Capacity is the maximum amount that something or someone can contain. In my multiple conversations with leaders, I often hear about them feeling overwhelmed and overworked feeling as being at max capacity most of the time. The statistics reveal that at least one in three employees report chronically working beyond their capacity and past the usual working hours.
Chronic overwhelm causes higher levels of stress. Having too many demands produces cognitive fatigue making us prone to distractions. Under stress, we become ineffective, reactive, and more disposed to make mistakes. Chronic pressure makes us prone to illnesses, accidents, and even depression.
A McKinsey study concludes that managing work demands is only one component of promoting a sustainable workload. Another critical factor is the degree to which employees feel a sense of control over what they do and how and when getting the work done. It is not only the excess of work but how employees navigate expectations, perceptions and misconceptions in the social system at work.
According to Theurer & O’Neill, capacity management is the ability to get the work done in a way that:
- Satisfies the needs of our customers and stakeholders,
- It is sustainable over time,
- It allows us to have a balanced life.
This article suggests three signs you have too much on your plate at work and how you can better regulate and advocate for your needs.
Three Signs You Have Too Much on Your Plate:
1. Struggling to Meet Your Commitments – You might feel worried about delivering your work on time. Deadlines start pulling up, and you frequently find being late or canceling commitments at the last minute.
2. Feeling You Can’t Continue for Too Long – Working double hours and trying harder feels daunting when you realize that it is not sustainable to maintain your current pace for an extended period. It is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and you wonder if you should call it quits.
3. Having No Life Outside of Work – If you are pulling more than 50 hours per week, soon you will start noticing work is consuming you, leaving no time or energy for the people in your life that you care about the most or what you care deeply about. Relationships start crumbling, and you end up struggling in some areas of your personal life.
Tips to Manage Your Capacity
The great news is that you can take charge of your current situation to assess to what degree you are committing more than the resources, energy, or capacity you have to deliver upon. I am using the acronym CAPACITY to lay down eight tips to help you take control over your work and life.
- Challenge your assumptions – What beliefs currently keep you in a hamster well of over-commitment? Are you assuming you have unlimited capacity? Accepting that you are human with limits in your ability to pull off is the starting point in addressing your unrealistic expectations. Embracing and honoring your boundaries make you a more effective contributor. Do you want to control all the details? Do you think it is your way or the highway? Perfectionism and believing you can only produce the work at the highest standards keep you overcommitting and putting too much on your shoulders.
- Assess your current workload by taking inventory of everything on your plate, including projects, regular deliverables, and special assignments. Tally all meetings you attend daily, weekly, and monthly to get a better idea of where you are spending most of your working hours. Identify patterns and opportunities to streamline your workload as your demands change.
- Prioritize critical commitments so you can make the best use of your time while considering the needs of your customers and stakeholders. If you have conflictive priorities, consult with those involved to get clarity on what to tackle first. Avoid surprises by letting others know what is at risk, red flagging those areas where you need more resources in order to deliver. Find ways to reduce non-value work and eliminate distractions and interruptions as much as possible.
- Ask for help to expand your capacity in the most critical areas by streamlining processes, delegating, improving skills, or redistributing . Be willing to let go of work others can do instead of ‘clinging’ to what you always have done. Making room for those projects and results that will take your game to the next level implies that you must relinquish control over all details. It is ok to ask for help, and getting the load off your plate and relieving the pressure is even better while at the same time increasing your team’s capabilities.
- Change your approach to accepting work by pausing and evaluating if you have room for more. Be willing to push back when you think you can’t absorb more. Overcommitting can cause you to miss important deadlines, which, with time, may erode your trust and your reputation. Practice saying no to small requests until you strengthen your assertiveness muscle. Changing your approach is also about finding ways to work more efficiently. Be mindful of when you produce your best thinking to focusing on high level cognitive activities such as analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making.
- Increase self-care for more resilience. Incorporate brief breaks during the day to breathe. Inhale and exhale deeply for six seconds to rebalance your nervous system. Stay active, consider going outdoors for a screen break and to get fresh air. Even ten minutes every two hours can keep you more balanced and with more mental clarity. Be mindful of eating, make nutritious choices, hydrate, and avoid skipping meals.
- Time-block your hours, ensuring you first work on those critical projects. Be willing to protect your time from unrealistic demands or conflictive priorities. Many of us struggle to accurately estimate how long it will take us to complete work causing us to feel we are always behind. Try the Pomodoro Technique, which consists in breaking large projects into small tasks and time block for 20 or 30 mins at a time increments, with 5 mins breaks in between.
- Yield attending non-relevant meetings. Instead, open space in your day for planning and strategizing key initiatives. Listing all your meetings and the estimated time you are investing in them might become an eye-opener to how much of your precious working time is going toward joining meetings. You might able to discern which meetings are really needing your attendance. Check with your key stakeholders to make sure it is ok to delegate or decline to participate.
Coaching can help you gain awareness around the mindsets that keep you from finding ways to regain balance. A good coach can help you identify what assumptions, habits, and beliefs are not working for you and help you figure out strategies to assert your needs, negotiate your workload and reduce the burden of unmanaged expectations and unrealistic deadlines.
Employees work better by having a sense of control, predictability, flexibility, and time to recover from daily stressors. Managing your capacity is bifold; on one side, it requires reviewing how you work. Conversely, it requires managing expectations and setting boundaries with your key stakeholders. It is a worthwhile process that will allow you to regain balance, sustainability, and effectiveness in achieving your results.
· https://www.resilientleadershipdevelopment.com/resilient-leadership-podcast/. Episode # 2: Banishing Burnout: How to Rebalance Your Life and Connect with Your Purpose.
· Missing Conversations: Nine Questions All Leaders Should Ask Themselves. Chapter 4. How Much Is Enough? The Capacity Conversation.
· Resilient Leadership 2.0. Leading with Calm, Clarity, and Conviction in Anxious Times.
· The Anxious Organization: Why Smart Companies Do Dumb Things.