6 Ways to Know if You're Working Hard or Working Too Much

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It’s commonly said that in order to get ahead in the workforce, you have to pay your dues and do grunt work to move up the corporate ladder. Is this purely a myth, or is there some truth to this sentiment?

For recent and soon-to-be college grads looking to take the first job they can find amidst a tumultuous job market, it can feel as though you shouldn’t complain when your entry level job is grueling and consuming of all energy. It might seem like you don’t have the authority to speak up, or that you’re simply in a “rite of passage” phase.

Nevertheless, it’s vital to recognize when your hard work is paying off and when it’s costing you your sanity. 

1. Your health is negatively impacted

It’s 8 p.m. and you’re still at the office. Your eyes are twitching from constant contact with a computer screen, your energy level is plummeting, and your mind is traveling at a million miles a minute. Don’t let this happen!

Sure, you might have a big presentation the next day or be at the end of a sales quarter and you need to stay late every once in a while, but that shouldn’t be a regular occurrence. 

Michaela*, a 2015 graduate working for a performing arts center, reflects on her job affecting her mood, as she says, “It’s so easy to just go into autopilot and work work work without getting the time back, but then as a result you can get extremely overtired. I found on one particular week that I was overly stressed out, very punchy, and got frustrated easily. As a result, my work began to suffer because I was so frustrated and angry.”

She adds, “Honestly, your work will suffer if you continue to work long hours and don’t give yourself proper rest.”

Related: 9 Ways to Stay Healthy at a Desk Job

2. Your work never feels complete

Ever feel like you have too much to do, but not enough hours in the day to do it? This may result from perfectionist tendencies, but you could also have a demanding boss and team who constantly send you requests and make it seem as though each of their projects are the most urgent. This can feel frustrating, and also make it difficult to stay organized.

Alyssa*, a 2014 graduate working in financial services, says, “I think the difference between working hard and being overworked lies in time management and the ability to say no. I work with several advisors, and everyone thinks their own projects should be my highest priority. I do my best to work on what’s most urgent first, but once in a while, I need to let an advisor know that I just don’t have the capacity to finish his or her project by the deadline they need.” 

3. You’re doing it to yourself

Sometimes when people are overworked, the pressure is not coming solely from their bosses, but primarily from the stress they put on themselves.

Perhaps you struggle to accept feedback from your peers when all that you see are flaws in your work. As a result, you might put too much pressure on yourself to succeed and end up creating a work environment that is more toxic than productive. 

Despite this, the act of putting more hours in by your accord is not always a bad thing if it can lead to your growth in a company. Miranda, who graduated in 2015 and works for a marketing firm, says, “[In my first job] I was putting in close to 70 hours a week when I should have been at 40, but I wanted to do good work because I love my career path. I continued to work hard, create excellent work for my clients, didn’t complain, and I ended up getting a salary increase the day I hit six months.”

Regarding any advice she would impart, she suggests to “continue working hard, even if you feel overworked, because once your hard work is noticed, you’ll be rewarded for it.” Keep in mind that it's important to know your own limits; just because a peer is capable of working 70 hours a week without consequences to his or her health doesn't mean that you're able to accomplish the same thing! You shouldn't feel pressured to do something just because someone else is.

4. You’re afraid to delegate

Were you that person in group projects in college who was hesitant to give up control? Perhaps you feel the same way at work.

Typically, managers want to see that their employees are able to work well as a team. While you may think that taking on tasks on your own displays leadership and independence, it’s really doing you more harm than good in the eyes of your superiors.

Just as importantly, you’ll find that you’re spending too much time on one project, when you could be using your time more effectively by dividing responsibilities and allowing yourself to balance other tasks.

5. You’re doing menial tasks outside of your job description

Is your day mirroring the tasks of the interns who get coffee and work the copy machine, on top of managing your pre-existing responsibilities?

This one is tricky because, as mentioned before, you might find yourself too far down the totem pole to be able to speak out lest you come across as complaining about your role. However, the longer you’re in a job and the more comfortable your boss is with you, the more you may find your original job description becoming longer and longer.

In some ways this can be a good thing, as it might reveal that your boss trusts you and finds you able to take on more responsibilities, which could mean a promotion in the future. Still, you want to make sure that you have enough time to focus on the assignments directly linked to your role.

No employer likes a team member who dislikes taking on tasks outside of their job description and nobody wants to hear, "it's not my job." But if you find yourself doing tasks that should really fall to someone else on your team, that's something that you should bring up to your boss. Try painting it in a more positive light and show your boss that your skills are better used elsewhere.

Every employer wants their employees to be putting out their best work, and work that's beneficial to the company. So if menial tasks are taking away your ability to do what you were hired for, it's important to speak up. 

6. Your personal relationships are suffering

It can be difficult to make your social life a priority when it feels as though your job is your life. When your work impacts your ability to take a break and connect with those close to you, that may signal a problem. It can be frustrating when trying to make plans with friends, only to find that your time is extremely limited and regimented.

Not only can a busy work schedule affect your friendships, but it also limits the free time you have to network and build your list of professional contacts. Christy, a 2014 graduate working in the tech industry, says, “When I first started working, I found myself hyper focused and working so hard that I was neglecting the most important thing of all—socializing.”

She continues, “Looking back on everything, I wouldn’t be where I am right now without the help of these developed relationships. Hard work is a prerequisite to success—however, working too hard can make you lose focus on more important aspects of your career long-term, like networking.”

So how do you limit, or at least monitor, exhaustion from being overworked? Here's our advice:

  • Survey the culture at your office. Are your coworkers leaving at six, while you stay later? Are they busier during certain hours of the day, or certain days of the week? While there’s something to be said for arriving earlier and staying later than your peers, forcing yourself to have a work schedule more in line with everyone else will give you a better routine. Keep in mind that certain industries, such as advertising and consulting, are prone to longer hours, but the act of mirroring your coworkers can help you to prioritize assignments during the day. Note that even if your coworkers are staying late, you shouldn't feel pressured to do the same.
  • Ask for timelines. Make sure to prioritize assignments based on the authority of the person asking for their completion and the urgency of the project. It’s also okay to respond with, “Can you give me a rough deadline of when you need this by?” or, “Sure, can I get this back to you first thing tomorrow morning?” It's okay to ask for an extension; it's better to be realistic about what is feasible than to have to cram in a project and not submit your best work because you have too much to do. When you have too much on your plate but you're first starting out in your career, it can be hard to say no, so it's important to speak to your manager and make sure that your skills are being used effectively.
  • Strive for balance. Even when it seems impossible, it’s important to aim for work-life balance, especially when the stress from work is self-induced. Make sleep more of a priority, so that you feel rejuvenated and less tired at work. Make hobbies and social outings part of your weekly schedule to balance your emotions and have things to look forward to. Something as simple as taking 20 minutes to grab coffee and chat with a friend on the weekend can put you in a more relaxed state and takes your mind off your job. If you actually block off parts of your schedule week to week for "me" time (whether it's going to the gym or hanging out with friends), you will be more prone to doing those activities. If need be, you can even schedule things into your calendar the way you would a deadline or a meeting!

When you’re first starting out in your career, it can feel as though the best way to get ahead is to put in a lot of hard work in order to prove your worth. In some ways, that’s a good thing! Yet when you compromise your health, your enthusiasm for the job and your social life in the process, perhaps it’s time to think about what’s causing your work schedule to be so daunting and take the necessary steps to make your job one that you look forward to each day.

*Names have been changed.

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About The Author

Mara is a Boston native who ventured west for college, graduating from the University of Southern California in 2014 with a Bachelor's degree in Communication. She is passionate about marketing, journalism and digital media. Some of her favorite things include SoulCycle, trying new restaurants, country music and debating about the Oxford comma. To learn more about Mara, follow her on Twitter @marahyman.