How to Balance Your Workload When Faced With New Projects
As you become more confident in your role, more people will turn to you for help. Coworkers will you ask to collaborate, the boss will give you new responsibilities, and everyone will expect you to pick up miscellaneous tasks that arise during a project.
While a one-off request or small addition to your workload doesn’t seem hard to accommodate, these asks can add up. Soon your whole day could be filled with work that doesn’t have anything to do with your original job title.
When you need to adjust your workload, there are a few steps you can take. Follow these five options to maintain a work-life balance and focus on the job you were hired to do.
1. Decline the Project
The first option is the most obvious: Decline the task or project that is assigned to you. This is easier said than done, as many employees break out in a cold sweat at the very idea of disappointing or disagreeing with their boss.
Jessica Taylor at The Muse highlights the term “other duties as assigned” as one that can trip you up. While you don’t want to seem like you’re not a team player by turning down a task, there are times when a request really has no bearing on your job duties whatsoever.
“There's definitely a reason the phrase ‘other duties as assigned’ is on almost every job description — it's a natural part of most positions,” Taylor writes. “But the trick to navigating these duties is learning when to roll with the situation and when to push back.”
Know When to Decline a Project
If you are going to turn down a task or push back against an assignment, it helps to have a concrete reason why it isn’t right for you. Career planning professional Dawn Rosenberg McKay created a list of questions you can use to determine whether you should decline a request for help from your manager:
Am I already working on multiple deadline-driven assignments?
Can I assign some any of my other projects in order to focus on this?
Can I reschedule deadlines for some assignments to work on this?
Do I have the skills to complete this assignment? If not, could I learn them quickly?
Am I the only person in the company with the skills to complete this task?
These questions can also drive your discussions with your manager, as you review your workload and decide how you can move deadlines around and delegate tasks. They may discover there is someone better for the job as you talk through these concerns together.
Focus on Declining this Particular Task
If you do choose to decline a task or project, focus on this one particular item. Amy Elisa Jackson, editorial director at Glassdoor, says to avoid bringing up the past when declining an addition to your workload. If your boss comes to you with one task, don’t use this time to bring up every instance of extra work you have done. Instead focus on this one only and whether or not you can accept it.
The same advice applies if you’re having trouble with your overall workload: Set up a time to discuss it at a later date. That’s big-picture talk; this is a single request.
2. Negotiate Your Workload
If you can’t turn down a task, then try negotiating your workload to find opportunities to open up space to work on it.
Career advice expert Sara McCord says that instead of explaining how busy or overworked you are, for example, let your manager know when your schedule will open up. If you’re working on a project due at the end of this week, let your boss know that you can be free next week to work on the additional task. This isn’t a direct decline, but someone who needs help in a hurry might find someone else. Additionally, your manager might move an ongoing project back in order for you to take this one on.
“If you do approach your boss, be sure to do so when you are calm and clear headed,” Brianna Johnson at Hired writes. “Have specific examples in mind to demonstrate exactly why there is too much on your plate. Be prepared to discuss ways that other team members can balance some of the workload. Without specifics, your boss may be puzzled as to what actually needs to happen.”
Oftentimes, managers and coworkers don’t understand how stressed you are by your workload, and it’s your job to help them understand how you’re struggling.
A Paychex survey of 2,000 employees found more than 40 percent of Americans have moderate stress levels on the job and roughly 30 percent of full-time American workers have high to extreme levels of stress.
When asked what parts of their job stress them out the most, 11 percent (the third most) said they had a lack of control over their work. Clear communication can help you negotiate your workload to account for their needs and your time.
3. Delegate Other Tasks to Coworkers and Employees
The third option when faced with a task that you can’t or don’t want to complete is delegation. Delegation skills are essential for a healthy workplace, Robert Tanner writes at the leadership blog Management is a Journey.
As a business consultant, Tanner has found poor delegation skills causing problems including micromanagement, a lack of communication and constantly changing project outcomes. If your team isn’t comfortable taking on new work or swapping workloads, they will often struggle to work together or trust one another.
Identify Tasks to Delegate From Your Workload
Start by reviewing your workload to find tasks that could be handed to coworkers. These should be tasks not related to your job title or that aren’t a good use of your time. Jenny Blake, author of Pivot, highlights the types of tasks to delegate:
Tiny: small tasks add up, and a dozen five-minute tasks can take up hours of your day.
Tedious: straightforward tasks that aren’t the best use of your time.
Time-consuming: tasks that might be important but take a long time to complete.
Teachable: tasks that are complicated at first, but with the right tools can be passed on.
Terrible At: tasks that take you a long time but that could be done by quickly by someone else.
Time Sensitive: tasks that are competing with other deadlines and priorities.
This six-T’s system can help you explain why a task should be delegated.
Delegate with the 70 Percent Rule
Jim Schleckser, CEO of the Inc. CEO Project, says to follow the 70 percent rule when delegating. Essentially, if someone can do the job at least 70 percent as well as you can, then the task is worth delegating. This rule requires perfectionists to set aside their needs for perfection and control.
The 70 percent rule also explains why your boss hands you tasks unrelated to your job title in the first place. You might not be perfect for the job, you can do it at least 70 percent as well as they would, and you free up 100 percent of the time they would have spent on the task.
4. Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks
Taking on one new project is more palatable when four regular tasks are removed to make room for it. Joel Garfinkle, a top 50 executive coach in the US, says one of the only things better than delegating is eliminating. As you look to rearrange tasks in order to take on new projects, ask which can be removed entirely.
Consider the data by Attentiv that 63 percent of meetings lack agendas and roughly a third of the time spent in meetings is considered unproductive by participants. With more than half of all meetings 30-90 minutes long, these numbers add up. If you can eliminate some meetings, or at least cut back on their length and make them more productive, then you free up your schedule. Sometimes you don’t have to cancel meetings: simply stop attending if it’s not essential that you are there.
Test Different Tasks to See Which Can Be Removed
If you’re not sure what to cut from your schedule, find a few options that can be paused in the short run. “One way to eliminate unnecessary tasks is through an experiment,” author of The IT Business Owner’s Survival Guide Richard Tubb writes at CompTIA. “Labeling something as an experiment gives it the indicator of being temporary.”
For example, he experimented with stopping monthly reports that were time-consuming for his team to do. After a few months, no one complained or asked for the reports, proving that they weren’t providing the value his team originally thought. This experiment was a success, and the reports were eliminated entirely.
5. Ask for Compensation for the Work
Your final option is to accept the work, but discuss the potential for a promotion or raise because of it.
Communication strategist Evan Thompson recommends monitoring the job description you were hired for and seeing how it changes over time. If your role is expanding and advancing because of additional responsibilities, you may be able to approach your boss about a promotion or raise.
However, Thompson cautions readers to use their emotional intelligence during this conversation. Noticing body language and broaching the subject carefully can help you and your manager reach solutions related to your workload even if it doesn’t end in a promotion on your part.
Suzanne Lucas of the blog Evil HR Lady experienced this first-hand when a coworker left on maternity leave and Lucas permanently took on most of that coworker’s duties. She struggled with the increased workload, but kept her emotions pent up until she finally bust out in front of her boss. Her manager had no idea the stress she was under and worked to make adjustments, but Lucas’ angry outburst easily could have ended in her getting reprimanded.
Your Manager Relies On You To Communicate Workload Issues
Stories like Lucas’ aren’t uncommon. While many managers try to stay involved in what their employees do, it’s not always easy.
A study by CareerArc and Workplace Trends that found 67 percent of employers think their workers have a strong work-life balance, but 45 percent of employees say they don’t have enough time outside of work. Furthermore, one in five employees spent more than 20 hours a week working during personal time.