A couple of months ago, I had what I thought was a good (OK, great) story idea that I pitched to my editor: 50 states, 50 gorgeous hikes. It would be a beautiful slideshow that I thought would generate a decent amount of traffic. My boss loved it and gave me the green light.
Then, I started reaching out to the media contacts for various state tourism bureaus. Very shortly, my clever idea turned into a logistical nightmare—and a total time suck. Hounding dozens of media contacts for the information and photos I needed—while staying on top of my daily to-do list—turned out to be much more difficult than I’d anticipated. I felt like I was drowning.
Maybe you’ve experienced a similar situation, in which you inadvertently created an incredibly time-consuming project for yourself. Or maybe your boss loads you up with an onslaught of assignments without a clear concept of what’s actually doable by the requested deadline. Either way, it can be difficult to tell your supervisor that you feel overwhelmed when you’re trying to impress him or her.
Luckily, I found a way out of my situation (unfortunately, not until after I’d been stressing about it for a couple of weeks): I suggested that, instead of waiting several more weeks to create a slideshow with all 50 states—some of which had submitted subpar photos—we should instead create a curated selection of truly must-try hikes, all of which would have breathtaking photos (and that could go up within the next few days).
By focusing on an appealing alternative to what I’d promised to deliver to my boss—instead of the fact that I was bailing on the original project—I came off as a creative problem-solver (and not a slacker).
But that’s not the only way to ask your boss to lighten your workload without appearing to be lazy. Here are some other great solutions, gathered from other professionals who’ve been there before, to try when you’re feeling overworked:
Check in to Prioritize
I find that my boss doesn’t usually know what’s on my plate but loves to add to it. When I feel overwhelmed or that my workload is not manageable, I usually schedule a touch-base to review. I come prepared with a to-do list sorted in priority order and a general timeline of when I can have each item complete. Being organized like this helps her understand how much is too much and makes it clear that my current workload is not manageable. She usually lightens my workload by selecting smaller tasks to give to the analyst on the team or to push back to later in the month.
Know Your Strengths—and Those of Your Colleagues
A new assignment came in the door, and I was asked to take it on—but I was already at capacity, and I didn’t think I would be able to complete everything on time. I suggested that another colleague who had some extra time take on the assignment because she was closer to the subject matter than me and it would take less time for her to get up to speed. As a trade off, I agreed to take on the next assignment from the client (which wasn’t going to come in until I had some more time available). Everything was accomplished on time, and no one was overwhelmed.
Show—Don’t Tell—That You Have Too Much Work
When I get too many tasks at work, I’ll go to my boss and try to present it as a ‘What can I do?’ situation (where the answer is very obvious). Like, if I’m given project Z to do and I’m already overloaded with projects X and Y, I’ll say, ‘I’m really excited to see projects X and Y to completion, but in the past few weeks, it’s been hard to find enough time to move forward efficiently with them. I’m concerned that I don’t have enough time for project Z. Can you give me any advice on how to make this work?’ It’s worked for me a few times!
Also, remember: If you’re concerned about appearing to be a slacker, then that’s a good sign that you probably aren’t—and your boss has no doubt noticed your dedication (and wants to keep you happy because of it). So don’t be afraid to simply vocalize the fact that the project you’re working on has required more hours than you initially expected—and that you’d love to discuss a revised completion date.