How To Tell Your Boss You’re Overwhelmed (Without Sounding Like You’re Whinging)

Posted October 14, 2019, by Elesha

Overwhelmed, overworked and stressed out. We’ve all been there at some point. Speaking up before you hit total burnout is a must, but how do you tell your boss you’re drowning in work…without sounding like you’re whinging?

Book In A Time To Speak With Your Boss 

Barging into your boss’s office without warning and having an epic “I’m stressed out and overwhelmed!” meltdown, tears and all, isn’t the best way to approach the situation.

Instead, give your boss a heads up that you’d like to chat with them about your workload and schedule in a meeting.

Be sensitive to what else your boss has going on – your workload is obviously important to you but they might be dealing with bigger issues in the team. 

Giving them the heads up, rather than springing them with your overwhelmed cry for help, will hopefully put them in a more receptive mode to receive your situation during the meeting. 

It will also give you some time to prepare your case, which brings us to the next point…

How To Prepare For The Meeting

You’ll want to take some time to prepare for the meeting and get all your ducks in a row – here’s what we suggest:

Be specific – clearly list and summarise all projects in a single document

Saying “I’ve just got too much to do!” isn’t enough. 

You need to give concrete details of what projects you’re juggling and where your time is being squeezed to the point of unmanageable. 

List out the projects you’re working on, the different steps to complete each one and estimate the time it will take to finish each individual project. 

Concisely present this information in a single document so it’s clearly laid out and simple for your boss to see that it’s impossible to meet all the deadlines.

It will also show you’ve got a good grasp of what’s involved in each task. You’re not just blowing things out of proportion. 

You can also note the additional overtime you’ve already worked to try and keep on top of things but it’s just no longer sustainable. 

Look for easy wins

It’s always a wise move to come to your boss with solutions, not just problems when you’re overwhelmed. Make suggestions on staggering deadlines or delegating tasks where it makes sense. 

Take a look at your tasks and consider if there are any ‘easy’ wins?

Is there a deadline or two that could be staggered? What tasks could potentially be delegated to someone else in the team? 

When it comes to delegation, look for tasks that don’t require your skillset to get them done. Delegating administrative type tasks to support staff should be the first option to create some room in your workload. 

Prioritise the most valuable projects and decide if the not so important ones could be delegated entirely? 

Add your recommendations on delegations and deadlines to the document. Your boss will appreciate your suggestions on how your workload could be distributed in a more manageable way. 

During The Meeting

You’re all set with your clearly defined list of tasks and recommendations – great! Now we’ve got a few tips on handling yourself during the meeting.

Keep a positive vibe and dial down your emotions

No one likes a Negative Nancy – even if Nancy is overworked.

Take your most positive vibe to the meeting with your boss. The reality is, your boss might not care so much about your feelings and your emotions. Harsh, but in most cases, true!

With this in mind, try to keep your emotions out of the discussion. Stay objective and don’t get personal; when you’re tired and overworked it can be easy to get snippy or make remarks about other team members who you don’t feel are pulling their weight. Focus on using an upbeat tone, rather than a frustrated or despondent one. 

Highlight what you’ve been doing to try and solve the problem

How have you tried to solve the problem of managing the workload yourself?

Be sure to point this out during the meeting. Let them know what you’ve been trying so they know you’ve been actively trying to work it out, not just coming to them at the first sign of stress and saying ‘you fix it!’…..bosses hate that!

Let your boss prioritise your tasks 

You’ve put forward your suggestions for prioritisation, delegation, etc but during the meeting, let your boss weigh in on prioritisation too.

This also puts the responsibility back on them – if they suggest cutting one task to focus on another, go with it. Be sure to take notes on what has been changed and follow up in an email after the meeting – more on that shortly. 

After The Meeting

Send a follow-up email

It’s a smart idea to summarise everything discussed in the meeting and send it to your boss via email afterwards. If deadlines have been changed, tasks delegated or projects cut, note the details down. Keep it concise and to the point. 

This email is also a backup if, a few weeks down the line, your boss comes to you and asks for the XYZ report they agreed to delegate to someone else! 

Check-in with a progress update 

How are things panning out after the meeting? Is your schedule more manageable or are you still feeling overwhelmed?

Check in over the coming weeks with your boss and let them know how the changes are working out. Your boss will appreciate the feedback, otherwise, they might just be left wondering….

“Hmm, did he use my help? Did he even need my help? Or was he just complaining?”

Still Overwhelmed? Reflect On Your Time Management Skills

You’ve implemented all the changes, delegated work and pushed back deadlines and yet……you’re still feeling stressed.

Maybe you need to work on your time management skills? 

To figure out where you’re wasting time or could be handling things more efficiently, carefully track your work schedule for a week.

Every 30 minutes, jot down what you’re doing. Understanding where your time actually goes is the key to plugging any productivity gaps!

Check out our 11 top its for effective time management to get your schedule under control and supercharge your productivity. 


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