Audit Advantage: Work overload



Work overload: are you really that busy?

Over the many years I have been coaching and mentoring, the standalone, hot, personal development topic of all time, has been, and still remains, the profound angst of the impossible workload. 

That of course, is unsurprising, as we precariously subsist in an orbit of 24/7 connectivity, countless communication channels mushrooming by the day, a widening expectation gap with the pressure to do more and more with less and less.  And did I forget to mention (once again) the pace and complexity of unrelenting change…  Have you ever actually sat down and brain-dumped all your responsibilities, your outstanding and forthcoming tasks, the nitty-gritty of your to-do lists, alongside the strategic activities that keep you afloat (in both your career and in your personal world)?  It’s an exercise that I’ve done many times with many clients.  And there is only one conclusion: your workload, your life load, your ‘to-do’ burden is quite simply humanly impossible in a linear time paradigm over the natural homo-sapiens life span. 

Does this revelation fill my clients with despair?  Quite the contrary…it is an highly thrilling exercise that opens a new door of consciousness on the realisation that we are simply human, we cannot do it all (ever) and it is the choices we make that give us the only real control we have over life’s weighty overload.  

Let me take you through my work overload exercise and proffer some worldly tips and tricks to help you manage that unseemly burden.

Step 1 Get it all on paper (and out of your head). Take an A1 sheet to brainstorm some categories to get started.  You may name specific audit jobs or particular work projects (Widgets 2017 close, Widgets 2018 planning) or general themes (update engagement letters) but you should also be thinking holistically, way beyond the office (health, family, leisure).  These are just your headings; next take a big wodge of sticky notes to record individual tasks and place them under the categories.  Don’t stint on this step.  Spend a couple of hours getting in all down; consult your notes, calendars, inbox for clues to missing pieces and be prepared to go back to it a few days later to add the bits that you hadn’t even thought of!

Step 2 Decide on a time span.  I would recommend three months to kick off but you can adjust this once you get started.  Move over anything that has got a longer deadline onto a separate 3+ sheet.  This leaves you with your short term work load and you can now compare this to the time you have available.  Consult your calendar for availability.  Be realistic; as a guideline you could assume that 75% of your uncommitted working week is available as a resource and then decide what this should be a percentage of: is it 35, 40 hours, 50 or more, or have you only actually got around 10 hours left that is unscheduled? You will quickly see that it almost certainly impossible to fit all the things you think you need to do into the (realistic) time you have available.  Remember it’s not all work: holidays, doctors, dentists and family time need to be plugged in too.

Step 3 Make choices.  This of course is the hardest part.  But you have to do it.  Step 2 has shown you that it’s physically, mentally and humanly impossible to shoehorn it all in, now you must make the cuts.  Here are some self-coaching questions to use:

  • What can be postponed beyond this time span?
  • What I am prepared to give up completely?
  • How can I find help and support (by task) to share the burden?
  • Who can I delegate to?
  • What do I need to reduce my time and work smarter on this task?

And so on…

These are not simple questions and this is not an easy exercise.  It forces you to face reality and make some hard edged decisions which could mean saying no, asking for help or even making a life change.  But it is an effective process to stop procrastinating, feel the fear, and ultimately stem that stressful mental chatter that tortures you in the witching hour.  I do this every single week, and every week I make bold choices on what I am, and am not, going to do.  I can foresee crises, execute timely reschedules and most importantly, take control of that impossible workload before it takes hold of me.  

Despite what I may have implied in past writings, as auditors and accountants, we are not actually superheroes; we are subject to the same mortal constraints as all the other professionals, so let’s get real!


Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.

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