You’ve heard it all before: “don’t bite off more than you can chew,” especially when it comes to your job.
But in an effort to get ahead at work, you ignore the advice, thinking that your so-called invincibility will only pay off in the end. Maybe you also want to be nice, or refuse to disappoint a colleague or a boss who you believe needs you. You take on too much. Suddenly, your day just went from tackling five tasks to tackling 10.
Then, you wonder how you got there, and you become that most miserable of creatures, a work martyr: “Poor me! I’m doing so much! Does anyone see how I am denying myself all joy to help other people?”
Doing too much is not how you want to run your life, or your career
Burnout is very real, and it comes from wearing yourself out every day. It can take months, or even years, to fully recover.
There’s nothing wrong with occasionally pitching in when other departments need help in your area of expertise, or helping out on side projects for networking purposes once in a while, but you just have to identify how much is too much.
We get it. Saying “no” to a co-worker can be difficult. You may worry that you won’t be seen as a team player. That’s why setting boundaries in your office— so you can make gains in your own department without getting too tangled up in someone else’s — is so important for your professional development.
Being firm with your boundaries can impact your quality of life. Here’s what to do.
Be crystal clear on what your role entails
Knowing just how much work you have— and what your deadlines are— may dictate how comfortable you are taking on extra responsibilities.
An article by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center cited a 2000 study that found that coming up with a solid plan before someone asks us to do something increases the likelihood of us sticking to our original plan later.
Make sure you know what you want to accomplish by the end of the day before you entertain other possibilities.
Practice respectfully saying “no”
Turn down someone’s offer can be no fun, but it shouldn’t force you to take on too much.
This 2008 research from Cornell University found that we often say “yes” because we don’t want to say no.
Researchers conducted six studies, the largest of which had 127 participants.
“We find that people generally underestimate the likelihood of compliance in making a direct request for help, in part, because they fail to fully appreciate that although it is difficult for help seekers to risk rejection, it is also difficult for potential helpers to offer rejection,” the research said.
What does that mean? That “no” is really an option; in fact, it’s often expected. Saying “no” effectively doesn’t mean you’ll be blacklisted from other good opportunities. “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m juggling these other high-priority projects” is a rejection any sensible colleague can handle. In fact, it can let the other person know that while you won’t be able to participate, you’re glad to think about other opportunities.
Broaden your professional circle
No matter how much you love your work, it’s unlikely you’ll be in the same job for years; in fact, if you’re growing and getting more skills, you definitely won’t be. You’re more likely to be a pleaser and a pushover at work if you’re over-invested in your office and your colleagues.
The answer: broaden your network and your horizons. The more people in your industry that you know and meet, the less likely you are to make your colleagues and your boss the absolute center of your world.
Another plus: networking will position you well for your next job, too.
U.S. News & World Report reported that more than 70% of people get hired because of networking.
Even better, networking isn’t hard. Just asking some of these 7 questions will make you more likeable. So be sure to put yourself out there, whether that’s attending a local chapter meeting of an association you’re part of, heading to a convention with people in your field, or striking up a simple conversation with someone you meet on the weekend.
Recognize the symptoms of the American workaholic
If you’re not a pleaser, maybe your tendency to say “yes” has to do with the fear of losing your job. Especially after the financial crisis, many middle-class Americans have struggled with feelings of financial insecurity. As that has increased, the classic culture of overwork has been glamorized the United States.
A 2004 study by the Families and Work Institute found that the skills we rely on to be efficient for work are harming our health and productivity in the office.
“For those with too much to do, the Overwork in America study found that the very skills that are fundamental to succeeding in this global economy—specifically, moving quickly from task to task with little time for recovery in between, facing many interruptions, and working outside normal work hours, including 2 vacations—can be useful but also can become detrimental. For a significant group of Americans, the way we work today appears to be negatively affecting their health and effectiveness at work,” the 2004 study said.
Doing anything to keep things moving might get the job done, but in extreme cases, you probably won’t feel well as a result.
The same 2004 study found that 20% of workers “reporting high overwork levels” said they made “a lot” of errors at work, compared to none of those who said they “experience low overwork levels.” Thirty nine percent of workers with “high overwork levels” reported feeling very mad at their employers, unlike only 1% of people with “low overwork levels.”
But workaholism has also been linked with something much deeper.
A 2016 study of 16,426 workers in Norway found that “having symptoms of an underlying psychiatric disorder is associated with workaholism.”
Whether you just take on a little bit of work from outside departments from time to time, or find yourself constantly bogged down and answering to other managers, we could all benefit from setting boundaries at work to preserve our well-being.