Workers with overstuffed to-do lists feel overwhelmed, not organized, study shows
- Three in five people said they've agreed to take on more tasks than they can actually get done on their to-do lists, according to a new VitalSmarts study. The study of nearly 1,400 people found they're customarily overbooked and overwhelmed. One in five respondents said they've reached their limit and can't commit themselves to doing more and one in three said they always have more things on their to-do lists than they can get done, the survey found.
- Sixty percent of respondents in the study said they have more than 60 personal and work-related tasks to accomplish each week, while 15% have more than 100 tasks. Respondents said their lists become overgrown because they want to be accommodating, helpful and polite (73%), they have a tendency to solve problems (56%) and no clear limits or rules about which tasks they should accept or reject exist (39%).
- Respondents reported their overcommitment created negative side effects. Half said they are moderately stressed, while 35% said they are highly stressed and 9% said they are very highly stressed. More than half of respondents (52%) said they worry about disappointing themselves or others and 20% said they regret taking on so many tasks in the first place.
People who depend on to-do lists in the workplace might have deadlines connected with their tasks, which can pile on the pressure to get things done. Rather than help workers manage tasks and stay organized, lengthy to-do lists can make workers less productive due to the stress and anxiety that results from the demand to meet so many deadlines. Worse yet, this pressure can harm their health and home life. A study of U.S.- and U.K.-based workers released in September found that 94% of them reported high levels of work-related stress, and 54% said stress caused them to lose sleep. When such a high percentage of workers feel stressed, employers might consider intervening.
There's also a business case to be made for considering employees' stress levels. Along with causing chronic health conditions, including fatigue, depression, high blood pressure and other disorders, too much stress over a long period of time can cause workers to disengage, which costs employers up to $500 billion in lost productivity every year.
HR can work with managers to identify overwhelmed workers, review their workloads and adjust assignments, if necessary, to relieve stress. Offering employees work-at-home options could help relieve the stress of handling home and work responsibilities. HR leaders can make training in time-management — a crucial and in-demand soft skill — part of employees' learning and development programs to help workers prioritize tasks on their to-do lists and meet their commitments.