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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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Managing Pressure: The Unexpected
- When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this
happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing
- Impasses in Group Decision Making: I
- Groups sometimes find that although they cannot agree on the issue at hand in its entirety, they can
agree on some parts of it. Yet, they remain stuck, unable to reach a narrow agreement before moving
on to the more thorny areas. Why does this happen?
- Failure Foreordained
- Performance Improvement Plans help supervisors guide their subordinates toward improved performance.
But they can also be used to develop documentation to support termination. How can subordinates tell
whether a PIP is a real opportunity to improve?
- The Perils of Novel Argument
- When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence
are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at
a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen?
- Time to Let Go of Plan A
- We had a plan. It was a good one. Our plan seemed to work for a while. But then troubles began. And
now things look very bleak. But people can't let go of the plan. For some teams in this situation, there
isn't a Plan B. For others, Plan B is a secret.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
- And on December 14: Straw Man Variants
- The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.
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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.