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Too many thankless jobs? Here’s how to negotiate who does what
I built GRIP around this principle: first get your week sorted, then take a look at how you shape your life. But getting a handle on your week can come with an unintended side effect.
As you become more reliable in doing the work—when promising “I’ll put that on my to-do list” means you’ll actually get it done and folks know you’ll respond swiftly to email—then odds are you won’t spend much time at your desk twiddling your thumbs. People will entrust you with all kinds of things that need doing.
You’ll likely find you have more on your plate, not less.
So what can you do when finding effective ways to work means you have more and more of it? Here are four things to try today.
Give yourself time to say no
Step one is building better filters. To do that, you need to give yourself some time to think. If you get a lot of odd jobs and requests thrown your way, ditch your old response of *Sigh* “Sure, I can take care of that.” Instead, make this your go-to reply:
“I’ll have a look and let you know whether I can fit it in.”
That way you’re not saying yes or no right away, so you’re showing you take the other person and their request seriously. And now you’ve bought yourself some time to decide what a smart solution would be and how to back up your answer.
Here’s more on saying no (and sticking to your guns).
Find alternatives to “That’s not my job!”
You’ll hear people say this on occasion, and of course it’s not the nicest stance to take in a team. (Though it’s also true that folks who say it from time to time won’t get stuck always taking care of those thankless tasks that every team has.)
I’m not suggesting you adopt this phrase, but try turning it around:
What is your job?
It can be difficult to come up with a clear, succinct answer to that question. Once you have one, you’re in a better position to negotiate who does what.
So take the time to write out what your job entails, then confirm with your manager. It may surprise you how clarifying and helpful an agreed list like this can be.
Then there’s simply one of two outcomes: the thankless task is either on your list, or it’s not. Is it on there? Then reserve time for it on your calendar (or more time if need be). Setting aside time for a task doesn’t mean it magically gets done. It does mean you can take care of it without added stress.
Make less room for requests
Incidental jobs or thankless tasks often come in by email (or sometimes Slack). Responding faster to email requests will never mean you have less work. On the contrary: the sooner you respond, the sooner you’ll find new messages waiting in your inbox. I always advise dealing with email in batches, working through the messages during specific blocks of time you’ve reserved in your calendar.
Email still taking up too much of your time? See if you can stretch how long it takes you to reply.
I know how that sounds. But here’s the thing: Don’t be afraid to be a little less available. Once you have your work under control and you’re the go-to person for fixing things, then you can probably take more time to get back to people. If your manager has signed off on your list of job responsibilities and you’re focusing on the things on that list, you may find you’re encouraged to neglect email a little.
If the task isn’t on your list of responsibilities, then it’s negotiable. Having an indication of how much time it will take can be helpful here. And if possible, it works well to have a solution in mind that you can share with your manager.
Because of your agreed-upon list, you don’t have to gripe about how mind-numbing a task is. You can just point out that if you take on Task X, you “won’t be able to get to Responsibility Y like we discussed”—and that’s a far better argument.
Clear the way for your own priorities: the Friday recap
I keep hearing from people who tell me that doing a Friday recap has made a colossal improvement in their workweek. And if your time is largely taken up by an onslaught of assorted odd jobs, a recap can make all the difference.
What’s a recap again? Well, it starts with scheduling 30 minutes each week to think about how to make the next week a success. In chapter 4 of GRIP, I walk you through doing your own recap, and how to make it a weekly ritual. Shorten the recap or pick another time slot if you run into problems.
Check out this issue of Work in Progress for more on rebooting this powerful little habit.
Have a good week,
produced by the language girl