Stop doing too much

January 10, 2020
  • Collaborative Decision-Making
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businessperson sitting at desk with burned matchtop for a head

People-pleasing. Job creep. “Other duties as assigned.”  There are many ways that our to-do lists can become overwhelming, taxing our energy and enthusiasm and compromising the quality of our most essential and meaningful work. 

 “How do you engage in that work in a way that makes sense for you, as opposed to just doing what someone else needs?” asks Courtney Hennigan, Registrar at UC Davis School of Law. 

 When supervisors or colleagues come to you with non-essential tasks to complete, requests for input, or committees to join, you need to respond professionally -- while also maintaining your standards and your sanity.

Step 1: Learn to negotiate. Before you agree, stop and examine the implications and requirements of the work requested. If you can negotiate the work product or the specifics of your involvement, you may be able to define your participation in a way that interests you and leaves other tasks to professionals better suited to it.

“Making conscious choices about how we do our work can help us feel engaged in a more meaningful way and inspired to do a good job, rather than just meeting obligations,” Hennigan said. In negotiating, she suggests the following six steps:

1. Don’t start work without an agreement in place.

2. Discuss who is responsible for each item.

3. Communicate timelines, deadlines, and expected outcomes in advance.

4. If new requests come in, negotiate the removal of another.

5. Remember that it’s okay to say “no.”

6. If you can’t say “no,” ask for alternatives -- and let the asker generate them.

Step 2: Learn to say no -- politely. Learning to say “no” well is a skill that requires maturity and self-awareness. 

“It takes self-confidence to acknowledge that your time is limited and that you want to do a good job at the things you do agree to,” Hennigan said. “In time, you can learn to find a ‘yes’ in the ‘no,’ to make it a win-win situation.”

Set boundaries without guilt

To learn more about cultivating professional boundaries, join Hennigan and Lisa Erck (University of the Pacific) in their session “Be inspired (instead of too tired!)” at AACRAO 2020. They’ll offer many tips and resources for you to explore. Check out all the sessions about professional wellbeing at AACRAO 2020 in New Orleans, and register now for the early-bird discount.