New year, new you: how to manage your workload better

Work is a full time job, but it’s vital to take a break every now and then - or you could be heading straight for burnout.

Work is a full time job, but it’s vital to take a break every now and then - or you could be heading straight for burnout.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 0 seconds

The holidays are deliciously close and while some people are throwing off their ties and hiding their laptops (#KeDezembaBoss), others have their phones in their pockets, alert for any email, ready to catch up on work - even with their toes in the sand.  

However, these behaviours put you on the fast train to burn out, and are fundamentally unhealthy.   

Johannesburg based clinical psychologist Richard Middleton says, “Work/life balance is an absolute necessity for dealing with stress, and can help towards managing depression and anxiety. Time away from work can be spent doing things to soothe the nervous system, taking us down out of sympathetic hyperarousal and lowering stress levels - giving the nervous system a chance to recover from over-exertion.”

Added to this, the more you work, the less productive you are. That sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. As Quartz at Work says, “Productivity dramatically decreases with longer work hours, and completely drops off once people reach 55 hours of work a week, to the point that, on average, someone working 70 hours in a week achieves no more than a colleague working 15 fewer hours.”

In the never-ceasing cycle of work and deadlines, especially when you feel like you can never quite get ahead, it’s tempting to use your offtime to finally get into those projects that were on the backburner, or be on the alert for any emails or messages from clients, or colleagues, that might require urgent attention.

However, this can be extremely damaging in the long run and eventually lead to dreaded burnout - a complete wipeout that puts you out of commission far longer than a some proper down time would - whether that’s a holiday, a proper weekend break, or even dinner with your family.

Whether you’re heading into a holiday or just coming out of one, this article aims to help you keep that “refreshed holiday feeling” into the new year.


Advises the Washington Post, “Use technology to disconnect. Set auto-responders on your email and voice mail to say you’ll respond to [...] messages within 24 business hours. Learn how to use your smartphone’s ‘do not disturb’ setting to mute calls and alerts during your downtime. Commit to finishing work during work hours. If you give yourself a hard stop at 5 p.m., you may be surprised at how much more efficient you become. Finally, accept that work is never ‘finished.’ There will always be one more call, one more email, one more meeting you can schedule — and it will still be there tomorrow.” What we at Spitfire find very helpful is to set up “Out of Office” in our Google Calendar, which automatically rejects meetings when we’re on leave.


Clients, and (most) managers don’t expect you to be a work robot, especially over the holidays or weekends. It is only when expectations are upset that things get tense. If you work with your clients and managers to know when you’re on leave and when you’re unavailable, and what deadlines you can realistically meet in that time, you’ll have off-time and happy clients and managers.  


Setting hard and fast boundaries between your work and the rest of your life is challenging, and might not be the best solution! Rather than setting impermeable walls between work and home, focus on efficiency and adopting an, as Inc. puts it, “100 percent present at work and 100 percent present at home” philosophy. As this study says, “To reduce unwanted psychological preoccupation with work concerns, boundary theory suggests employees find their ideal way to integrate or segment both life domains.” This philosophy isn’t limited to geography (being in the office or being at home). At Spitfire, like many companies today, we have a remote working policy which means that though we are not always geographically in the office, and might not stick rigidly to traditional office hours, we make sure to commit to work 100% despite our location. 


It’s tempting to want to impress by constantly being “on”, but all you’re doing is saying you’re constantly available! Says The Muse, “While this will most likely make an impression on your boss, chances are it will have unintended consequences. Take me, for example. In my first job out of college, I was really eager to make an impression. So, I stayed late, came in on weekends, and checked my email when I should’ve been in bed. The result? I inadvertently trained my boss to rely on me at all hours of the day, seven days a week. It took me nearly four years and changing jobs before I could break that cycle, and believe me, that was an exhausting lesson.”


Does your kid have a big play, and needs you to be available? Or is there a huge work project coming up that you’re passionate about? Make your boundaries flexible according to what matters to you that week (without reneging on your commitments).


When you’re on break, why not try to actively reach a more calm state? “We often need to do something practical and physical to move out of a hyperaroused (stressed) state. Mindfulness practices are extremely effective, such as mindful awareness of the breath, senses, emotional or physical state,” says Middleton, “ Yoga and exercise can also calm us, as well as many activities which elicit positive emotions and where we feel immersed in a state of ‘flow’”.

Finally, we hope you take your off time to recharge your batteries, enjoy the beautiful South African sun, and learn to appreciate you again - whether at work, at home, or the beach.

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