are you going to do about it?’ – the answer to which is confused facial expressions.

If something isn’t working, if deadlines are being missed, if goals aren’t being achieved, and if you are suffering with a workload that is simply too much, you have to look at what YOU could be doing differently.

In the example of my workshops, when they talk about business partners not coming to meetings, I ask them to consider how they plan those meetings. Is there any coordination? Do the others have any events coming up that would prevent them from attending the relevant meetings? Have they bothered to check whether their business partners understood the importance of activities?

Simple questions, but because, as I explained in an earlier blog, we tend to assume that other people are going to work and behave in accordance with the standards that we have set ourselves, things can go very wrong.

My workshop participants are usually reluctant to admit that they could have been at fault. But the point is, we’re not talking about whose fault it is, rather we’re looking at what changes need to be made to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

So now let’s come back to you and your heavy workload, because I understand that sometimes it can feel as though you are trying to juggle elephants, and any minute they are all going to land on your desk and flatten you in the process.

How often to do you say ‘no’?

When was the last time you politely refused to do something? Are you concerned that if you say no you will be criticised or worse, risk losing your job – because as everyone keeps telling you, you’re lucky to be earning, unemployment is so high, and you shouldn’t be complaining because all your friends are convinced that you lead a charmed life etc., etc., etc.

There is hope, because you are a magnificent human being (are you convinced yet?). Using your self-awareness expertise, understand that your boss and/or your colleagues will be used to you behaving in a certain way. When you started in the position where you are now you will have, quite naturally, wanted to be accepted into the team.

Especially in the early days, working for a new company we frequently do things that are not included in the job description, for example, finish a task for someone else because they had to take their son to the dentist, help with photocopying because there’s a big meeting coming up – and so the first impression you make you on your colleagues is that you are a helpful person willing to chip in if needed.

Six months or a year down the line however, you’re feeling the pressure because, as I started off by saying, you’ve just been asked (yet again) to stay late. And unless you want to cause a major upset, you cannot simply turn around and say ‘no’ to doing something important.

But the fact is, you have never said ‘no’, so how on earth would the person asking you to stay late know that you were fed up with doing the extra work?

These three steps may push you out of your comfort zone, but it’s going to be so worth it when you feel the relief from your over-powering workload.

1. Decide what it is you want to achieve, be that leaving work on time every day, or leaving on time every Monday and Friday (or whatever), or maybe you want to have your full one-hour lunch break each day, or maybe you want to share some of the workload with others. Write it down.

2. What could you be doing differently? You’re going to have to be able to suggest a plan of action to ensure that it doesn’t seem as though you’re avoiding your work responsibilities.

For example, if you had an office on your own would you be able to complete your work more quickly because there would be less interruptions (or if you're in an open plan environment could you tell everyone you're putting your headphones on from 9 until 11 every day and that they mustn't disturb you)? If you’re working in a team is there a better way of splitting up the work? Do some brainstorming with yourself and again, write it down.

TIP: By asking yourself ‘what could I be doing’, you encourage your thought process to open up to a number of possibilities. If you ask yourself ‘what should I do’, you are asking your brain to look for a single solution thereby limiting your options.

3. Arrange for some time with your boss or team to talk about your proposal(s) – make an appointment because this discussion is too important to leave to a chance chat over a cup of coffee. Remember, you are taking full, personal responsibility, so there is no need to go on the defensive. Rather tell your colleague or colleagues that your work is important to you, and that you want to give your best, and therefore …

Unless you are working with a bunch of rebels who don’t care about others – in which case I would strongly suggest that you start looking for another job immediately – the only surprise will be that you didn’t say anything sooner.

Onwards !


My goal is to create excellence in the workplace, and that means helping you to explore your potential and to create a reality that you want. If you would like to receive updates and additional inspiration, simply sign up to my mailing list here: Feelgood Coaching and Consulting Mailing List.

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