Since the pandemic, millions of people have adjusted to their own homes becoming their offices, but over-reliance on screens and digital overload has taken a toll on productivity and mental wellness.

In workplaces that feel increasingly "always-on," the expectations put on workers are fast becoming unrealistic. The never-ending task lists have become longer than the amount of time they have available. So how can organizations better prioritize realistic weekly work plans that don't burn their employees out?

The recently published Task Management Trends Report, put out on behalf of Reclaim.ai, surveyed over 2,000 professionals to analyze how managers and team members are prioritizing and defending their time for focused work across their increasingly busy workweeks, using project management platforms such as Jira, Asana, Todoist, Trello, and ClickUp.

The report found that only 12.4 percent of workers can fully contribute more than six hours a day to their actual task work, and only 53.3 percent of time working on tasks is actually spent on productive work.

Managers themselves are struggling in this area, ranking their ability to minimize distractions and interruptions for their team at only 5.3 on a 1-10 scale. So, what exactly is making it so hard for people to get their work done?

Never-ending interruptions and distractions

Half of the reason is that employees are not being given the proper time to work. Between meetings and menial tasks, employees are facing near-constant distractions and interruptions that are directly affecting their ability to get work done.

According to the report, employees face on average:

  • 31.6 interruptions a day
  • 25.6 meetings per week
  • 1.96 hours a day of unproductive task work

Additionally, the average manager ranks their ability to defend their team from interruptions and distractions at 5.3 out of 10. To note, only 12.5 percent of managers ranked their ability above a 7.

Today's workforce is being bombarded by time-wasting tasks and meetings. If the average employee has 25.6 meetings per week, and if every meeting is a minimum of 30 minutes, that's 2.5 hours of meetings every single day, on average. This isn't taking into consideration meetings that may be longer than that. When 2.5 hours of your day are consumed by meetings (many of them for exchanges that could effectively be conducted over email), it's no wonder that employees don't have time to work.

Overworked and understaffed 

We've all heard the woes of employers everywhere trying to hire amidst the Great Resignation. With people's lives forcefully shifted due to the pandemic, employees are realizing more and more what they want and need from their employers. As a result, many are resigning, turning down low-paying offers, switching careers, and more. Due to the unprecedented understaffing companies are exercising, employees are being flooded with more work. In fact, 23.4 percent of people feel like their workload has increased directly due to the Great Resignation.

The analysis also showed only 53.5 percent of employees' weekly planned tasks get completed. Additionally, 13.1 percent of teams accomplish more than 70 percent of their planned tasks every week. This leaves most teams struggling to play catch up. Specifically, the survey found that 10.8 percent of the workweek is spent by people recovering and catching up after having to reprioritize their work.

Every day, employees are performing a juggling act with their responsibilities, often taking on the work of two or three people, with fewer hours in a day to get the work done.

Under stress and under pressure

When to-do lists keep growing and the hours on the clock keep on ticking, the lack of available time to meet deadlines begins to get to a person. According to Reclaim, 78.7 percent of people experience stress due to increasing tasks and lack of time to get it all done every week.

Trying to keep up has led to an inevitable burnout that far too many in the workforce are familiar with nowadays. In fact, according to FlexJobs, 75 percent of workers have experienced burnout, with 40 percent saying they've experienced burnout specifically during the pandemic.

A burned-out workforce is an unhealthy one -- it's unproductive, draining, and doesn't benefit anyone involved. And for many, the mental toll of the pandemic and the newly added challenges of working from home don't help. Employees working from home are feeling more pressure to stay glued to their screens for longer hours until all tasks are completed. And there's the problem: Everything will not get done because there will always be something else to do. But that doesn't stop people from feeling the pressure to work themselves to the bone.

So how do we combat this? It's not an easy answer. But ultimately, caring for your employees and their mental well-being needs to be a priority, whether this means hiring more people to better distribute tasks, switching certain meetings to emails, or just simply talking to your employees to figure out how they feel. What parts of their job are stressing them out the most? What do they feel like they never have time to do? Create an open line of communication, learn from your employees, and build an environment and workforce that operates in a way that gets work done.