You know that feeling. You’ve been working long hours every day and you still can’t seem to catch up. You don’t remember the last time you did something for yourself. And your family is frustrated that you’re spending all of your time at work.
This is a common challenge for many successful professionals. They feel the frustration but don’t know what to do about. Most of the professionals I speak with point to disorganized leaders, limited resources, or unrealistic expectations as the source of their overwork. While likely a factor, external forces are rarely the major underlying issue contributing to this unsustainable and stressful situation.
Here are the real reasons you’re overworked.
1. You’re a perfectionist.
Having high standards is an admirable trait. You care about your work and want to perform at the highest level. This quality has likely facilitated your advancement to higher levels.
There is a fine line, however, between diligence and perfectionism. If you’re overworked, look carefully at your behavior. Are you setting unrealistic expectations for yourself? Are you continuing to focus on work that is sufficiently complete?
Perfectionism is a complex issue but it can be managed. Begin by recognizing its role in your work situation. If necessary, seek the support of a coach, mentor, or other resource to help you find new ways to manage your work.
2. Your identity is too closely tied to your job.
I’ll never forget working in the high-tech sector when the dot com bubble burst. Countless friends and colleagues lost their jobs virtually overnight. Many had dedicated years of their lives working long hours and maintaining unshakeable loyalty to their companies.
When they lost their jobs, many struggled with identity crises. Who were they if not the professional they had worked so hard to become? It’s easy to get caught in a similar trap. With so much time and energy spent focused on our jobs, it’s only natural that our work would become tightly linked to our identities.
But you need to recognize when you’ve crossed the line. If your work dominates your life, it’s time to take a step back and reflect on how well your current behavior aligns with your values.
3. You’re uncomfortable negotiating.
Doing more with less has become a common mantra for many organizations. Unfortunately, in many cases this has come at the expense of top employees. Particularly in highly matrixed organizations where one individual officially and unofficially reports to multiple leaders, workloads can be intense.
If you feel that you’re drowning in unrealistic expectations and deadlines, it’s your responsibility to communicate that to your boss. As long as you say yes, your boss has no reason to believe that you’re struggling. Schedule time with him/her to discuss your current workload and re-negotiate priorities.
Negotiating is uncomfortable for many professionals but it doesn’t have to be. Rather than saying no, demonstrate leadership by expressing your concerns, proposing alternative approaches, and seeking feedback on the highest priorities.
There will always be times of peak intensity when you need to work extra hours and commit more of your mental and physical energy to your job. But if the levels are unsustainable, it’s time to look at your own behavior and take steps to more effectively manage your workload.