6 Signs of Overworking and What to Do When You Spot Them

Macgill Davis

The signs of overworking are persistent in our work culture — and they're not subtle anymore. According to one WHO study, in 2016, almost 750,000 people worldwide died of ischemic heart disease and strokes related to overwork.

For many people, work-life balance has never been worse, and companies across the globe are doing their best to combat overworking in the workplace. For example, LinkedIn recently gave the entire company a paid week off in an attempt to prevent burnout and support wellness.

That's a generous gesture, but it's not enough. The global company culture needs to change profoundly to support employees’ health and happiness at their jobs. You can initiate that change by spotting warning signs of overwork in your own work schedule. Then, take steps to minimize them before you hit the wall of fatigue and burnout.

This article will help you do exactly that.

How Overworking Damages Your Physical and Mental Health

Signs of overworking: A woman rests on her couch with her feet up after a long day

Studies show that the benefits of working extra hours for your productivity are few to none. Henry Ford realized that early in the 20th century. That's when he decided to give employees at his factories two days off a week, instead of one. He discovered this contributed to them being more productive, not less.

While overworking doesn't lead to higher output, it can have serious negative health effects from the stress. Below are just a few them:

The extreme form of overwork is burnout. According to the WHO, it's not a single health condition but rather a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."

Before you reach that critical threshold, you can hopefully spot some early signs of overworking and catch yourself before you hit the wall. Below, we list six of the most common warning signs to look out for.

6 Common Signs of Overworking You Can Spot Before You Burn Out

Signs of overworking: A stressed man sits behind his computer at work

These are the most common signs of overworking present in our culture. See if you can identify any of these in your work routine.

1. Working Long Hours

This first point seems obvious, but can you say exactly how many hours you worked this week? You might have a rough idea, but without using a manual time log or an automated time tracker like Rize, it’s hard to know the exact number of work hours you put in each day.

Tracking your work hours has many benefits. One of them is helping to prevent work from creeping into your personal life. Note down if you find yourself consistently putting in extra hours through late nights and weekends. Working too many long hours is the leading indicator of burnout.

2. Feeling Constantly Anxious and Stressed

Overworking can have devastating effects on your psyche. That's because your brain learns through repetition. If you’re constantly overworked, your brain begins to default to an anxious state, even when there’s nothing to be anxious about.

This can quickly bleed outside of work and into your personal life. If you find you can’t relax, even when things are calm around you, this may be a warning sign you’re approaching burnout.

That happens because your stress hormones are being released pretty much all the time. You can't sustain it for long without it taking a toll on your health and wellbeing.

3. Difficulty Focusing on Tasks

Have you ever experienced this? You sit down to work, but you can’t focus on one task. This is, of course, natural from time to time. But when brain fog and lack of concentration become the norm, this is a telltale sign something's off.

When you’re overworked, your ability to focus suffers. Asking your brain to focus is similar to asking your legs to sprint. If your legs are overworked and exhausted, you won’t be able to sprint quickly. Push them too long and you won’t even be able to walk or stand. When overworked, your brain is similarly exhausted. 

You can’t ask your mind to put in a 12-hour day of hard work every day, just like you can’t ask your body to run a marathon every day.

4. Daily Tasks Taking Longer and Longer to Finish

One study showed that there’s an optimal level of busyness — a sweet spot that maximizes your productivity. Another study showed that a certain amount of busyness increased motivation and task completion time. However, if you surpass that optimal level, your motivation and productivity begin to suffer.

Overwork reduces motivation as well as your ability to work efficiently. If you feel your productivity slipping when you had few difficulties before, it may be that you're approaching burnout.

5. Unmotivated to Get Into Work

As mentioned, working too many extra hours reduces motivation. You’re likely to dread coming into work and struggle to get out of bed in the morning — even if you used to enjoy it in the past.

One manifestation of that may be relying on stimulants to get you going. If you're finding yourself loading up on coffee, sugar, alcohol, or other substances, it may be an indicator that, deep down, you started resenting the idea of going to work.

Such a drop in motivation may suggest that you simply have too much on your plate.

6. Deteriorating Physical Health

In Japan, there’s a word for “death from overworking” — karoshi. Studies show that increased stress levels caused by overworking often lead to numerous short-term and long-term health problems, including those that contribute to premature deaths.

Some of them may seem like insignificant physical symptoms at first. You may learn to ignore recurring headaches, muscle aches, or ulcers. However, in the long term, being overworked can lead to more significant health problems, such as:

  • Getting sick more than usual
  • Experiencing weight loss from lack of appetite or weight gain from an unhealthy diet and missed workouts
  • Having increased blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease

You shouldn’t ignore any of these symptoms. This is your body’s way of trying to communicate that something’s off balance.

6 Ways to Stop Overworking and Prevent Burnout

A woman stretches while sitting in her desk chair

The hard truth is, if you don't take charge of your work-life balance, no one else will do it for you. Of course, you may be a part of a very unhealthy company culture that normalizes overworking. We'll cover that in one of the points below. However, there are often things you can do to prevent spiraling into burnout. Below are six practical tips to implement if you want to work smarter, not harder.

1. Take Regular Breaks Throughout the Day

Taking breaks is a simple and easy way to improve productivity and reduce burnout. You can try out a technique like Pomodoro and work for a set period of time followed by a break. You can also take a break by going for a walk or chatting with a coworker.

R‍emember to instill both short and long breaks into your workday. The first type serves you to temporarily take your mind off work and recalibrate. The second type is for recuperating and gathering energy for the next part of the day.

2. Set Hard Times to Start and Stop Working

Creating a work schedule is an easy way to combat overwork — especially when working remotely. For starters, simply pick a time to start and stop your workday. Make it non-negotiable, so your work is contained within a certain number of hours.

Once you hit your stop time, turn off notifications, and stop checking Gmail or Slack. This tip comes recommended by Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work. Without setting hard limits, work can easily spill into your personal life and make it hard for you to rest and unplug.

3. Track Your Time

Tracking your time has numerous benefits, including preventing overtime. As mentioned before, overworking often creeps up gradually. With a time tracker like Rize, you can track your hours for each workweek and learn where your time is going. This will help you spot the days and weeks you're working overtime — and balance them with time off.

Furthermore, we often forget how much work we actually put in each day. Having your time tracked, you can feel confident you spent enough time working while also ensuring you don’t go overboard.

4. Focus on 1-3 Important Tasks a Day

This one is a no-brainer and, at the same time, a really powerful tool. Each day, prioritize your top one to three tasks that you need to get done. Then, focus on executing those tasks. 

If you finish early, take the rest of the day off. This will incentivize you to be efficient, rather than fill up your work time to the brim. Continuing to take on tasks, even if you completed your plan early, can incentivize you to not work efficiently in the future.

5. Prioritize Health

All too often, we postpone taking care of our health until "we have time for it." Healthcare is seen as something we access after we already experience health problems. Instead, it should be a preventive measure.

Making time for exercise, eating healthy, and resting shouldn't feel like something you have to "earn" by working hard. Instead, it should be a prerequisite for doing your best work. After all, what good does it do to be extremely successful if you can’t enjoy it because of poor health?

6. Get a New Job

Your company work culture and your team members are major determining factors for overwork. You can make endless personal changes, but if you are part of a team that's not committed to your mental health, you will be fighting a losing battle.

As a last resort, you should consider changing your job to truly prevent burnout. While that’s a hefty decision to make, the mental and physical benefits of a healthy work-life balance far exceed those any job can offer.

Rebel Against the Culture of Overwork

In today’s work climate, you need to be proactive to keep good work habits. With our current culture, the default expectation is to be connected and online all the time. Without being deliberate about how you spend our time, you can easily slip into overworking and burnout. 

In order to stay sharp, you need to be aware of how much time you’re putting in at work and when it’s time to stop. If you're finding it hard to get the hang of it by yourself, a time tracker like Rize may help. Try it out for 14 days for free.