Productivity

6 Signs of Being Overworked + What You Can Do About It

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6 Signs of Being Overworked + What You Can Do About It
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6 Signs of Being Overworked + What You Can Do About It

Feeling tired? A bit short on patience? Maybe you suddenly notice you haven’t done your hobbies in a while or find your overall attitude a bit less cheerful than it used to be. Or perhaps it’s just that every time you enter a room, you forget what the heck you came for in the first place.

You might be thinking: aren’t these things just a normal part of working? In small doses, they can be. But they can also be signs of being overworked. And knowing the difference between everyday stress and overwork can have essential implications!

The World Health Organization found that the number of people working 55 or more hours per week is steadily increasing, with 9% of the population globally meeting this criteria. But even if you’re not clocking long hours, you could still suffer from overwork without even realizing it. That’s why, today, we’re talking about overwork: what is it, why we do it, some of the signs and symptoms, and what you can do to deal with it.

What is overwork

What is overwork?

Before we get into the topic, it will be helpful to define “overwork.” So, what exactly is overwork? We live in a culture where hard work or hustling is encouraged. So overwork can be defined as working excessively to the point where it negatively impacts your physical or mental health.

By some definitions, overwork is anything more than 55 hours per week. But for the sake of this article, we’ll explore overwork not as a specific amount of hours but as a state of well-being. A 40-hour workweek has long been considered average, but each individual may be capable of more or less depending on their circumstances.

Why we overwork

There are plenty of reasons why someone might overwork, though some are more conscious than others. Let’s get into some of the most common reasons people overwork below.

  • Too much to do. It’s often true that our jobs present us with more work than we can realistically handle. So we stay late, skip sleep, or check emails after hours, hoping to get ahead finally. But the nature of the “too much to do” trap is that there’s never any end in sight. It can be normal to go through periods where we are extremely busy or putting in extra time, but if the feeling is recurring, it might be time to reevaluate.
  • To demonstrate our commitment or enthusiasm. Commitment or enthusiasm can be a positive trait to some extent, but overwork is a common side effect when we’re trying to prove ourselves, trying to get ahead, etc. People identifying with this reason for overwork may benefit by addressing some of the root causes – imposter syndrome, anxiety, or anything else that makes us doubt our abilities.
  • Perfectionism. A perfectionist’s job is never done. An email or report that could have been done hours ago enters into revision rounds, proofreads, etc. Rather than finishing projects within a reasonable time frame, a perfectionist might find reasons to draw it out beyond a point where it’s beneficial. If you’re overworking due to perfectionism or stuck in a perfectionist loop, take a moment for a break. Ask yourself: is the amount of effort going to impact the outcome significantly? If not, set a stopping point and stick to it.
  • Cultural factors and unrealistic expectations. While some causes of overwork are internal, plenty of external forces cause people to overwork. You may work in a culture (work culture or country culture) that values achievement or productivity. This also might include unrealistic expectations about how much your workload ought to be, how much you can achieve in a fixed amount of time, etc. If this is your reason, consider why you value this job. See if there’s something you can do to change it (like setting better boundaries) or if it’s better to take your talents elsewhere.

Worried that you might be headed towards burnout? Here’s an article on how to identify it, avoid it, and get back on track.

How to know if you’re overworked

How to know if you’re overworked

We’ve covered the definition of overwork and explored some common reasons people overwork. But how do you know if what you’re experiencing is overwork? The symptoms of being overworked are similar to regular work stress. But a few indications can signal that you’re overworking when experienced over time.

  1. Working long hours or taking extra responsibilities. One of the most clear indicators that you might be overworked is working long hours. Do you work what is considered an average day, or are you regularly working long hours to get it all done? Do you have regular days off, or are you more often taking your weekends for work projects? What classifies as too much, of course, will depend on your circumstances. For example, a person without a partner or child might have more capacity for work than someone with a family. But take a realistic assessment of how much time you’d like to be working compared to how much time you’re spending. Are they aligned? Another easy way to identify that you might be overworked is if you’re doing multiple people’s jobs or taking extra responsibility with the same number of hours. In either case, you can decide if there are practical ways to change this or if you might need to make a more drastic change to prevent burnout.
  2. Trouble disconnecting from work. Do you think about work all the time? Everyone goes through phases or has specific projects that keep them up at night. In some ways, this can be a sign of passion or investment! On the other hand, if this trouble disconnecting is recurring, the long hours or obsessive thoughts can indicate something more serious. Warning signs are checking emails or dashboards after hours, spending extra hours working, or sacrificing important things in favor of work-related tasks.
  3. Feeling busy or behind schedule. Most of us live with a never-ending to-do list full of should do’s and wanna do’s (if we ever found the time). Work culture is increasingly focused on productivity and output, so being busy is often like a badge of honor. When it starts slipping towards overwork, the feeling is sustained for an extended period. If you’re feeling behind at work and notice that leads you to neglect other parts of your life, that could be a reliable indicator that you’re overworked and not just temporarily stressed.
  4. Health symptoms. Physical health is one of the more serious effects of being overworked. When you’ve been overworked for a while, your health can suffer. According to a World Health Organization published a study in 2021, “working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.” In addition to the more dire statistics, some common health-related overwork symptoms might appear as…

    • Exhaustion, Fatigue
    • Sleeplessness
    • Feeling distracted, brain fog, trouble concentrating
    • Weakened immune system, recurring illness
    • Anxiety, depression, Irritable or low mood
    • Weight fluctuations

  5. Lack of life balance. Are you missing out on things you used to value? Feeling disconnected from important people or your passions? When you spend so much time with work that your personal life suffers, it could be time for a change.
  6. Loss of passion. A loss of passion might be reduced energy or enthusiasm for the things that used to matter to you – and it’s one of the most unambiguous signals that you’re overworked and maybe even heading toward burnout. If the things you used to love are now feeling routine or mundane, take some time out to figure out what you might do to return to a better place.

How to deal with being overworked

How to deal with being overworked

Are you finding some of the signs of overwork familiar? The good news is that noticing you’re overworking is the first step towards creating a healthier and sustainable path forward. If you’re ready to make some changes, here are some tools we find particularly useful for dealing with being overworked.

  • Become aware and assess the situation. As soon as we notice something we might have been overlooking, it can be overwhelming. What else have we been missing? Now that you’re in an exploratory phase, really take the time to assess your current situation. What’s the reality of your day-to-day life right now? Are you happy with your work or do you feel like you got off track? Be very honest with yourself about where you’re at now, so you can create a plan to move forward.
  • Reflect on what you do want. With a comprehensive overview of where you are now, take some time to reflect on what it is you do want. What are your long-term goals, and how is your current situation helping you get there? What would you like to be doing more of? Is your current job limiting you from some of the things you’d like to do? This stage is invaluable before taking more drastic measures (quitting, starting your own business, etc.) because it helps you get more specific about what changes you’d like to make rather than going in without direction.
  • Make a plan. With an overview of your current situation and a map for the future, you can start taking action in alignment with what you truly want. Some helpful tools in this phase include creating a schedule to manage your time better. If you’d like to limit working hours or focus more on specific projects, try different productivity techniques that help keep you on track and accountable. Also helpful can be establishing better time boundaries and practicing when to say no to things you can’t make time for.

And while you’re working to make practical changes to your schedule, support it with lifestyle changes. This might be changes to your diet, more regular exercise, mindfulness practices like yoga, meditation, or therapy, or better sleep hygiene. Alongside this, make a point of investing back into what you used to spend time on. Take time out for friends, family, or old hobbies. Do things that bring you more joy so that you’ll be more connected and more inclined to protect them when work pressures run high again.

Conclusion

Overwork may look a lot like stress. But when you’re experiencing adverse physical or mental outcomes over a sustained period, it’s healthy to take a step back and evaluate your circumstances. Could it be time for better boundaries? A talk with your boss? Time to hire a new employee? Or time for a full-on career change?

When you’re used to being overworked, coming back to a better work-life balance will take effort. But for a more relaxed, enjoyable, low-stress, value-aligned, and healthier existence? We’d say it’s well worth the effort.

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