Overwhelm at Work – How to Negotiate Your Workload

By Mary Legakis Engel – The Management Coach

As a coach, I often meet people who are struggling with time. They need to learn “time management” they tell me. “I need better time management skills” they claim.


That’s a loaded couple of words. Time management is a simple term for a concept very few people seem to be able to grasp. There came a point a couple of years ago when I decided to crack the code on time management. If nobody understood it or could implement it, then I had to be able to explain it better.

I consider myself to be a masterful time manager. I seem to be able to make time for just about anything that’s important to me. So I decided to decode my motions. I was able to boil it down to 3 key skills:

  1. Prioritization

  2. Negotiation

  3. Delegation

5 Steps to Better Managing Your Time

If you’re overwhelmed at work, you can implement the 3 skills above by following these 5 steps…

Step 1: Create a To Do list that contains all of your tasks, even the unimportant ones. Whatever takes up space in your brain… put it down on paper.

Step 2: Prioritize the list by applying letters to each item.

  • A items are the most important – they must get done this week because they are critical to your goals, or you have committed to something that is critical to someone else’s goals.

  • B items are somewhat important – they will get done after the A items are completed, but could be postponed to next week if necessary.

  • C items are not important. If you didn’t get to them, nobody would ever know.

  • Leave a blank beside any items that don’t have a hope of ever getting done. They are just taking up space but you’re not reading to let go of it quite yet. They aren’t even worth the ink of placing a letter against them.

Step 3: Put your A items on your calendar.

Step 4: Expect to be interrupted. Others will come to you requesting your support on their priorities. Murphy’s law would suggest that they do this at the moment you start focusing on your A items.

Step 5: Negotiate your time. Let me dive deeper on this one…

How to Negotiate Your Workload

I often hear my clients say “I need to learn how to say no”. The problem with “no” is guilt. You don’t want to let anybody down. I don’t like “no”. I think people avoid saying “no” because it is truly a bad response to any situation that isn’t dangerous.

The alternative then is to negotiate what they need, in a way that also meets your own terms. I once took an improv class that taught me the most wonderful two words: “Yes and…” If you approach every conversation with “yes and…”, you will have every opportunity to negotiate your workload.

  • Yes, and right now I’m focused on one of my own priorities. What is the latest I can do this for you such that you meet your goal?

  • Yes, and maybe you could ask someone else since I won’t be able to help you with this until next week?

  • Yes, and it may take a few weeks because I’m in the middle of my own big project

  • Yes, and I will delay my big project for you this time if you promise to give me more notice the next time you need something from me.

The key to negotiating is that you respect your own needs while also respecting the other person.

Mary Legakis Engel is The Management Coach and a recognized speaker, coach, consultant and business executive. Mary has been advising, consulting and coaching leaders and managers on effective management and how to grow their businesses while continuously engaging their employees for over 15 years.