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 deficiencyto 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 Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on November 28: Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI
- Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" seem valid often enough that we accept them as universal and permanent. Most aren't. Here's Part VI of a collection of widely held beliefs that can be misleading at work. Available here and by RSS on November 28.
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- Many people 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.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.