Overworked? Really?

I have worked with many clients over the past few decades and one of the common complaints that I hear repeatedly is that they are “overworked.” While this doesn’t typically surprise me when I hear it from staff, it continues to surprise me when I hear it from executives.

Being overworked implies that there is too much work for the role. I don’t believe this to be true, but the perception of “overwork” is in the eye of the beholder. If you feel overworked, listen up: You are either not fit for your role or your work methodology needs to change. In more cases than not, the latter is true. Staff and leaders alike spend too much time on irrelevant tasks or tasks that can be done by others, resulting in a backlash of complaints of “overwork” and important work not getting done.

I recall one client that spent most of his days in meetings. I asked him why he couldn’t delegate one or more of his senior staff to attend meetings on his behalf. His response was that no one else could do it. But here’s what I see. His real issue is an inability to delegate, resulting in him working after hours and on weekends to catch up on work he should have done during the day. In another instance, a client regularly asked me for my project status report even though the report was emailed to him, like clockwork, on the first of the month. And each time, the email exchange resulted in the client saying that he found it. Overwork? No. This is just poor email management and only one area where my client’s work methodology needed serious improvement.

The next time you claim to be overworked, be honest with yourself. How much time are you spending on activities that can be done by others? How much time are you spending wading through disorganized email? How much time are you spending searching for information to write a report? When was the last time you had a real meal to power your day? What about your fitness routine? Sure, sometimes we all get a surge of work that requires us to put in a few extra hours, but if this is your norm, you need to shape up your approach to your job. There is no excuse for being disorganized (or overworked).

That said, here is a sobering fact. Nine out of ten change initiatives fail. What this means is that for each habit you wish to change, you need to try at least ten times. It does not mean that because the odds of changing are stacked against you that you should not try. Persistence is the key to change.

If you’re overworked, you can dig yourself out of your quandary. First, identify the bad habits that you need to change, then start by changing one habit. And when you’ve changed one habit, practice your new habit for at least three months before moving on to the next habit. Over time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that overwork is no longer your norm, even though your responsibilities remain the same.