Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 41;   October 12, 2011: How to Stop Being Overworked: I

How to Stop Being Overworked: I

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If you feel overworked, you probably are. Here are some tactics for those who want to bring an end to it, or at least, lighten the load.
A member of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus keeps 60 hula hoops going at once during her pre-show act March 27, 2008

Looking like a human Slinky toy, a member of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus keeps 60 hula-hoops going at once during her pre-show act March 27, 2008. With enough skill, it's possible to manage large numbers of hula-hoops. But no amount of skill is enough to manage some else's hula-hoop. Stay in your own hula-hoop. Or hula-hoops. Photo by Samantha Quigley, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs.

Last time we described some of the ways people acquire more work than they can handle. Sources include job design, assignments by supervisors, a sense of obligation, political tactics, and many more. Let's turn now to strategies and tactics that can reduce your workload while maintaining your image as a productive, dedicated team member or employee.

Ask for help
Asking for help can be difficult. For some of us, asking for help is equivalent to admitting deficiency, because we feel that all requests of us are by definition reasonable.
Reasonableness is subjective. A request is reasonable only if you regard it as reasonable. When someone else considers a request of you to be reasonable, that might be interesting, but it isn't definitive. You are the ultimate arbiter of reasonableness.
Asking for help doesn't mean that you're unable to do the work. It might mean that you're unable to do the work in the time required, due to other demands on your time.
Ask for time
The key For some of us, asking
for help is equivalent to
admitting deficiency
to keeping your workload light is preventing the arrival of new tasks and responsibilities. And the most effective preventer is the perception by others that you have responsibilities more important than whatever they were about to pass along to you.
One way to build this perception is to ask for more time to complete a task. But don't ask for more time after you've committed to a particular deadline. Ask instead before you commit — make it part of your agreement to take on the task.
The general formula is "Yes, I can do that, but I would need a little more time to do it than you had in mind. I can do it by X." You might not get what you're asking for, but the requestor, and any other observers, will gain an appreciation for your workload, and that could deter any additional requests.
Stay in your own hula-hoop
Controlling the urge to take on work voluntarily can be difficult. Work that remains undone, and which blocks your own progress, is especially tempting, as is work that a political rival wants to do. To control these urges, remember the hula-hoop metaphor.
The essential idea is that doing your own work becomes impossible when you start trying to do the work of others. If you try to do your own job and some else's too, you'll do neither well.
Whenever you find yourself considering taking on a new responsibility, ask yourself, "Why am I considering doing this?"

These three strategies are powerful, but they don't cover every case that can lead to overload. For instance, they don't help defend against the abusive supervisor who knowingly overloads subordinates. Abusive overloading is the topic for next time. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: How to Stop Being Overworked: II  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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Although many of us are overloaded as a result of our own choices, some are overloaded by abusive supervisors. If you find yourself in that situation, what can you do?
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Most job descriptions contain few references to political effectiveness, beyond the fairly standard collaborate-to-achieve-results kinds of requirements. But because true achievement often requires political sophistication, understanding the political content of our jobs is important.

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's concept of possible colonies on future mars missionsComing June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningAnd on July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.

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Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

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