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How to Avoid Taking on Too Much Work

Office files

4 reasons why you can’t say no to too much work

Let’s say you find yourself tasked with leading a new project – say it’s the rollout of a company-wide performance management system.

In your first strategy meeting your team determines that you need to conduct interviews with managers, create and validate metrics for making hiring and promotion decisions, and work with senior leaders to ensure the system is in keeping with corporate culture. As you begin to divide tasks, you volunteer to conduct the interviews because you are the project manager and you want to lead from the front. Then, you offer to take a second look at the metrics to give them a “second set of eyes”. Then, since you are leading the team, you begin meeting with senior leaders too. Before long you start to struggle to meet your commitments, and feel a growing resentment toward the rest of the team for not pulling their weight.

Does this pattern sound familiar to you? Outside of the specifics of the performance management project example, many of us take on too much work and this leads to resentment.

We often give a hundred reasons why we do take on so much work, to the point of not being able to do any of it well. However, they can generally be distilled into three categories.

We want to please

Regardless of whether you classify yourself as a “people pleaser” or not, everyone loves to feel needed and appreciated. However, typically people who struggle to say, “No” to a request have an intense fear of rejection or a fear of failure. Our early life experiences with especially harsh or critical parents can often result in the feeling that your inaction will result in the disappointment of your friends or colleagues. The desire to please is also deeply connected with anxiety, resentment, passive aggressive behavior, stress, and depression.

We have a lack of self-awareness

Self-awareness is one of those terms that everyone loves to throw around but few will do the difficult work to acquire. When we don’t have a good handle on our own capacity or ability level, it is easy to underestimate how much effort a certain task will require from us. If you continuously make work decisions with a lack of self-awareness, you will often find yourself buried under a mountain of tasks you do not have the ability to complete in a timely and efficient manner.

We don’t think we have a choice

The idea that you do not have a choice whether to take on a task is partly connected to a need to please and often connected to feelings of insecurity or anxiety. Once you begin making work decisions based on feelings of helplessness, resentment and anger soon follow. Before long, you are left feeling “stuck” or “trapped” in your job, even if it is something you previously enjoyed.

What to do instead

Fortunately, there are a few easy strategies to avoid taking on too much at work. First, learn how to wait. Often times people who take on too much do not wait for others to volunteer. Unless the task is something you are excited about, count to 20 and really consider the task before agreeing to it. Second, when faced with a person asking you to do something, ask three questions.

1. What is the specific task that is being requested? Many people love to make requests without completely formulating the task in question. When you ask a requester this question, it forces them to list out the particulars of the task at hand and allow you to determine if it is within your skill set and timeline or not.

2. Will I need to learn a new skill to complete this task? There are times in our careers when we are ready and able to learn a new skill that will benefit us in the long run. If your current workload allows for the time and effort it would require to learn a new skill and if you are interested in the new skill, go for it. If not, politely decline.

3. How does this task fit into my overall workload? If you have to juggle your existing schedule for anything other than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it’s okay to say “no” instead.

As difficult as it may be to say “no” at work, consider it a long-term investment in your career. Not only will you be perceived as an honest individual, you will be able to reliably meet the deadlines and demands placed on you. Feelings of anger and resentment will melt away and you may even find yourself with more time to pursue career advancement or skill development.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter-Diaz-AuthorPeter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

Connect with Peter Diaz on:
Peter Diaz on Google Plus Peter Diaz on Face Book Peter Diaz on LinkedIn

Bottom Line

Taking care of the bottom line through good mental health

I was reading an article from the UK about a lady who had a mental health crisis working in the retail industry, with a strict employer who constantly demanded their minimum wage employees push clients to spend thousands of pounds in one transaction. She talks about the high turnover rates among the 100 plus employees, and the impact the working environment had on her mental health.

And it got me thinking – how many employers are there out there who spend such a huge portion of their time, effort and resources focussing on creating sales, to generate higher and higher income, while at the same time they completely forget that the ways in which they treat their staff can end up costing them much, much more. Turnover is just one aspect of this – the cost of recruitment, and time spent hiring and training up a new employee. But then if it’s not a good working environment, it won’t be long before they are spending on more sick leave and having to replace that employee too. Not to mention the costs involved if someone actually puts in a stress claim! That can be a huge drain on the business.

Bottom lineAnd it’s not necessarily that managers or businesses are bad or evil. They are people too. And they are likely doing their best to keep everything running, to keep people in jobs. There is a lot of stress involved there too, and sometimes, in cases like this it can filter down to the frontline staff. Before you know it it’s a downward spiral.

BUT!!! it can so easily be reversed by:

1. Training managers in how to better support people within the workplace.

2. Making sure the managers have the support of the executive team – that they are committed to addressing mental health and wellbeing

3. Communicating the plan clearly to all staff, and following through.

Not only will this directly help the bottom line in terms of generating more income – the evidence is very clear that with a healthy and happy workforce, productivity, customer service, and all the other good stuff increases dramatically. But it will also have a huge impact in terms of the money saved in all those places where it is just being drained at the moment.

And besides the financial incentive, what about the fact that the people working in the business are real people too, with thoughts and feelings? Work is such a huge part of our lives, why not make it a pleasurable place to be, rather than one staff dread coming to each day. Now of course it doesn’t mean that you’ll stop all mental health problems – people are still people, and they still have personal lives too, but when someone does have something difficult happening in their personal life, the approach of the manager at work can make all the difference as to whether they spiral downwards and end up needing time off or whether work can become a haven for the person. This makes all the difference not just for the person, but for the business too.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter-Diaz-AuthorPeter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

Connect with Peter Diaz on:
Peter Diaz on Google Plus Peter Diaz on Face Book Peter Diaz on LinkedIn Twitter-logo