One morning in early January, I met a friend in a café and told her that I was easing myself back into work after the holidays. By using this phrase ‘to ease myself (back) into work’, I meant that I was slowly starting to work again after a period without work (I planned to answer a few emails and get in touch with a couple of colleagues – not exactly hard work!). I added that I fully intended to knuckle down the following week, meaning that I planned to start working hard that week. Funnily enough, I could also have used the rhyming phrasal verb buckle down here, which means the same thing. After using these two phrases I started to think about all the other phrasal verbs that we use to describe how much or how little we are working or studying and decided to use this post to share them with you.
We use a number of slightly informal phrasal verbs to mean ‘to work or study hard and in a determined way’. For example, we might say that someone is plugging away or (UK) beavering away: I’ve been plugging away at this report all day, hoping to get it finished./She’s been beavering away at her essay since eight o’clock this morning. The particle ‘away’ here means ‘continuously, or in a busy way’ and is sometimes used after other informal verbs that mean ‘work’, such asslog, slave or (UK) graft to emphasize that someone is working hard for a long period: I’ve been slaving away all day./He’s been slogging away in his office./He’s spent so long grafting away on the same piece of work.
If the amount of work that we have to do is increasing a lot – perhaps because we haven’t been working enough recently – we might say it is piling up: Exams are approaching and the work is starting to pile up. If, after a period of too much work, the amount of work decreases a little so that we can now deal with it more easily, we might say it eases up or eases off: I’ve had too much work these last three months but it’s starting to ease off now.
If we have too little paid work for a period but then we start to get more work, we might say work is starting to pick up: Work was quite quiet for a period but, thankfully, it’s just starting to pick up.