Most assistants tend to work to a capacity of about 99.9%. We seem to operate at this level day after day, year after year. It is expected that we take on every piece of work thrown at us, every task is accepted, and deadlines are met. We run around looking after our executives without much thought for who is looking after us. Most of us deal with this level of work, or should I say we get on with it. We are used to multitasking and working quickly through tasks, so the amount of work we can get through in a day is at a pretty high level. But what happens when we take on too much work, and how can we get our workload back to a reasonable amount? What to do when you’ve taken on too much work?

What to do when you’ve taken on too much work

Are you stressed?

The signs are usually pretty visible, but stress does manifest itself in different ways, and not everyone recognises the symptoms in the first place. Here are a few signs that work is taking over your life.

  • Nervous gestures such as nail-biting increases
  • You feel constantly run down
  • You can’t find the energy to clean / cook / maintain your usual standards at home
  • You never seem to get on top of emails
  • Your desk is in a constant mess
  • You can’t remember the last time you left the office while it was still light
  • You are struggling to sleep
  • You are worrying about deadlines

The first step is actually to recognise that you are stressed and working too much. For assistants, this can hard because we are just expected to take on and complete. If you are stressed, you have to be honest with yourself – this is not a healthy way to be living life.

Talk to your manager

I hate to say this, but a lot of managers don’t know the extent of our workload. Unless you have a fantastic and attentive manager, the only way they are going to know is if you tell them. If you are stressed or you feel like you have taken on too much work schedule a meeting with them. At this meeting, you should take the time to discuss your to-do list concentrating on which tasks should be priorities and which tasks could be delegated. You should highlight the tasks that other members of staff are giving you that maybe they could do themselves? You should ask your boss to support you in pushing back on this work; ideally, with your manager speaking to the member of staff to clarify the work you should be doing.  Likewise, if your manager is giving you too much work, you should discuss how to manage the workload during the meeting.

Take a step back

If you are happy to work long hours and can handle the stress levels, then, by all means, take on as much work as you can. Remember to take regular breaks and try to get enough sleep so that you fully charged for each day. If you are unhappy with the way things are going at work, take a step back and look at your priorities – is your personal life suffering because you have too much work to do? If this is the case, and you value your own life, you have to put that first. Once you are focused on your priorities, it is much easier to adjust your workload accordingly. That isn’t to say you slack off while you are in the office; it is the opposite. You work hard in the allotted hours, and you work effectively during your time in work – you don’t take on too much work so that your work/life balance is skewed.

Can you be more assertive?

This is the big question. Assistants have to be assertive; otherwise, our colleagues, unfortunately, take advantage. Assistants have to say no to the work that their colleagues should be doing themselves. They have to prioritise tasks and effectively manage their own to do list so that they know if and when they can take on additional work. Being focused on our priorities in life, along with our priorities in work, should help us maintain a balanced workload.