Author: Hussain Mir Ali

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Heuristic Techniques to Tackle Overwork

In this blog post, I have discussed how the intensity of work plays a role in a person's productivity. I have also technically analyzed the phenomenon of overwork and stagnation. And how work-life balance can be achieved using simple techniques.

Stagnation and Overwork

Stagnation and overwork are the two extreme states that spring forth from a person's drive to be productive. It either allows the person to achieve big goals or can slow them down to a turtle's pace. This concept is key to a healthy work-life balance so it should be further understood.

To better understand the concepts of stagnation and overwork I have created a chart named Figure 1.0. Where the y-axis represents work intensity and the x-axis represents time. The horizontal blue line which represents y = 0 is the most balanced work intensity a person can practice to their convenience. In such a work style, the person is neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed from their work. The work is equally challenging and engaging. Above y = 0 on the extreme side is there is an overwork threshold which is relative to the individual. Similarly below y = 0 on the extreme side, there is a stagnation threshold which is also relative to the individual. It is advisable to keep both the thresholds equidistant from the equilibrium for better work management.

Figure 1.0

The green wave oscillating plot represents the deviation of actual work intensity from the equilibrium. It is best to keep the deviation from the equilibrium at a minimum so that the recovery can be made quickly and with the least effort.

Figure 2.0

In the case when the work intensity is so high that it passes above the overwork threshold then it may lead to acute health issues in the short-term or chronic health issues in the long-term. Then recovering and staying at the equilibrium might be a challenge as trying to quickly recover from overwork can cause stagnation and overall slow down as in Figure 2.0. This will lead to a loss of productivity over many such iterations.

Figure 3.0

When starting with a new job or a new project the work intensity may be high at the start. Then as progress is made the work intensity should converge to equilibrium.

Schedule Reversal

Sometimes starting the day off with stressful tasks can slow down the entire day or on the contrary, a person might be more productive with stressful tasks in the morning. To tackle this issue the work schedule can be reversed by either doing difficult tasks at the start of the day or the end of the day. This can be done daily or on odd days of the week so that the work intensity remains closer to the equilibrium and it follows a sine wave pattern comparable to Figure 1.0.


Breaking up high work intensity tasks into different portions over time dampens the adverse effects of such tasks. Doing high work intensity tasks in between low-intensity tasks can help oneself stay within the thresholds.

Perceived Work Intensity

While doing tasks that don't align with one's interests and values the perceived work intensity may seem higher than what it is. And this is more amplified when doing tasks that one doesn't like and that also require high work intensity. For this reason, such tasks should be batched or completely avoided. Otherwise, the result can be the same as in Figure 2.0. The number of tasks at hand can also be reduced to only work on select few tasks, this will improve the perceived work intensity. Additionally, the perceived work intensity can feel manageable if the work environment is healthy and welcoming.

Work is a very substantial and crucial aspect of life. Care must be taken to manage overwork and avoid repercussions like burnout and detriment to health. The techniques of batching, schedule reversal and perceived work intensity can help in achieving work-life balance.