Having too much to do with too little time has become a modern workforce mantra. Even after putting in extra hours off the clock, you likely still feel the stress of a heavy workload. Given incessant emails, disorganized (or nonexistent) workflows, and unnecessary meeting invites, it’s no wonder productivity has flattened.
Despite advances in technology—and their promises to make our lives easier—the sense of control over how we spend our work day is diminishing. And with communication becoming less impactful and efficient, figuring out how to manage our workloads is top of mind for most team leaders.
So, is workload balancing actually possible? It is, and it starts with a shift in perspective to generate results. But before we talk about fixes, let’s take a look at how we got here.
Employees want to feel productive at work. That’s why completing tasks and achieving goals are vital for an engaged workforce management system. Knowledge workers also thrive on being an integral part of their company and understanding how they contribute to larger, strategic goals.
But with siloed projects—and communication overload—most lack clarity on where they fit in the organization and whether their work is valuable. Without effective collaboration and workload management, more time is being spent doing less meaningful work, like responding to emails and sitting in meetings.
And when you’re not doing engaging work, burnout can approach quickly. In Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index, 80% of people surveyed said they felt overworked and close to burnout. When that happens, people simply disengage at work. What they feel instead is the stress of a huge workload.
Here are three reasons for why that’s the case:
According to Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index, work about work is a trend that’s hurting the productivity of knowledge workers. People are spending significant time in unnecessary meetings, responding to emails and messages, and looking for files. Efforts are frequently duplicated. Unless companies commit to changing the way they work by addressing the cause of constant notifications, meetings, and messages, work about work is here to stay.
While knowledge workers believe they’re spending about 35% of their day on work about work, the actual number is nearly double that: 60% of an employee’s workday is spent doing work that doesn’t involve the skill for which they were hired. Unless teams take proactive steps to eliminate or reduce work about work, productivity will continue to decline and workload stress will increase.
Even the most well-intended messages fall short when you’re trying to communicate over email and messaging tools about what needs to get done, who is responsible, and when work is due. Both platforms require a significant amount of back and forth, wasting time, energy, and focus. Plus, with long threads it becomes easy to lose track of details or forget to include someone important.
Welcome to communication overload—a product of work about work that gets in the way of concentration and, ultimately, our productivity. Messaging and email notifications have a sneaky way of pulling our attention away from important work. As soon as we hear a ping or see a new email pop up, we feel a responsibility to reply immediately. Our focus breaks and we go into multi-tasking mode. The work you were just doing is officially interrupted with work about work.
Another unfortunate effect of too much communication (cue those pings again) is having to succumb to an “always on” culture. Knowledge workers feel pressure to be available 24/7 and spend their time away from the office responding to messages, which creates even more work and more stress.
Every time a task moves from one person to another, whether through email, messaging apps, or a spreadsheet, information becomes fragmented and buried. Additional time and effort are required when an overall picture of a project needs to be painted and information is sitting in multiple places. Frequent meetings to discuss the status of work also become inevitable—and another time-sucker.
The information-gathering process is nothing short of inefficient. For example, people waste time while trying to figure out who is in charge of what. There’s confusion about what needs to be approved, whether it’s already been approved, who is responsible for approving, and who manages the approval process. And if that causes confusion, imagine trying to figure out who to reach out to and where to locate important information to get work done.
Unfortunately, conversations end up getting lost, repeated, and fractured with no real system to keep track of everything. As Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index points out, people spend the majority of their time at work without clarity on organizational priorities. And it isn’t just the day-to-day tasks that are unclear. 54% of knowledge workers aren’t clear on how their work contributes to the overall company.
Rather than stress out about a heavy workload, there are ways to change gears and make work more efficient. That happens by creating organized processes, automating work, and communicating effectively, which requires a different type of thinking. Everyone in an organization, from leaders and managers to individual team members, needs clarity on what work is important and what’s not in order to better balance workloads.
This new way of working is called work management and serves as a practical approach for figuring out who’s doing what by when. Work management provides the clarity that everyone in a team or organization needs to focus on the work that matters most, instead of focusing on time-consuming work about work.
Work management tools like Asana give individuals, teams, and entire companies the clarity to work more efficiently while keeping everyone moving in the same direction and towards the same goals.
It’s time to put a stop to workload stress. Teams no longer have to feel bombarded with huge workloads. Work about work will begin to loosen its reigns when teams make the decision to implement a work management system, automating processes and making workdays more productive.
For more tips about how to help your team tackle heavy workloads, read our article on 18 time management strategies to get your best work done.