How to Advocate for Doing Less at Work When You’re Burned Out

How to Advocate for Doing Less at Work When You’re Burned Out

Cover of Goodbye, Perfect by Homaira Kabir

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Discover how to advocate for doing less at work to prevent burnout. Empower yourself with our 4-step plan for a balanced, healthier life. 

It’s Friday evening and you’re driving home from work. The weekend ahead is expected to be bright and sunny—perhaps the last bit of the summer—but you won’t get to enjoy it. You were put on two additional projects that have deadlines for next week and there is still a ton to do.

You’re feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. The constant workload is affecting all areas of your life, leading to work-related burnout. You haven’t been to the gym for weeks. You snap over little things at home and feel guilty later. Poor Johnny has been down with a chronic cough all week and you haven’t had the time to get it checked out.

And just yesterday, your boss pointed out mistakes in your slides that you normally don’t make. Now you’re angry that she doesn’t appreciate you and fantasize about leaving. But then you remember that there are bills to pay and mouths to feed.

What are you to do?

If you relate, you need to advocate for doing less at work so you have time to recuperate. None of us can perform at our best endlessly because energy is a depleting resource.

If you don’t take time to refuel, your emotional and mental capacities are bound to suffer.

But like many of us, you probably have a lot of reasons why you feel you couldn’t possibly say no to a work request. It’ll diminish my chances of advancement. My manager won’t like me. This project is close to my heart. But this kind of thinking can make you feel like a liability instead of an indispensable member of the team.

4-Step Plan to Advocate for Doing Less

The good news is that you can advocate for yourself without coming across as someone who isn’t committed to their job. This requires a 360-degree perspective on your life and vision, so you can speak up for yourself from a place of power.

Here’s how.

  • Step 1: Do a Reality Check

Before having that talk with your manager, you need to lighten your life. If you’re a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, or a controller at work the same traits are likely playing out in other aspects of your life and adding to the overwhelm.

Begin by bringing awareness to where you’re spending your time and energy each day. Draw a circle to represent a day and divide it into segments based on time spent on different activities. Include everything from projects and home responsibilities to time on social media and even time spent worrying or complaining.

  • Step 2: Design Your Ideal Day

Think about the best way to allocate your time that would help you feel alive and do your best work.

What will you drop, defer, delegate, or do just enough at work and at home? Think not just of activities, but also about the thoughts that don’t help and the people who drain your energy. What will you add? Maybe there are things you’ve been putting off until you have time, or maybe all you want is some time to do nothing.

You’ll realize there’s a lot you can do by yourself to free up time and boost your energy. Begin there, it’s where you have the most power.

  • Step 3: Advocate for Doing Less

Advocating for doing less doesn’t mean you’re not committed to your job or avoiding responsibility.

With a clear assessment of where you stand and how much time you have for your tasks and projects at work, you can now advocate for doing less without feeling “wrong” in some way.

The key here is to give the decision-making power to your manager. Engage them by presenting everything you’re involved in and the time each task takes. Then ask which one(s) they want to prioritize and which ones they’re willing to defer or delegate so the work doesn’t suffer. By giving the power to them, you’re actually empowering yourself to do your best work.

  • Step 4: Maintain Your Boundaries

In my coaching work, I’ve found that after they’ve worked to lighten their workload, most people eventually slip back into the same state of overwhelm. This is because they fail to proactively protect their time and energy.

Most workplaces are dealing with the reality of increasing competition and demanding more of their workforce. It’s on you to keep reassessing your energy and going back for the conversation when you feel overloaded. Recognize the people who offload their work on you and prepare a few ways to politely say no when caught off-guard.

It’s often said that the only constant in life is change. Both at work and at home, you’ll always be facing the unpredictable, so stay flexible in what you need to change so you stay engaged and energized. It’s a constant juggle, and perhaps that’s what growing up is all about—a shift from the rigidity of adolescence to the ability to flow with the energy of life itself.

In essence, choosing to advocate for doing less becomes a compassionate pathway to nurture a harmonious work-life balance and shield against the shadows of burnout.

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Homaira Kabir

Homaira Kabir

Written by mentor, author and founder of the Goodbye Perfect Project, Homaira Kabir. Homaira Kabir holds Master’s degrees in Coaching Psychology and in Positive Psychology – the science of human flourishing and wellbeing – from the University of East London. She has just published her latest book ‘Goodbye Perfect: How To Stop Pleasing, Proving and Pushing For Others… and Live For Yourself

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