Most of us don’t have enough—or any—work-life balance. It always seems just out of reach because we don’t know how to avoid being overworked on the job.
If you feel overworked, it’s likely that you are pushing your limits, putting your work life and your personal life in conflict. The consensus thinking in business is that agreeing to demands and requests keeps bosses and clients happy, no matter how absurd or personally taxing.
You take on extra assignments, do favors for your boss, or jump to co-workers’ rescue to ensure that you’re seen as a team player. You make promises to clients that are near impossible to deliver. Typically, you fall into an exhausting pattern, believing that you have to say yes to all work-related requests, and that just makes it harder to avoid being overloaded.
Walking a fine line to avoid being overworked
There’s a difference between saying yes when you have to and being the office yes-person. This can be hard to distinguish. Often at work, there’s little or no way to stand up for yourself or to refuse requests—to say no. But, more often than you think, you can say no when you stop to analyze what is going on and what you are being asked to do.
At times we all create unnecessary pressure on ourselves because we want to be perceived as caring and helpful and have no boundaries in place. We believe we can always squeeze in one more task, telling ourselves: “I’m already busy, so what’s another thing to do?” Yet, the smallest “asks” have a way of getting bigger and compounding stress.
Being ever-agreeable opens the door for invasions at the most inconvenient times, and more importantly reduces the time you have to tackle what is truly important. Once you realize that by saying yes, you—not those asking—are throwing yourself off course, it will be much easier to refuse.
Saying no effectively sets up your boundaries and protects your time. It also keeps work relationships respectful and positive. The process of finding solutions turned into The Book of NO: 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever. Here’s a bit of what I learned that may help you feel less conflicted and be able to snag a bit of that elusive work-life balance.
3 ways to put boundaries in place
1. Be realistic. Workplace people-pleasers get caught up in a cycle of taking on more than they can handle. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to say “Yes!” immediately to new assignments, only to feel stressed later on. If this is a problem for you, strive to reorient how you respond to new “asks.”
Take your time: Think “No” before saying “No problem, I’ll do that for you!” Or, go through a mental checklist that explores the issue logically: Is this task beyond my ability or expertise? Are there details I should request before committing? Am I being too unrealistic about how much time I have to devote to this project? Examine the hoops you’ll have to jump through, extra hours, and any unsatisfying interactions with your manager or client. Is it worth the likely aggravation on top of the time and effort?
2. Trust your intuition. After the self-questioning process, check in with your emotions. Do you feel drained today? Are you overwhelmed? Consider your mood when you’re being asked to do something. Stall to give yourself time to weigh potential outcomes such as what might go wrong.
We’ve all agreed to onerous assignments, then looked back only to realize, “I should’ve known.” They’re those pesky jobs: an unpleasant client who wants endless rewrites or new designs for instance, collaborating with a co-worker who notoriously doesn’t pull his or her weight, or committing to something that requires more hours in the office and that makes you resent the task altogether. If you think problems may arise, trust your instincts.
3. Commit to being “off the clock” to avoid being overworked. Whether you have a traditional 9-to-5 or are self-employed, strive to turn off work email notifications as soon as you’re out the door. Arianna Huffington believes, “More and more businesses are realizing that productivity and performance actually go up when employees are encouraged to unplug and recharge.”
Chances are, you are not witnessing that restraint at your job. Set your own boundaries with your email inbox. That’s a great first step in freeing yourself from overload. If your inbox is like mine, you’re amazed at how many emails pour in. Email is distracting and wastes precious time you’ve reserved for yourself. A University of California study found that it takes over a minute after looking at an email to refocus on what you were doing before.
Deciding to be done with work for the day is a crucial habit to start. Select specific hours when you will not—or try not to—think about work.
Having boundaries in place and having time to yourself allow you to refocus on what you want, so you will be better prepared and able to avoid being overworked. Well thought-out nos not only prioritize your own needs, but also serve to enhance your productivity on the job wherever you work.
Saying no helps maintain your focus, prioritize your own needs, and enhance your productivity—key skills wherever you may work.