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Speak Business English Like an American Lesson 21 Idioms and Expressions Test

Speak Business English Like an American Lesson 21 Idioms and Expressions Test

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LESSON 21 – 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.

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