The Big Picture: How to AVOID Being Really, Really Busy

As a sequel to my last post (how to deal with being really, really busy), I want to spend a little bit of time talking about what you can do to avoid getting to the point of work overload.

In truth, sometimes there is nothing you can do. To be frank, the same is often true as you become more senior. This is a service industry, after all.

That said, here are my tips at two important points in your work cycle…

When your workload is slow: When your work slows down, you might find yourself feeling anxious about it.  Those of you with a billable hour requirement are especially prone to a case of nerves when you experience a lull in work.  But before you ask around for a new case, check in with your current case teams.  Just because you’re slow now, does not mean you’re going to be slow in a few days.

You can even ask whether they think it’s a good idea for you to take on a new case.  Note that no one is likely to tell you one way or the other – I get this question frequently, and I am hesitant to give someone a hard yes or no about joining a new case. It’s their responsibility to figure out what they can handle. But I will always provide some sense of the future on my case, letting them know if I expect to have provide fulltime work for them in the next month or if they can expect to bill just 10 or 20 hours a week.

When you are asked to join a new case team: Before you join a new team, be upfront with your new supervisors about what you have on your plate. Do this if you reach out for new work, or if you are “volunteered” to staff a case without asking for new work.

This is important for two reasons. First, it allows your new team to understand your bandwidth from the start, which helps them figure out whether you are the best addition to the team. Second, it helps manage their expectations going forward. They should not expect you to commit fulltime hours if you said your prior caseload required 25 hours a week.

Bottom line: It is a million times easier to say no to new work than to turn down work on a case to which you are already staffed.

Pic Credit: Chris Adamus (via