Workload and wellbeing are inextricably linked. Low wellbeing levels can impact your ability to work effectively, and work-related pressures can negatively affect your wellbeing. 

At some point, most people will experience the stress and the pressure that comes from a heavy workload. If not handled correctly, this can be damaging to both your physical and mental health. It’s incredibly important to recognise when a heavy workload is becoming too much. By effectively managing it, you’ll avoid any damaging effects.

Tips for managing your workload

1 Get organised

Organisation skills will help you stay focused and keep your work in order, allowing you to complete tasks to the best of your abilities.

There are various ways to be organised and that will be dependent on your personal choice. There are some examples below that may help:

  • have a tidy and organised workspace
  • use a diary to highlight tasks and relevant deadlines
  • do one thing at a time and don't try to multi-task

2 Prioritise

If you can't complete everything, which tasks need your attention the most?

You could try using the Franklin-Covey method which involves marking each task as one of the following: 

  • A - urgent and important
  • B - important but not urgent
  • C - urgent but not important
  • D - neither urgent nor important

Then, concentrate on the A tasks before moving on to the Bs and Cs. If you’ve already accepted that you can’t possibly achieve everything on your list, then the D tasks are the ones you should leave undone. This is something that you can do with your line manager during your 1-to-1s. 

3 Be good to yourself

Take regular breaks throughout the day to help you feel refreshed and more focused. 

When you take time away from work, you’re allowing your mind and body to recuperate and refresh. If you’re constantly working without breaks, it can lead to poor mental and physical health or, even worse, burnout.

  • Make sure you are using your annual leave and taking regular breaks throughout the year
  • Don't work longer hours to catch up - that will negatively affect you later

4 Acknowledge your limits

If you have more work than you can complete now, chances are your workload will be even fuller tomorrow. 

One of the most important ways to do just that is to get used to saying ‘no’, or at least to make sure there is a more realistic expectation of when the work could be completed. If you don’t, the quality of your work could suffer, you may miss deadlines and you could become so exhausted your health will be affected too. For example:

  • "I don't have the capacity to fit this into my workload at the moment. If this is an urgent project, what other items can I reprioritise?"
  • "I can get this completed, however, given my current capacity level it will be after the stated deadline, is there any movement on that?"

After all, saying ‘no’ occasionally is much easier than having to deal with what happens when you say ‘yes’ all the time.

What can I do if my workload is too high? 

The first step is to have an open and honest conversation with your line manager. 

Your manager may not even realise how much pressure you’re under, so don’t suffer in silence. It may be that there are simple things you can do to lighten the load while still managing to complete the tasks assigned to you. For example: 

  • Could you give a verbal update rather than a written one?
  • Do you need to attend that meeting or could you provide an update to someone else?
  • Can you renegotiate a deadline or output?
  • Are there more resources available to help?

Your manager could put some temporary adjustments in place to help you cope in the short term,  such as:

  • reassigning some of your work tasks
  • considering leave in special circumstances
  • reduced hours
  • flexible start / finish times
  • a temporary change of working environment, or
  • referral to other sources of help

What if I'm still overwhelmed?

If you’re still weighed down by an impossible workload and drowning in deadlines, ask for more help. Talking to your manager about the difficulties you’re experiencing is by no means admitting defeat – it’s usually far more useful than pretending everything’s fine when it’s not. If temporary adjustments to your workload have not helped, it may be time for you and your manager to consider longer-term alternatives, such as:

  • a permanent redistribution of work tasks
  • introducing a different working pattern via the flexible working policy
  • access to personal development training, coaching or mentoring

How we're tackling workload

Our goal is a manageable workload for all employees. We are considering the challenges of workload across all areas of activity, including teaching, research and professional services, as well as within the University's culture as a whole. See our progress on workload so far.