Woman sitting down with a cup of coffee and taking a break from work to pace herself

How To Pace Yourself At Work

In university or while completing internships, we know that our tasks, projects or assignments will reach an “end”. With clearly defined end dates, such as submission dates or the end of the industrial training, we can then rest or take a breather after. However, one of the things I learned as a young working adult is that work simply never ends. Oftentimes we view work and projects as a sprint, but it’s actually more of a marathon. 


Sometimes we just want to get things over or done with, or sometimes we’re over enthusiastic and sign ourselves up for too much. However, when we get too excited about work, we also overload too much on ourselves and risk burnout. As such, it’s important to pace ourselves as employees. Here’s how you can do it:



1. Don’t just manage your time, manage your energy.

Woman jogging at her own pace

It’s not realistic to jam-pack our 8-hour schedules with 8-hours’ worth of productive work. There are many methods and best practices to organize your tasks and your time, however, sometimes when you do not have the mental capacity or mental energy, you simply cannot complete a task. It doesn’t then indicate that you are incompetent or inefficient, you just need to start taking into consideration how mentally draining some tasks could be. 


Rather than just prioritizing tasks based on importance or urgency, start also thinking about how much cognitive capacity it requires. For example, administrative processes might take a lot of time but not much mental capacity; however, meetings (even short ones) might take a huge toll on you mentally. You might think you are trying to be effective, but you might be stuck in tasks or meetings you are unable to fully contribute to because you’re too tired. As such, think through the types of work you engage in and identify how much energy it requires, then schedule a balanced day of work to maximize productivity.


For further reading, check out this article on carving out the perfect morning routine to stay focused at work.



2. Don’t give up, take breaks.

Woman sitting down with a cup of coffee and taking a break from work to pace herself

Don’t underestimate the power of short tea breaks (grabbing a KitKat would actually make a huge difference) and week-long getaways. You don’t get rewarded for having a full attendance at work; in fact, your annual leaves are a right – so utilize it and not waste a single day (because you don’t get to exchange them for money!).

If you keep pushing yourself to try harder and persevere, you might reach a breaking point. This affects your overall performance, mood and even your work and personal relationships. You might end up raging and quitting, or projecting your anger onto your colleagues – this is unhealthy both for your own life and for the workplace environment. You don’t ever have to feel bad for taking breaks, it’s actually necessary to rejuvenate in order to perform better. Just like how even F1 cars need pit stops, taking meaningful breaks could prevent accidents or mistakes.



3. Be honest when you’re on the brink.

Be open to communicating about your bandwidth and tell your Managers when you feel overwhelmed and overloaded. You might not be in a position to say ‘no’ to tasks easily but you can always address it with your superiors and have them deliberate on how to better utilize the department’s resources. Discuss opportunities to hand over or to focus on things based on your actual scope and skillsets. You might feel like you are disappointing your Managers when you tell them this, but it is actually more harmful to be on the brink of burnout and produce lower quality work than to pretend you have it all together. 


Of course, how you address it matters:

    • Be thankful for the trust and opportunities given
    • Address the fact that you are willing to try, but need more support
    • Admit your weaknesses before they point them out
    • Tell them that you would be able to perform better if you’re allowed to focus


For example, “I appreciate the opportunity to be involved in different projects. However, I realize that the added workload distracts me from what I do best. I noticed that the quality of my work has lowered because too much is expected of me, which I am personally unsatisfied with. I want to do better, but I believe I can only excel if I am allowed to focus…” 


Your Managers might be more open to conversations than you think – they might just be waiting to hear from you, all you need to do is speak up.


4. Save some for later.

You might have a lot of exciting ideas you really want to execute, but the reality is that one can only do that many things at one time. Delaying it doesn’t mean it’s not as important, you’re just saving it for later. It is always better to roll something out when you have the capacity to fully focus on it than to attempt multitasking and end up producing mediocre quality work.

Woman smiling at her laptop as she works

As tempting as it is to just “send out one last email”, or “just review it one more time”, if it can be saved until later, just wait. This is so that:

  • You have an opportunity for a final check when you are alert
  • Delivering work after office hours might actually disturb people’s personal boundaries
  • Small tasks would build up and take a toll on you in the long-run
  • You are building up a reputation that you will be ready to deliver after-hours (which isn’t going to help you in the future)


In fact, knowing that you have something exciting to work on keeps you motivated!



Always remember that you need to be mentally healthy in order to produce high-quality work. So, don’t dismiss the need to pause or rest, but learn to pace yourself – after all, you’re going to be working for a very long time. Run it like a marathon, not a sprint.


Struggling with burnout? Here are 5 practical ways to deal with work burnout amidst working from home. You can also check out this article on how to overcome the afternoon slump when you’re at work!

Change Management Consultant by day, writer by other parts of the day - because at night I sleep. Being funny is my self-proclaimed strength and I enjoy talking about politics, social issues and faith.

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