At a time when work-life balance is all the rage, many unfortunate workers are still locked in depressing, overburdened grinds. The average work week today is 47 hours, and 21 percent of Americans work between 50 and 59 hours a week. A further 18 percent of Americans work 60+ hours a week.
As if that weren’t bad enough, increasing numbers of workers are not taking their paid time off – precisely because they are so overloaded at work that they fear the crushing pileup that will ensue when they return. And so, overloaded workers don’t get any rest because they are too overloaded to rest, which means, of course, that they continue being overloaded.
The good news, however, is that this cycle can be broken. To do so, you’ll need to adopt a smart strategy. Here are four tips to help you:
1. Stop Wasting Time
Sorry, there’s no way to sugar coat this. Studies show that 89 percent of workers waste time at work every day, and you might be surprised by how much time they’re wasting: 61 percent of workers waste around 30 minutes a day, which adds up to 2.5 hours a week. A small percentage of workers waste up to half a day.
Chief among the time-wasting activities were non-work-related Google searches, Facebook use, and Twitter use. So, if you cut these activities out of your workday, you might begin to feel your burden lighten. Heck, you may even find you weren’t as overloaded as you thought you were.
2. Cut Out Unnecessary Meetings
This is a big one. Multiple surveys suggest that 25-50 percent of the time executives spend in meetings is wasted time. One study even suggests that people could be spending as much as 1.5 days of a their five-day work weeks in unproductive meetings.
If you lead and organize meetings, consider doing everything you can to shorten those meetings. Get to the point, stick to the agenda, and don’t hesitate to cancel meetings that seem unnecessary.
If you’re but a humble employee with no power over meetings, consider trying to say “No” to unnecessary meetings more often. One way to do this is to set yourself a weekly or monthly budget of hours you can spend on meetings. Then, you can prioritize and attend only the most important, relevant, and productive meetings.
You might worry about selling your superiors on this idea, but if you give them a commercial rationale for your budget – i.e., that you’d rather spend time on things that push the company forward – you’ll have a better chance at getting your managers on board. Of course, you’ll want to negotiate this with caution and tact – especially if your managers are the ones running the meetings!
3. Take a Break
Research says that more than a quarter of American workers don’t take any breaks at work aside from their lunch breaks. You may think this gives you more time to get work done during the day, but it’s actually counterproductive: If you don’t take regular breaks, you’ll become more tired, which will lead to more mistakes and reduced efficiency, which means you’ll need to work longer to do the same amount of work. It’s a vicious cycle.
Research shows that taking a break can increase productivity, refocus your attention, solidify memories, and boost creativity. So, if you want to avoid long, unproductive days, then stop grinding it our at your desk with no breaks. Try to take at least a 10-15 minute break each morning and each afternoon.
4. Learn to Say ‘No’
The easiest way to get overloaded at work is to take on too many tasks. You may find it hard to say ‘No’ when a colleague or supervisor asks you to do something, but honestly, sometimes you need to say it.
However, you don’t want to appear aggressive when you decline to do something – just assertive. Explain that you currently have too much on your plate, and that there is simply no time for this new task. If you want to do the task, make it clear to the person giving you the task that they will have to wait by saying something like, “Yes, I can do this, but I won’t be able to get to it until after I have completed projects X, Y, and Z.”
Many workers today are overloaded, but the cycle of working without rest must be broken – for your own sake. Find a window of time to sit down and review your workload. Then, identifies the ways in which you can implement the tips in this article to regain a sense of work-life balance.