You look down at your seemingly endless to-do list and and feel like you’re either going to throw up or burst into tears—maybe both.
Yes, you’re all for prioritization tricks, productivity hacks , and magic formulas that promise to make you more efficient and help you strategically tackle those tasks. But, this time you’ve been struck with a brutal realization: There is absolutely no way you’ll be able to get this all done in time. Nope, there isn’t a new method, mysterious potion, or helpful tip out there that could save you.
So, now what? What can you realistically do when you realize that it’s quite literally impossible for you to plow through that to-do list and meet your deadlines?
Get Something Off Your Plate
The best solution when you’re in this situation is surprisingly straightforward: You need to get something (maybe even a few things!) off your plate. And, you need to do so as soon as possible.
I know what you’re thinking: Won’t that make you seem unqualified and incapable? Yes, that’s a legitimate concern. But, in the end, it’s still better than either completely missing the deadline with no warning or scrambling to turn in a half-assed project at the very last minute.
Of course, moving something off your plate doesn’t mean you think that task should just never be completed—you just need it taken off your immediate to-do list. That can happen numerous ways, including asking a colleague to take over for you, requesting a deadline extension , or approaching your boss about your overwhelming workload to have her help you prioritize.
How to Pull This Off
Sounds good in theory, right? But, we all know that it’s actually making these requests that’s the tough part.
Luckily, I’ve got you covered. Regardless of which route you choose to take to lighten the load of your current task list, you can use one of these email templates to get it done in a way that’s polite and professional—and won’t make you look like you’re just shirking your responsibilities.
Asking a Colleague for Help
I’ll just put it out there: I’m totally swamped and I don’t think there’s anyway I’ll be able to have [project] completed by the deadline of [date].
Do you have some time in your schedule that would allow you to step in and take over this for me? I know it’s a lot to ask, but I can’t tell you how much I’d appreciate your help.
If you’re willing, I’ll ensure that [Boss’ Name] knows that you took on that part of the project (you deserve more credit than I can even give you!). And, of course, I’ll always be willing to return the favor if and when you need it.
Let me know if you could take this on, and I’ll pass along the necessary details.
Thanks so much!
Requesting a Deadline Extension
I’m completely buried under work, and I’ve come to the realization that I won’t be able to have [project] completed by our originally agreed upon deadline of [date].
I’m so sorry about this—I hate to over-promise and under-deliver, so I wanted to be proactive about reaching out and seeing if we could extend the deadline just a little bit.
Could we push the deadline for [project] to [new date]? Let me know if that works on your end, and I’ll be sure to have everything wrapped up by then.
Thanks so much for understanding, [Name]!
Telling Your Boss You’re Overwhelmed
I’ve been hustling hard to get all of my work done, however I’ve realized that I have too many conflicting deadlines on my plate—making it difficult for me to know where to start.
I’m reaching out to lean on your expertise in hopes that you can help me prioritize between these urgent tasks and decide which ones can be pushed to the back burner for now:
[Task 1]: [Deadline]
[Task 2]: [Deadline]
[Task 3]: [Deadline]
Which task is the one that absolutely needs to be handled first? I’ll put that one at the top of my list.
For those that are deemed lower priority, could we discuss the possibility of pushing those deadlines by just a few days so that I can ensure I have adequate time to do a high quality job?
Thanks so much for your help, [Name]!
A Note About Common Courtesy
Before you go copying and pasting these templates like crazy in an effort to make your workload a little more manageable, allow me to leave you with one word of caution: The sooner you can give people a heads up that you need help or you’re going to miss a deadline , the better.
Nobody appreciates having a task or bad news dumped on their plates in the eleventh hour. It’s important that you make your best effort to keep a close eye on your to-do list and your deadlines, so that—if you realize you are going to drop the ball on something—you can give plenty of advanced notice. That’s important!
Photo of person stressed courtesy of mapodile/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author