The secret to dealing with too much work

Calum Grewar, Content Writer · 19 Nov

Overworking and burnout cost the economy billions. On top of that, it isn't exactly fun when you have mountains of work that cause you mountains of stress. So here is the secret to dealing with too much work.

It will come as no surprise that, in the UK, we work too much. Traditional values tell us that a solid day’s work is a noble act. While this may have some truth, this belief forgets that an efficient day’s work trumps all. Furthermore, too many solid days can lead to stress and burnout, which costs the UK economy billions every year.

Beliefs such as this speak volumes of the profit-driven fanaticism that many companies subject their employees to. Often, the wellbeing of the individual is overlooked, and instead, demands are placed on them that they cannot live up to.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and nearing the end of your tether, the secret will lie in a multi-pronged approach. Reality checks, self-loving, and discipline are at the heart of this. Follow these steps to dealing with too much work. 

Firstly, we aren’t suggesting that managers are consciously wrecking the lives of employees. In fact, if managers knew the extent of the economic and emotional damage overworking can do, they would make conscious efforts to avoid giving too much work to their employees. 

UK workers, in 2016, worked the longest hours-per-week in the EU. Great! That must mean that we have plenty of productivity to show for our struggles. Unfortunately not. The UK also happens to be way down the rankings in productivity. This isn’t a coincidence. Let’s see where the disconnect might reside.

young woman with too much work

Being overworked is a problem. Currently, half a million people in the UK are suffering from self-reported, work-related stress. That’s like all of Leeds acting in a short and unpleasant way. Shocking as that may, or may not, be, it might surprise you that many physical and mental health issues are linked to stress.

We’re going to start with looking at stress because people are important to us. And as well as hurting the economy and businesses, stress most immediately hurts the individual and those close to them. Before we begin, please remember to talk to someone if you are experiencing emotional difficulties relating to anything.

Having too much work can lead to stress

Stress is a natural reaction to external pressure that can focus you and help you perform better. However, when stress becomes too much, it takes over your life and stops you from performing or living well. This is distress.


Interestingly, distress has an antonym. No it’s not watching the sunset over the Algarve, but ‘eustress’. Eustress is the beneficial form of psychological and physical stress. It is the positive reaction to a challenge. In our context, if you are handed a challenging project but feel like you are able to push yourself and complete it, then that satisfaction, determination, focus, and excitement is probably eustress.

It’s telling that eustress is probably hard to conceive of, and it has subsequently been worked out of our vocabularies. On the other hand, it is all too easy to conceive of distress.

We all know what immediate stress feels like. For example, when Craig Revel-Horwood is about to pass his judgement on your favourite Strictly contestant, you may experience your heart pounding, your skin perspiring, and your breathing quickening - this is the fight or flight response. You may feel this when presented with another project on top of the many you’re already juggling.

The fight or flight response is, essentially, the immediate physical reaction to an external threat. It’s fairly common and, in terms of evolution, very useful. However, there are numerous mental and physical disorders that can result from the body being in this state too often. Indeed, if your everyday interactions evoke such a response, you’ll likely find yourself suffering from long-term stress.

As stated, stress is no joke, so if you feel that you are suffering from stress then please please see your GP, especially if you notice some of these signs:

  • You’re experiencing frequent negative emotions.
  • Your thoughts are often fleeting and you feel worried and distracted a lot.
  • You’re feeling physically drained, tense, or sore. Or if your diet seems to change. 

  • Your behaviour may also change. This can manifest in an increase in coping mechanisms, such as drinking or smoking or being short with people.

This list is far from exhaustive. So we really do advise seeking medical advice.

dumbells for exercising. To deal with stress

Ways to deal with stress

Dealing with stress, contrary to how it may feel at the time, is very possible. First things first, tell someone. As a society, we are improving the way we talk about our mental wellbeing, but there is still a long way to go. So talk to a coworker, your superior, or someone disconnected from work entirely, if that’s what it takes.

Be active. Physical activity can provide confidence, physical health (which is inextricably linked to mental wellbeing), and also release tension. It’s an all-round good idea. If running isn’t for you, maybe korfball or elephant polo is more your thing. It doesn’t really matter, just do something.

Understand yourself. Increased introspection probably isn’t necessary for the majority of us, while for some, it should be prescribed in high doses. However, knowing what tends to trigger high-stress episodes can be vital in overcoming them. Identifying triggers shouldn’t lead to avoiding them if that will just prolong the problem. So a knowledge of the situation and yourself is crucial.

These quick methods barely scratch the surface when it comes to dealing with stress, but we thought we better include the on the off chance that they help! You’ll notice, fittingly, that these can always be beneficial when you are feeling overworked, even if you aren’t ‘officially stressed’ - whatever that means.

For more ways to combat stress at work, check out this article.

people working together, maybe even delegated?

Preaching to the choir wouldn’t quite cover it if we told you that being overworked can feel stressful. So, needless to say, the two plights share many solutions. Indeed, conquering your stress at work will help massively if you are also overworked. Although it’s hard to do one but not the other. Read on for more specific secrets to dealing with too much work.

5 secrets to dealing with too much work

Many have warned that the UK is on a fast-track to resembling Japan and Korea in its unhealthy work/life balance. The extent of overworking in Japanese culture is seen in their word “karoshi”, which literally translates to “overwork death”. Tragic cases of employees dying of heart failure after working hundreds of overtime hours are well known. And while these cases are extreme, they speak for a culture that harms many.

If the UK is to avoid going down this path, efforts must be made first and foremost by the government and employers to protect the wellbeing of workers. However, on an individual level, there are things you can do when faced with too much work.

  1. Tell your boss

    Like stress, suffering in silence will get you nowhere. Talking to your boss can be scary at the best of times. So talking to them about how you have too much on your plate can seem nigh on impossible. However, career advisors can give some top tips on how to cruise through this awkward conversation:


Be professional and constructive, and come prepared with solutions. 

Bosses don’t want to be moaned at. Even if they have let you down, don’t go in there and whinge about having too much on your plate. This can be done by coming ready with solutions. Can you delegate to others? Can you be given extended deadlines? You’ll know best in your situation. Trust yourself. 

    Also, if you emphasise your commitment to quality as a priority, your boss will likely respect this. No boss wants the quality of your work to deteriorate. So politely explaining that the quantity of work is reducing their quality is a legitimate strategy. 

    meeting with boss
  2. Learn to say no

“Yes people” are lovely, on the surface. You may think that saying yes to everything will portray you as a go-getter who can do everything. However, in the long run, no one can do everything. And saying no in a professional way can show strength and self-knowledge. 

  3. Break down daunting tasks

We aren’t in the business of telling you how to do your job. But it’s easy to forget when you’re feeling overwhelmed that no project or achievement happens at once. Even doing the smallest bit moves you towards your goal.

    So if the answer is to conceptualise of projects as smaller, individual, and more achievable units, then fire away!

  4. Be disciplined in your relaxation.

Ever heard of the Pomodoro method of studying? Basically, it promotes finding your optimal length of studying where you concentrate fully. Days of study should be broken down into these ‘pomodoros’ with regular breaks between them. The reasoning is that pretty much nobody can study solidly at maximum efficiency for a whole day. 

    Like many things, studying is often a microcosm relating to your entire life. If you work for whole days for a whole week, there is almost no chance you are working efficiently. This means the quality of your work will decrease as well as your cognitive, physical, and emotional wellbeing. 

    There is no point in carrying on when what you are doing is suffering. So take breaks. And when you are on these breaks, make sure they are truly breaks. That means no email or even thinking/worrying about your task. Try meditation, exercising, or whatever makes you happy. 

    This point probably applies to most peoples lives. We could all be better at relaxing. It leads to happier, more productive individuals. 

  5. Improve your work/life balance

Related to the above. Having a positive and passionate life out of work can bring the same rewards to the office. Engaging interests and hobbies can reignite your passion for your work. 

    Your social life should never suffer because of work, either. Friends are vital, especially when you are overworked. So perhaps reconnecting with some mates will help both alleviate your overwork stress and rebuild bonds that will help you every day.

very tired humans. Don

To conclude

Many of these methods of combatting overworking might seem common sense. However, when you are stuck in the stressful world of a saturated work-load, it often takes reminding of these to bring you back to normality. 

Out of them all, the main take-aways should be not to fear speaking to your boss or saying no. Ultimately, you are responsible for your wellbeing and your workload, so if your boss can’t handle the fact that you don’t want to be working 80-hour weeks to struggle to hand in your assignments, they might not be worth working for.

Overworking is a serious problem in UK offices. It can lead to stress, which costs the UK economy eye-watering amounts, not to mention the hugely negative effects it has on the individual. Help yourself out and follow some of these secrets. 

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