Early in my career, anytime someone approached me for help with a task, I’d immediately drop whatever I was doing and help them out.
I did this because I didn’t have a lot of experience, and wanted to build up my expertise. I figured I could learn a lot by doing a lot. I also wanted people to know that I was amenable to their needs and capable of getting things done.
So I kept accepting tasks and completing them.
My plate was piled so high that I had no fallback but to work more hours. Sure I’d get tired, but it didn’t phase me. I was coasting on the high of being helpful.
Initially, people were grateful that I was enthusiastic and eager to help.
However, over time they stopped being grateful and started becoming more demanding. They expected me to work faster and produce high-quality results.
But I just couldn’t keep the pace, and my work got sloppy.
I blamed myself for the mistakes I made, and tried to get better.
But no matter what I did, I didn’t get better.
Finally, a mentor noticed what I was doing, they pointed out that I wasn’t incapable of getting things done or producing high-quality work, it was that I was overcommitting.
I needed to learn to guard my time, energy and push back.
I didn’t even know that was allowed…
Up until that point, I was the lowest employee on the totem poll, and let the urgency of others’ needs dictate how I worked.
Pushing back seemed rude. Like I was telling them their task wasn’t worth my time or energy. Or I was just sooo busy that I couldn’t be bothered to help them out.
My mentor responded by showing me how I needed to push back:
In asking these questions and receiving answers, I learned that not everything is actually urgent.
Some people are impatient, while others are poor planners or rather excellent procrastinators! Others don’t have a good understanding of how long it takes to produce the quality of work they want. But you can’t change them…
All you can do is teach people how to work with you by setting clear boundaries and expectations for what you can and can’t do and why!
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