Four people sit and stand around a table in an editorial office, looking at mock-ups of a magazine cover and printouts of photos. On the left side of the table, two women look at the cover. The woman closer to the viewer has brown hair pulled back into a bun; she is holding a mock-up of the cover and is pointing to something on the image. The woman next to her has long blonde hair and wears a yellow sweater. She looks at the magazine cover in the other woman's hand. On the right side of the table, an older man in a blue sweater takes a page of printed photos from someone in a gray striped sweater, who is mostly offscreen. A larger version of the magazine cover can be seen out of focus, attached to an easel a few feet away from the table.
When splitting up work between employees, assign tasks based on each team member's strengths and the speed at which they work best. — Getty Images/South_agency

An unmanageable workload can be one of the leading causes of employee burnout. When one of your team members has too much to do, and not enough time to do it, they can quickly get too stressed and creep towards burnout. Follow these tips to set fair deadlines and avoid over-assigning work to your employees.

Start by mapping out the project requirements

At the beginning of a specific project or an average workweek, start by mapping out what needs to be accomplished within a certain time frame. Make sure you know the type and amount of work required to achieve the goal of the week or the project outcomes. A team manager, for instance, should put together a list of projects and processes for which the team is responsible, including any cross-functional work to which employees will need to contribute.

This bird’s-eye view can help you understand how to divvy up the work evenly.

Prioritize work based on urgency and importance

Next, figure out what your team members need to tackle first. Prioritization is key to helping employees manage their own time autonomously.

“Distinguishing an important task from an unimportant one will help your employees use their time and efforts better and move the project in the right direction,” wrote Time Doctor. “It helps prevent the team from changing course mid-project, something which could pile up the work and put the team under stress.”

It’s often helpful to break big projects out into smaller daily or weekly steps with estimated deadlines. This process can help an employee manage their own daily tasks to meet project milestones at their own pace.

[Read more: The Best Ways to Measure Employee Productivity (Even When They Work Remotely)]

Some managers make the mistake of only accounting for each employee’s time spent on projects.

Clarify roles and responsibilities

Delegating tasks can be tricky, especially since each team member has different strengths and capacities to take on work. It’s essential to avoid overloading your high performers and ignoring those who work slower since both results end in disengagement or burnout.

Julie Morgenstern, productivity expert and author of Never Check E-Mail in the Morning, says a fair and mindful delegation strategy requires ensuring each team member knows their role.

“Each person is a player, and the surer [you and they are] of their roles and responsibilities, the easier it is for you to assign work, review work, and demand excellence,” she said in Harvard Business Review.

Set aside time each week to assign tasks according to each worker’s specific function, position, and strengths. Periodically perform a skills gap analysis that can illuminate the need for training or hiring someone with certain expertise.

[Read more: 5 Things That Cause Employee Burnout and How to Avoid Them]

Account for admin time

Some managers make the mistake of only accounting for each employee’s time spent on projects. There are dozens of other tasks that also require the attention of your team throughout the workday. Factor these needs into account when dividing up project deadlines.

“Once you’ve taken into account meetings, vacations, and recurring responsibilities, how much does each team member have left to devote to these projects? Assess each team member’s workload, or ask them to do so for you, to get a sense of what else they can take on,” wrote Asana.

Great managers also account for a team member’s personal life. Build one-on-one relationships with your team members so they feel comfortable sharing other priorities they have outside work. Family care, school, and other priorities outside of work can drain an individual and lower their bandwidth for work-related tasks.

Use project-tracking tools

Project management tools can help make workflows more transparent. Assigning tasks and deadlines in a platform like Asana, Trello, JIRA, or Wrike can show everyone the status of smaller tasks, deadlines, and works in progress. These tools can also help you measure someone’s capacity: If you note an employee consistently delivering late, that’s a flag you should check in and see if they may be experiencing burnout.

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