Tips for managing a heavy workload

Dear Joan:

I am writing for my daughter who works in a big organization in the Marketing Department. She called me the other night and in our conversation she said she was quite concerned with her workload. She said that she has so much to do, she can’t get it done.  

I suggested that she speak with her boss to let him know about the problem. She acknowledged that she had spoken to him and nothing was done about it. I have been a manager for many years, so I suggested that she prioritize her workload and have a discussion with him to see if it was the same prioritization he would give it. What do you think about this approach? 

One thing I do know about my daughter is that she tends to be a perfectionist. I suspect that she is doing things very well—perhaps too well, which is putting her behind. Do you have any words of wisdom I can offer her for her workload and her work style? 


How lucky she is to have a dad who is also a career coach! Of course, getting our children to listen is the hard part. (Although I must admit, the older my children get, the smarter they think I am…which is an improvement, since I “knew nothing” when they were 13.) 

As you know, organizations are expecting more out of people than ever before. Budgets are tight and staff is lean. However, if your daughter feels that the amount of work is so large that her performance will suffer, she needs to take both steps that you recommend.  

If she has spoken with her boss already and “nothing happened,” she may have made the mistake of being too subtle about how loaded down she really is. Most people are reticent about admitting this to their manager, since they fear it might make them look like they can’t handle it. On the contrary, most managers need to hear back from their employees, so they know how much is too much.  

I agree with your suggestion that she make a list of her projects and rank them in priority order. She can use criteria such as deadlines, impact, need, and any other criteria she thinks are relevant. 

Next, she needs to be honest with herself regarding how she approaches her work. For instance, is she so controlling and detailed that she over-works a project? For the less important projects, could she back off and do an 80 percent job? Does she have co-workers with whom she is sharing or delegating pieces of the work? If her coworkers don’t have her level of expertise, is she coaching them along, so they improve their skills and can take on more?  Has she asked each of her internal customers for specific detailed project outcomes? (And is she delivering on those outcomes or going overboard and delivering more than she needs to because she hasn’t asked them?) 

Next, she should set up a meeting with her manager. During the meeting, she should lay out her priorities, tell him about any changes she plans to make in her approach to work and ask for his advice. She should take responsibility for making some changes and not expect him to simply reduce her work load, as the only solution. 

On each item, she should be prepared to walk through her analysis about where things fall on the priority list. If he says they are all important, she should explain which things will fall to the bottom of her list and let him know that in advance. Hopefully, he will brainstorm some ideas for lightening her load. For example, perhaps a deadline can be extended or a peer can be brought in on a project. 

This would be a good time to have an honest discussion about her perfectionist streak. While most managers love it when their employees do top notch work, the boss doesn’t want to burn out his best employees. Perhaps she can enlist him as her performance coach to help her pull back when she tunnels in too deep.  

Finally, she would be wise to incorporate a contracting meeting into her work with clients. The purpose of this meeting is to nail down the specific results the client is looking for. In addition, she should negotiate for help from the client (or other staff), and establish limits and boundaries regarding who will do what and when.  

Often, in a staff job such as marketing, the internal client treats the marketing person as a “pair of hands” rather than a full partner. If she asks for more help from her client and has an honest discussion regarding what she is actually able to accomplish, her work will be more manageable and results won’t suffer.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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