5 Tips for Taming a Scary Workload

UPDATED: October 31, 2019
PUBLISHED: October 31, 2014

Spooky costumes, candy corn and decorated pumpkins are standard fall favorites, and with all the chatter about fun scary on Halloween, it also seems like a great time to take on our fears at work.

According to a Robert Half survey, almost a third of us have fears about success at work—and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we all probably have fears that can majorly impact how we manage our work. The top three, according to the survey, are:

  1. Having too much work, leading to stress and burnout
  2. Making a serious mistake
  3. Having conflicts with co-workers

Let’s take the highest-rated fear—having too much work to do well—which creates anxiety and frustration. First, let’s consider what’s actually in your control.

Do yourself a favor by identifying your typical “go-to fears,” specifically when Halloween—with its witches, ghosts and zombies—is not looming. We all have them, fears that we use regardless of the situation or the facts. If you have a fear of being wrong, not being perfect or not being smart enough, you may be manufacturing scary. Don’t let your hardwired fears drive your work habits.

Take this: If you are afraid of not being the expert or the “go-to” person, you might keep others from collaborating or even helping. Or, if you have a fear of not pleasing others, you might say yes to too many requests, which eventually overloads you.

Once you’ve recognized your innate fears, look at what is in your control and make some changes. If you have too much work to be effective, or are afraid that you will in the future, here are a few tips for making your job not-so-scary:

1. Treat time as your greatest asset.

Your time is the key to accomplishing what matters most, reaching your goals and that valuable sense of accomplishment. Treat it with the utmost respect and as your greatest currency.

Record every hour of how you spend your time for two weeks. You may be surprised. Take a hard look at what you can delete, trim or address differently. Allison Rimm suggests looking at what you want to say yes to in addition to deciding when to say no. Every time you say yes, you are saying no to something else. Make sure your “yesses” are intentional.

2. Use smart delegation.

Ask yourself, Must it be me? Are you the only one who can do this work? Often those who get the most done are given more because they will deliver.Take the compliment and look for other creative ways to get it done—which can include peers, a direct report or, even sometimes, your boss.

3. Renegotiate priorities with your manager.

Most leaders can’t stop and review everything on your list. They assume you’ll speak up if you have challenges. Rather than say what you can’t do, share what you can do well. Involve your manager in reprioritizing what’s most important, what can be delayed or where someone else can help. Approach the conversation with the theme that you want to deliver the most important priorities well, not just that you want to reduce your hours.

4. Stop controlling and micromanaging.

If you have a hard time turning loose and you are sure that no one can do it as well as you, then you may be part of the problem. The only way you can manage your workload and grow is to let others learn what you do or partner with someone else to deliver. Also, decide when 80 percent is good enough on lower-priority items.

5. Upgrade your work habits.

If you are still using the same habits and tools that you used when you started your career, there is a good chance that you need an upgrade. Carson Tate of Working Simply has some great tips and habits for a productivity makeover.

Before your workplace fears become insurmountable, face them head-on and ask yourself, What can I do to make this better now? Act on what’s in your control and influence and see how much the situation improves.

Your work may not be so scary after all.

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times,NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.