How to keep your workload sustainable

The biggest challenge for many EAs is the sheer workload you’re expected to handle. Let Dr Jenny Brockis (an expert in the science of high-performance thinking, and improving brain health and wellbeing) help you… 

As a busy high-level PA, you will know that heavy workloads can be stressful, although not always in a bad way because that is what you’re good at. But there can be a fine line between efficiency and overwhelm, and it’s the overwhelm that does damage because over time. That accumulation of extra bits of stress is what, little by little, eats into your capacity to function optimally. And we are often blind to what’s happening. 

Studies have shown the person at greatest risk of burnout, stress-related illness or mental health challenges (including anxiety and depression) is the exhausted, enthusiastic and overextended individual who is in denial; oblivious to what’s happening – probably because you love what you do and it never feels a burden to be asked to step up and do more.  

In fact, you may even not-so-secretly love being of service, demonstrating your capabilities, and feeling valued and appreciated for everything you do, because it feels rewarding and you care deeply about your work. And that’s OK! 

But, as the world becomes increasingly complex and complicated, your challenge is to recognise what you need to keep yourself safe from overwhelm. 

Three ways to check in: 

  1. Schedule time to reflect on how much you’re currently handling. And honestly ask yourself: “Is this sustainable?” If the answer is no, look at what’s happening to create too much demand and investigate how you can reduce the load. Do you need to speak with your exec? Can you streamline processes? Can you automate more of your work to free up time? 
  1. Keep yourself accountable for your own self-care. What have you identified as your non-negotiables; those daily activities that ensure you have the energy, drive and positive feelings for your work? And how well would you rate yourself on these right now? Because while you might know you feel so much better after a full night’s sleep, if your reality is that you can’t remember the last time this happened, it’s time to reprioritise what’s important here. Next, look at what could you be doing differently to nudge you towards being the best version of yourself consistently. Don’t worry, this isn’t a radical rehaul. Often, it’s the smallest of nudges, like giving yourself permission to take a 10-minute walk during your lunchbreak or scheduling a short coffee break with your partner. 
  1. Challenge your thoughts. If you’re constantly berating yourself for not being ‘enough’ (whichever aspect of enough you subscribe to) ask yourself, in whose eyes is this true? 

Showing yourself some compassion, being gentle with yourself and remembering the good you’ve achieved helps to keep things in perspective, raises your coping skills and makes you happier. 

The thing about work is it will always be here. It’s a fallacy to believe we can ever be completely on top of everything there is to do. Which is why we take work home in the evenings or over the weekends and why we end up sacrificing those other aspects of our lives; the non-work part. 

Although work plays an important role in our lives (from being stimulating, challenging and rewarding to paying the bills), it’s only one aspect of you. Remember to tap into what’s most important as the lines between work and life blur now more than ever. Ask what it is that gives you the most pleasure, the greatest joy and happiness… Then go do those things.