Planning for times of high workload

When your workload increases and the pressure is on, does just the thought of it all throw you into anxiety and resentment and send you reaching for another chocolate bar?

Research into the health behaviours of people experiencing stressful life events shows that we tend to adopt “maladaptive” coping strategies to get us through. Rather than make healthy choices, on the whole we eat more, drink more, smoke more and exercise less.

However, with a little forethought and a willingness to make some conscious choices we can navigate times of high demand in a more constructive way.

Below are some practices that can help you get into a positive cycle of better health, increased effectiveness and, therefore, less stress.

Predictable periods of peak workload

  • Don’t leave self-care to chance – plan how you can maintain or even strengthen your wellbeing practices during periods of high workload. At a minimum, structure in regular short breaks – these will help preserve the quality of your work as well as your health.
  • Get to know your body rhythms and, where possible, allocate your most important or demanding work to your peak attention times. Could doing some of your preparation in the early morning when you are fresh work better than doing it late at night?
  • Carve out some distraction-free time for certain chunks of work. Research into the effects of partial attention and juggling multiple tasks at once shows that with singular focus you’ll get the work done more quickly and with fewer mistakes. Who do you need to tell and what apps or devices do you need to switch off to achieve this?
  • When you are very tired use some simple fatigue management strategies: work in 20 minute bouts, change the type of work you are doing often to sustain attention, and if it’s critical work, get someone to cross check it. 
  • Plan for added support or delegation of tasks during this time, at work or at home. Could you pay a cleaner? Do you need an extra free period? 

Unscheduled requests for extra work

When someone asks you to join another committee, program or meeting, do you have a process in place that allows you to make a wise response?

Remember, the person asking you will be focused entirely on their needs, not on yours. It’s your job to look after you. Here are some ways you can discern whether to get involved.

  • First, learn the value of the “pause” button. You don’t have to reply immediately – say “I’ll get back to you”.
  • Consult your body. What is your internal response to this request? If you feel rising stress, resentment, even panic in your body, these are all signs that you are already working at your limits. 
  • Ask yourself whether this activity aligns with your priorities. If you don’t know what your priorities are, spend some time reflecting on them, possibly in conjunction with your supervisor or principal. 
  • Consult your calendar and do a reality check – do you have the time for this?
  • If yes, who else, or what else will be affected, and are you OK with that? 
  • Are there conditions that would enable your involvement, such as sharing the role? This could lead to a response like “I think I can do it but I’d like to negotiate…”.
  • If “no”, say so in a way you feel comfortable with and that reflects the valid reasons for your choice. Remember, saying “no” means you are saying “yes” to something else – usually ensuring the quality of work you are already doing.

Thea O’Connor                                                                                                                      Health and productivity writer, presenter and coach

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 1, 9 February 2018, p14