I would like to know what people on here do when they have a workload which is at maximum, and then they find a task they have runs over time. Examples:

  • Technical tasks which are difficult to solve and there appears to be no available help
  • Full/Busy work days and another project/job/task arrives which cannot be avoided
  • Deadlines are very close but something needs changing at the last minute to solve a problem, but this would cause the deadline (and possibly others) to be missed

While I realise most people will answer with responses such as:

  • Keep your manager informed of progress
  • Track how much you have going on and try to set realistic expectations
  • etc

What are other things one can do when they realise they are in a bind at the 11th hour?

One final example, which is much more close to home than the generic scenarios above, would be:

  • Numerous deadlines are very close and the technical challenges which appeared solved, now appear more complex and unsolved and I am responsible for solving them, which will require a lot more thinking time/investigation, while I'm suddenly given support of something/someone to do which requires even more of my time

I would request that, before answering, you consider a very real situation which you had previously that you perhaps failed at dealing with suitably, but which you now do not because you have the experience/knowledge to handle.

  • 4
    I read, years ago, about Military Close Air Support talking about the US Marine Corps: "Don't wait until you are up to your neck in Alligators before calling for CAS" Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 17:00

5 Answers 5


I would request that, before answering, you consider a very real situation which you had previously that you perhaps failed at dealing with suitably, but which you now do not because you have the experience/knowledge to handle.

A skill which is very useful, but not very intuitive at first is the ability to say "no". Early in my career I was under the impression that doing what my boss wanted was the number one priority and that my boss knew in detail about my workload.

That is obviously wrong.

So when somebody comes with another task on top of my current tasks, I will say "sorry, my plate is full already. I can take your issue with me into our next regular planing meeting and we will discuss priority and timeline there with my boss and I will give you feedback on the timeline. If it is more urgent, please talk to my boss directly."

If it is my boss, either because it was my boss in the first place, or because they had the direct talk mentioned above, I will not say "yes", but I will say "I can do that, but my plate is full, if I am to work on this, we need to drop something else".

In other words, do not accept to be overloaded with tasks.

Because in the end, bosses don't really care when something gets done. If it gets done later, they have staff to sell this to customers. What they really care about is reliability. So if they say it's done on Friday and their staff sells the customer the idea that it's done Friday, then it better be done on Friday. They care for consistency on being perceived as keeping their word. Whether it actually is "Friday" or you plan for "next Tuesday" from the beginning is not going to make or break anything.

So learn to say "no". Learn to not just take it all and then don't deliver because there is no way you could. Say "no" as soon as possible. Then your boss can plan for "next Tuesday" instead and everybody is happy.

  • 1
    "Sure, I can do that, but it will take attention away from other things I'm doing and delay them. What are you willing to let slide?"
    – keshlam
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 1:17
  • Accepting undeliverable tasks is actually a fault of the employee. I was guilty of this too. Nice answer.
    – Guarneer
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 9:05

"Keep your manager informed" is actually the central thing. Your manager is the one who should set priorities, redistribute work, etc.

In an ideal world, the manager would become aware of problems at a time when they can still make effective decisions, but sometimes problems only become visible when it's too late, and then damage containment is the goal.

When I actually got into unresolvable problems, the reason in most cases was not informing my manager early enough (or them not taking my warning seriously).

The one thing that won't normally work is to continue doing the same thing and increase your effort when it's too late and a change of direction is required.


In a port, when a cargo ship is being loaded, there's an officer (usually, a second captain) who's responsible for "towing and loading". You have the same in your company, it's called a manager.

At this time, you're overloaded. The ship might sink. Please refer to the officer. Now.

Document your workload, time-consuming tasks, and let them prioritize what has to be.

You ask for experience? I've been overloaded. More than once. Tried and did my best, worked harder and longer. Couldn't fulfill all assignements. Talked to my manager, and he realized I was overloaded, so they lightened the burden.

Now, as my own manager, anytime I feel like being overloaded soon, I stop and reorganize my duties. The Eisenhower matrix helps you decide on and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance, sorting out less urgent and important tasks which you should either delegate or not do at all.

This is where talking to your manager helps.


If it's out of your control then don't stress out on that fact. Concentrate on mitigating the problems as quickly and professionally as possible. Whoever needs to know, let them know. But make a solid plan to get things working without worrying about how the poo hit the fan, it's already hit, the time to stop that happening has passed.

A lot of my work over the last decade plus was fixing other peoples issues when everyone had given up or panicked and gotten sick and stopped answering their phones. You just focus on the solutions, it's just work.

Deadlines can change, there may be repercussions, but you factor those in to your mitigation strategy as well.


You have been assigned another task, which combined with your first task is overloading you... You don't have enough hours in the day/time/energy whatever to do both at once.

Sounds like its time to talk to your manager.

Say something like "Problem xyz is a lot larger of a time commitment than I thought, I am worried that I cannot provide good support and keep abc on schedule. Which task do you want me to prioritize?"

Good manager will let you know which task to focus on and which task can lie on the backburner for a while.

I would recommend having this conversation in email.

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