Emma: It’s pretty normal to be doing too much work, especially if you’re a manager and especially especially if you’re a new manager. I’ve never had a clean break when I stopped everything I was doing before I was a boss and then started everything I was going to do. There’s always overlap. And overlap always means too much.

Andy: We also have no clue how to say no.

Emma: It’s against our nature to say no. Think of all the opportunities we’d be missing out on! All the people we’d be letting down! And if they thought it was too much, they wouldn’t be asking us in the first place…

Andy: Yes and also lol. A business is always going to wonder how much it can get out of me until I say, “Mercy!” When I was an overwhelmed manager at Groupon, I got some amazing advice from my team’s HR business partner: I’m the one who needs to set the pace. I have to be the one who says slow down.

I’d thought if I ever told my bosses that I needed the roller coaster to go slower, they’d find someone else to ride in my seat. She helped me realize that it was actually the business that needs me to say slow down. Businesses run on sustainability, not on how much I can personally solve with my muscle and might.

Emma: But it’s not always easy to even acknowledge you have too much work. Often I’ll have convinced myself that working until 8pm for the 70th day in a row is just part of the job. Or that I’m too slow — everything would be totally manageable if I was as good at my job as I should be.

Andy: When I don’t know if this much is too much, I ask myself: “Would I want this job to be the one I leave to my favorite top performer, or should it be different?” If I can’t argue for me, I can argue for future her.

Signs You Might Be Doing Too Much

Working long hours for long stretches of time and consistently missing deadlines are classics, but there are sneakier symptoms of overworking that are easy to blame on other stuff: the seasons, your partner, “that’s just the way I am.” These are some of ours.


The Sunday dreads

Total isolation: haven’t talked to a friend, don’t know what’s in the news, couldn’t tell you if my family is alive

Full-blown rage at the tiniest things: dishwasher loaded improperly by boyfriend, mailbox key not sliding in smoothly, train extra full

Shopping for more gray cardigans

Twitchy eye


Eating exclusively Hot Wet Salts, a made-up food group that is exactly what it sounds like

Mostly a zombie outside of the office, but a zombie that cries all the time

Attempting to convince boyfriend to quit everything and move to Maine

Pretty much no sleep

Same outfit every day

Cluster headaches



Emma: Once you’ve acknowledged you have too much work, then you have to actually get out from under it. That’s so hard to do — if I’m doing too much, it’s because it’s all important and necessary!

Andy: Exactly. It’s changing behavior. You’re going to have to say no to stuff you’ve never said no to. You’re going to have to admit defeat — to call mercy. Just remember: It’s savvy and strong to set limits. It’s not savvy and strong to try to do the impossible and fail at it.

How We Stop Doing Too Much

Short of straight-up quitting your job, there’s unfortunately no quick fix for overworking. In our experience, it’s a methodical, systematic transition from too much to not as much that requires help from your boss and teammates. Often it feels like you’re actually adding work to your out-of-control to-do list. But it’s worth it.

Part 1: Get the numbers to prove it

Write down everything you do. Make a list, then look at your calendar and add everything you missed. At the end of each day, write down everything else you missed. Do this for a week or two — as long as you need to capture a full snapshot of how you spend your time.

Map how long each of those things takes. This is often a two-step process: a first pass for how long you tell yourself something should take, and a second pass that’s the truth. If you’re not sure how long it takes you to do something, time yourself over the week. And be specific. Your weekly 1-on-1s might only be 30 minutes, but do you do any prep work? Any follow-up note taking? Capture it all.

Tally up all that time. Then add 10 percent for task-switching and being a human who needs to drink water and go pee. Compare the final number to the number of hours in a work week. This is your confirmation that you’re doing too much, and a benchmark for how much over your limit you are.

Part 2: Prioritize

Find the most important stuff. If you were only going to do 15 percent of the tasks you’re currently doing, what would they be? (If you’re stumped, take a look at our Good Boss scorecard.) This is where you should be spending enough time to do a great job. You might need to add extra hours for these things to your tally from Part 1.

Cut the least important stuff. Circle the tasks that you shouldn’t be spending any time on. Often, these will be holdovers from when you were an individual contributor, or those band aid processes you implemented to put out a fire and then never stopped doing. You’re going to eliminate these things entirely, or delegate them to someone else.

Part 3: Problem solve with your boss

Find the obstacles. Out of what’s left over, what are your biggest time sucks? What takes you “too long” to do? Work with your boss to get the training you need, or ask for other things to be temporarily moved off your plate until you get up to speed. Maybe there’s a lower quality bar you can focus on hitting as you ramp up, or a process they can help you automate. Remember, your boss is there to make your job easier.

Set a deadline. Put a note in your calendar at the end of a reasonable amount of time to transition things off your plate and to get a firm grasp on the rest. How do you feel? Re-run the numbers. Loop in your boss again to keep moving obstacles.

Good Boss Achievement Stickers: Too Much Work Edition

The Bent Good Boss Achievement Stickers Too Much Work Edition