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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

3 Questions to Ask Yourself if You're Stressing Over an Uneven Workload

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Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Getty Images

You’re overloaded with work when you arrive at the office on Monday morning. You crank out projects and respond to endless emails, and before you know it it’s 7 PM and you’ve barely made a dent in your to-do list.

But then Friday comes around and you’re cruising. You spent the earlier part of the week stressing and rushing to finish tasks, only to spend the rest of the week twiddling your thumbs.

So, what can you do to even out of your workload? Start by asking yourself these three questions:

1. Who’s Putting the Pressure on You to Get Everything Done in the Moment?

Everyone has deadlines—but how many of those deadlines are you imposing on yourself, and how many are being imposed on you by someone else?

If you come to realize you’re the reason, you should jump to question two. But…

If It’s Your Boss

Your manager may expect certain assignments from you at certain times and be unaware that those deadlines are creating an unevenness in your workflow. And while you might report to someone who doesn’t care about how their choices affect you, I’m hopeful that’s not the case.

Either way, you won’t know until you bring it up. Find time to sit down with your manager—ideally when they’re not overwhelmed—and discuss which deadlines are most important to meet, and which ones they might consider moving around or extending. (Hint: these email templates might help you get the conversation started.)

If It’s Your industry

But sometimes, it’s just the industry you find yourself in that’s the problem. Certain jobs run on sprint schedules, others work around inconvenient deadlines. If you’re happy with the role you’re in, you might have to simply accept that this is how it works.

However, there are small things you can do that’ll make it feel less overwhelming (but more on that later).

2. Are You Treating Non-Urgent Tasks With Urgency?

We do this all the time—an email comes in that we feel obligated to respond to immediately, or the boss tosses out another project and we assume we should start that day, or a client requests a meeting this very afternoon.

Sometimes these situations are urgent. But other times you’re just treating them that way out of habit. So, take a deep breath the next time you find yourself in one of these situations, make a list of everything you have to do, and prioritize it as now or later. When in doubt, either ask for a deadline or if it’s OK to push it back. (Spoiler: People are more likely to say “yes, of course” if you explain why.)

Oh, and if you’re still struggling to prioritize tasks, these to-do list strategies might help.

3. Could You Spend Slow Days Getting Ahead?

Just because all your deadlines are batched into a couple days doesn’t mean you have to complete them all at the same time. Take advantage of your slower days by working ahead. It could be even as simple as outlining a report so all you have to do is fill in the blanks later on. Or, spending Friday drafting emails you normally send on a Monday, and scheduling them (using a tool like Boomerang) to go out at the appropriate time.

Can’t get ahead on slow days because there are missing pieces, you need sign-off from your boss, or you’re waiting on a colleague’s edits? Consider using that time instead to get organized and prepared for the busy days.

Clean your desk, set up your to-do list for the following week (try out this template), read industry articles that you never have time to read, or maybe even just unwind by eating lunch away from your desk or grabbing coffee with a colleague—whatever it takes to make sure you’ll be your best self when the stress hits again.

It doesn’t always feel fair that certain days keep you in the office late while others leave you wondering why you’re there at all, but sometimes that’s just the reality. However, if you make the most of the time you have, there’s no reason everything won’t get done when it needs to be done.