Career Advice: How to Tell Your Boss, You've Had Enough

The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment by Elizabeth Grace Saunders
The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment by Elizabeth Grace Saunders

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG by Elizabeth Grace Saunders author of, "The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress."

Let's face it. In today's economy you know that you're fortunate to have a job so you can hesitate to admit when you feel overwhelmed. You don't want to come across as incapable or ungrateful so you just suck it up and hope that things will get better soon. The only problem is when they don't… and you realize if you don't start to set some boundaries that you'll burn out.

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As a time coach and the author of "The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment," I've taught many people in this situation how to communicate effectively with their managers. This not only leads to much better work/life balance and job satisfaction for them, but also better results for their employers. When you feel overwhelmed, you simply aren't as productive.

Here's how to have a happier, healthier work life in four simple steps.

Step 1: Document Your Work

Your boss probably feels just as overwhelmed as you do and hasn't kept track of how much you need to get done. As I heard someone say recently, "I keep giving people work to do until they sqwak." Most managers are relying on you to let them know when you have too much to do. If you don't tell them in a clear, logical way, they will assume you are fine and keep giving your more tasks. Before you enter a dialogue with your manager, write down a list of all of your current responsibilities, including day-to-day maintenance items like e-mail, recurring items like weekly reports, and variable items like projects.

Step 2: Estimate The Time Requirement

Once you have listed out all of your responsibilities, you need to estimate out about how much time they take to complete. So for instance, you may need to spend two hours a day on e-mail and three hours a week on a report. For projects, try to break them down into parts, such as weekly one-hour project update meeting, and steps such as, initial research, prototype development, user testing, refinement, and production. With each step, you'll want to make rough estimates such as 10 hours a week for five weeks.

Step 3: Overlay These Estimates on Your Schedule

Look at your calendar in the coming weeks and overlay your responsibilities onto it. For example, in addition to meeting times, you'll want to block out time for e-mail, time for recurring responsibilities, and time to move forward on big projects. If you are overloaded, it will quickly become clear that everything you need to do simply won't fit within the time you have available.

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Step 4: Talk Through Your Findings With Your Boss

In my book share some specific e-mail and face-to-face conversation scripts that you can use for this expectations negotiation discussion. But to get you started, here's the basic concept: You want to come into the meeting prepared with your list of responsibilities, estimates, and your calendar. (I find that printing out your calendar showing the time available versus the number of projects can be a very effective visual tool.) Then you want to discuss the situation in a very calm, clear manner. It's unhelpful to launch into how you're so overwhelmed because quite frankly your boss is just as—if not more—tired than you are right now. Instead, display the evidence and ask your manager to help you set priorities on what's most important to get done, what can wait, and what someone else can do for you.

By following these four steps you can do your job well and feel less overwhelmed.

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Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and the author of "The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress." Elizabeth also writes on effective time investment for Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Lifehacker, 99U, and many other publications. Find out more at