Speak Business English Like an American » LESSON 21 - Explaining that You're Feeling Overworked

Explaining that You're Feeling Overworked

Mary is feeling overwhelmed between commitments at home and at work. Dan advises her to be patient and stay focused. Things will improve once their busy period at the office is over.

Dan: Mary, why weren't you at the staff meeting this morning? We all missed you.

Mary: Oh, it completely slipped my mind.

Dan: How could you forget? These meetings are not optional.

Mary: I'm feeling so stressed out these days. Sometimes I don't know whether I'm coming or going!

Dan: Well, it is crunch time right now. Things will settle down after tax season is over.

Mary: I hope so. I am wiped out after putting in 60-hour weeks at the office and taking care of my five kids and sick mother.

Dan: Wow, you really do have a lot on your plate.

Mary: Yeah, I can hardly keep my head above water. Maybe I should scale back my hours.

Dan: Just hang in there a little longer. After April 15th, it'll quiet down around here. For now, keep your nose to the grindstone and focus on getting your most important work done.

Mary: You're right. I need to remember the 80/20 rule. I get 80 percent of my results from just 20 percent of my activities. Now if I could only figure out what that 20 percent is!

  • slip one's mind
    be forgotten
    EXAMPLE: Sorry I didn't send out that memo last Friday. To be honest with you, it slipped my mind.

    NOTE: Notice that the subject is "it" in the expression "it slipped my mind," making this the passive voice. It's like this unknown "it" is responsible for the fact that you forgot to do something. In contrast, "I forgot" is the active voice. You are taking more responsibility (and possibly more blame) when you say, "I forgot."

  • stressed out
    under severe strain; very anxious; very nervous
    EXAMPLE: After hearing a rumor that there were going to be layoffs at her company, Barbara was really stressed out.
  • I don't know whether I'm coming or going
    I'm so busy, I can barely think clearly; I'm not focused; I'm distracted
    EXAMPLE: I accidentally sent an e-mail complaining about my boss to the boss himself! I don't whether I'm coming or going today.
  • crunch time
    a short period when there's high pressure to achieve a result
    EXAMPLE: It's crunch time for stem cell researchers in Korea. New government regulations may soon make their work illegal.
  • (to) settle down
    to calm down; to become quiet
    EXAMPLE: The mall is very busy in November and December, but after the holidays, things settle down.
  • wiped out
    very tired; exhausted
    EXAMPLE: Ken traveled to Russia, India, and China all in one week. No wonder he's wiped out!
  • (to) have a lot on one's plate
    to have a lot to do; to have too much to do; to have too much to cope with
    EXAMPLE: Carlos turned down the project, explaining that he already had a lot on his plate.

    NOTE: There is also the variation: to have too much on one's plate.

  • (to) keep one's head above water
    to survive; to get by; to survive financial difficulties
    EXAMPLE: Thanks to this new contract, we'll be able to keep our head above water for another six months.
  • (to) scale back one's hours
    to reduce the number of hours one works
    EXAMPLE: When Christine had a baby, she decided to scale back her hours and just work part-time.

    SYNONYM: to cut back one's hours

  • hang in there
    be patient; don't get discouraged
    EXAMPLE: Your company lost a million dollars last quarter? Hang in there. You'll do better next quarter.
  • (to) keep one's nose to the grindstone
    to focus on one's work; to focus on working hard
    EXAMPLE: Unfortunately, I can't come to happy hour tonight. I need to keep my nose to the grindstone and finish a proposal I'm working on.

    ORIGIN: A grindstone is a stone disk used for sharpening tools or grinding grain. To work the grindstone, you need to bend over it with your nose close to the stone.

  • (the) 80/20 rule
    the principle that 80 percent of results are achieved through just 20 percent of activities
    EXAMPLE: By applying the 80/20 rule, Marcy was able to reduce the number of tasks she does during the work day.
Practice The Idioms

Choose the best substitute for the phrase or sentence in bold:

  1. Kate said she didn't have time to help you? I'm not surprised, since she has a lot on her plate right now.
    • a) she's very busy these days
    • b) she's taken too much food
    • c) she doesn't really like to help people
  2. Instead of retiring, Joyce decided to keep working and just scale back her hours.
    • a) increase the number of hours she works
    • b) retire in a few years
    • c) reduce the number of hours she works
  3. You've been at the office every night until midnight for the past three months? Hang in there. In just a few more weeks, the busy period will probably be over.
    • a) Quit your job.
    • b) Be patient.
    • c) Keep complaining.
  4. Tanya works all day and goes to school every evening. No wonder she's wiped out.
    • a) exhausted
    • b) sick
    • c) full of energy
  5. At the tax consulting firm, March and April are crunch time.
    • a) a relaxing time
    • b) a slow period
    • c) a very busy period
  6. You asked me to buy you a bamboo vase on my business trip to Hanoi? I'm sorry, but it slipped my mind!
    • a) you never asked me for that
    • b) I forgot
    • c) I didn't get a chance
  7. Eva is working full-time while studying for her MBA and taking care of her two small kids. I don't know how she can keep her head above water.
    • a) No wonder she has no time to go swimming.
    • b) I don't know how she manages.
    • c) I don't know what she does with all her free time.
  8. If you want to pass the CPA exam, you'd better keep your nose to the grindstone and stop going out every night to party.
    • a) focus on studying
    • b) focus on having fun
    • c) keep your nose out of other people's business
Answer Key
Practice The Idioms
  1. a
  2. c
  3. b
  4. a
  5. c
  6. b
  7. b
  8. a
Answer Key
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