Dear Life Matters,
I am overwhelmed at work. While I thoroughly enjoy my work and the people I work with, I am having a hard time getting everything done. Unfortunately my boss does not seem to notice my predicament and continues to hand me new projects to work on. We do have a very good working relationship and my performance reviews are consistently strong year after year, but I worry that I cannot continue to keep my high standard of work with the growing number of projects I am asked to manage. My friends say that I need to learn to say no, but it seems so hard to say that to the person who signs my paycheck. Do you have any advice as to how I can manage my workload without sabotaging my career?
Having a heavy workload is something that a number of professionals deal with. While it is a good sign that your boss trusts you and wants to assign you new projects, there is a limit to each person’s capacity.
Have you clearly communicated to your boss that you are overwhelmed? A number of successful professionals tend to accept new projects with a smile on their face and then vent or stress out behind closed doors. If you consistently complete each project on time and at a high level it may be that your boss does not realize that you are feeling inundated because you consistently deliver to their standards. In addition, if you are taking work home with you or staying late your boss may not see the hours or time you are putting into your work.
Consider using your shared Outlook calendar as a tracking system for the projects you are working on. This may provide your boss with a visual of where you are already dedicating your time. You might also choose to have a weekly status update meeting where you can discuss which projects you are working on and where you are with each task. This regularly scheduled meeting will provide you with an open opportunity to share your current portfolio without you having to initiate the potentially tough conversation with your boss.
Before saying no to a particular project, make sure to ask yourself a few questions to evaluate the project and current situation. Can you delegate this or another project to a teammate? Are there other project duties that can be postponed in order for you to prioritize the new task? How important or time sensitive is this new project? Will taking on this task hurt the other projects you are already committed to? Are you the only person who can complete this project? Make sure that you have valid reasons for declining this new project and that you are not just turning down the request because the project looks too difficult or that you cannot commit because of personal or external obligations.
Try putting yourself in your supervisor’s chair and consider how the team will be impacted if you turn down a particular project. Explore possible solutions that would help lessen the blow and have those ready to share with your boss. If you do decide it is time to say no on a particular project or request, make sure that you have a valid reason and that the conversation takes place at a time that is appropriate. It is generally best to start this conversation earlier rather than later so your leader can work on an alternative approach. Make sure that you start the conversation in a positive and open-ended nature where your supervisor can provide their input and recommendations. For instance, you might want to frame your request with the analysis you went through and the impact for the company rather than a flat out “no” or personal reasons for why you cannot accept the new responsibility.
Politely declining a project from your boss requires sufficient preparation and tact. I would encourage you to try out the following strategy. When you are presented with the next project or task, ask your boss for advice about what you could delegate to another team member or which project could be delayed in order for you to work on this new task. Asking for their input and advice allows your supervisor to take an active role in helping you be successful on the job. It also brings to light the struggles you are facing and ensures that you are not alone in figuring things out.
KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a professional career counselor who has worked in university and private settings. She holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Visit her online at www.kdcareer.com. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!