A lot of us struggle in our careers when it comes to accepting or declining work, whether it be voluntary or voluntoldary. Especially the individuals in our field that strive to succeed. We see it as another opportunity to stand up to the plate and knock one out of the park. The problem, however, is that we can’t do everything. As much as we want to be the shining stars on our teams, and shoulder every effort for the organization, we can’t. And even as irrational as it sounds from the outside, we still want badly to spearhead every initiative the organization wants to move forward with. One of our greatest strengths becomes one of our greatest weaknesses. If we fail in our workload management we will fail in our ultimate goal to succeed. Almost paradoxical.
Employees struggle with the idea of telling their employer “No.” Especially in today’s employment environment. Fear of failure, fear of reprisal should they say that they can’t complete something that is being asked of them, or the fear of disappointing management while looking incompetent, or any other multitude of excuses we make up when failing to say no to something that is asked of us.
We first have to define failure. There are a lot of us in IT that can handle a large workload and still push product out the door, and with that we need to be able to define failure. We need to quantify what failure is and how we measure it within our career. Merriam-Webster defined failure as “lack of success”. Seems simple, failure is lack of success, but that then asks the question of how do we define success? Do we define success as getting the product out the door, no matter what it takes and not matter how it looks once we’re finished with it? Or do we, as engineers, define success as applying the best scientific analysis to the systems that we’re implementing to improve the human quality of life? Totally copied from Wikipedia by the way.
The main idea here is we have to stop and analyze our careers and decide how we want to define success within them. Do we define success as quantity? Or should we define it as the ability to collaborate with many minds within our organization to bring about a truly quality of life improving system? I say we go for the latter of the two. This is where the ability to say “no” steps in. Without saying “no” we’ll bring about a workload that isn’t manageable and it will become our jobs trying to manage the workload instead of performing the actual work. It’s a fine line that I believe a lot of us in the industry struggle with.
We first have to baseline our workflow, just like we would baseline one of the systems without our environments. We need to find out what the acceptable level of input vs, output is and what we consider proficient from those numbers. One of the tools that I tend to use for something like this is RescueTime. It helps me bring an understanding to how I spend my time throughout the workday and aids me in creating that baseline. Once the baseline is established its basic input/output flow control that can be used to help with deciding whether or not I can accept another task or project into my queue.
Once the baseline is established and we’ve decided we can either accept or decline another task, comes the hard part. How do we actually go about doing something like telling our superiors at work that we cannot do something that is being asked of us? The best thing that could be done is establishing the understanding, with your leadership, of the baseline that you’ve created. Help them to understand that this will help you to be as productive as you can be without sacrificing quality. Remember, our task at hand is to ultimately help improve, not diminish, the system’s that we’re operating.
This isn’t going to be something that comes naturally. As I’ve said previously, the natural reaction for the individual who wants to excel in their career is to accept anything asked of them.
Start with the baseline, and move into applying that baseline to your workload and you’ll see an ultimate improvement in not only the amount of work that you complete, but the overall improvement of the quality of that work also.