Opinion by Paul Glen

Paul Glen: When your boss overloads you, blame yourself

It's part of your job to let your boss know honestly what you can and can't do

At work, do you ever feel like one of those circus performers spinning plates on the top of poles? With a dozen different projects going at once, you spend your time frantically running from one to another, attending to each just enough to keep them all spinning. You're exhausted from the relentless pace but know that the best you're going to do is avoid the crashing disaster of letting them drop. And it feels like none of the projects will ever end.

You're caught up in what's commonly known as thrashing, spending a disproportionate amount of your time switching between projects. Every time you set one aside and pick up another, it takes mental and emotional energy to stop one train of thought and remind yourself where you left off on the other. When you do this too often, you spend most of your time switching and little of your time in productive work.

And when this happens, most of us curse our bosses for giving us too much to do. We blame them for our stress and lack of productivity. But you shouldn't blame your boss for this. It's as much your fault as it is hers.

A boss's job is to get as much done as possible with the resources available. Many managers interpret that as meaning they have to heap as much work as possible on the people they supervise. Some of them may try to gauge how much you can accomplish without thrashing, but most will just keep giving you things to do to make sure you're doing as much as possible.

So why do I say that it's your fault as much as your boss's? Because it's your responsibility to be productive, to monitor your own work and to let your boss know what's realistic to expect given the time available and the circumstances you're working under. In other words, it's not your job to willingly agree to everything your boss tells you to do.

I'm not suggesting that you should just start telling your boss no when she asks you to do anything new. There are appropriate ways to make sure that you avoid thrashing and give your organization the best return on its investment in you. When you find yourself thrashing, or concerned that the next thing your boss requests will push you over the edge, you have options.

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