When you are new in a role it is hard to say no or to make clear about the work that you will and will not do. I have met a lot of people who have been new in a role and are the “nice” people who just want to please everyone and do everything they can to help everyone they can. I completely admire those people who just want to do the best that they can and prove themselves, but I don’t believe that proof should come from overloading yourself and getting to the point where you aren’t able to manage your own time and workload.

I am quite the outspoken type, and I make it clear about my expectations and I clarify when needed. Don’t get me wrong, I work extremely hard and I work the long hours when need be, but I am clear about what I am here to do, and what I will provide the most value to. So I have learned a few tips to help me manage my time, my workload and my ability to say yes and no – here are a few:

I tend to block out a few hours here and there to do my work that I know I just never get enough time to do during a typical working day. Some of these things include reviewing documents, preparation for meetings/presentations, typing up minutes etc. These jobs I have found I keep shifting down the list everyday as soon as something more important gets put onto the list. Time out in your calendar or “desk time” helps to give you a good slot where you may not answer your phone or emails and just power through certain pieces of work.

I set a time with my manager and talk about the current work that I have on, and try to get clear clarification about what I should prioritizing. I find this useful as your manager may have some sense to what looks to be coming in, and if there are certain things that just need more attention than other despite when they make their way in.

One thing that I have definitely worked on over the last 2 years, is my ability to say “no” to work when I just know that I can’t put 100% of my time into it. When you are trying to juggle more than 3 major pieces of work and 5 (or so) minor pieces of work, how the heck are you ever going contribute a valuable amount to another piece of work that someone wants you to do. When I feel overwhelmed with a lot of little pieces of work, or even 2 or 3 large pieces of work, I simply tell my team “I’m sorry but I have reached my capacity at the moment, this is what I am working on, this is what my deadlines look like and I am unable to offer any help on anything further until I get my load down”. It’s a risky move as your peers may perceive you as not being able to cope etc, but wouldn’t they rather you say you can’t do more, than burn out and not being able to do anything?

I’m just saying.

They aren’t set in concrete steps – but I have really found this is subject to people’s confidence as much as anything. I know a lot of people who just don’t feel comfortable saying no, and then end up burning out and getting frustrated. Speak up and back yourself. If you can’t do it – then you shouldn’t have to. Especially if you don’t have the capacity to do it! Be brave! P.S. Bravery will help you get ahead!

Good old Dilbert for a laugh.

January 13, 2009

HR Workaholic