getting (some of the) things done
April 1, 2019 2:39 AM   Subscribe

For a few reasons, I'd like to dial it back a little at work. I'm operating at 100% most days and I'd like to take that down a couple of notches so I have some emotional and mental energy left to address other issues in my life. But I'm not fully in control of my workload (combination of micro-manager and reactive nature of job). How can I take more control over the intensity of my workload?

For now, I can't do anything about the micromanager. He is a hugely anxious control-freak who needs to see progress being made on certain tasks weekly. That's fine. But I also have my own projects to do which he doesn't understand/care about. They also come with deadlines. I also have a ton of random firefighting to do any given day. I try to do prioritising exercises with my boss but he pushes back - he basically wants everything done yesterday. He himself is highly ineffective with his own workload but whatever. Yes the job situation is problematic and I'm looking for an 'out', but that isn't going to happen immediately.

Most work-days I am operating at 100% and by Friday I'm running on empty and by the time the weekend comes along I have run out of steam with no energy left to attend to my own affairs. This year I am gearing up to sell my house. I need to attend to some repairs around the house, get it repainted, valued, etc. I need some energy left by the weekend for my own stuff. I also just feel more emotionally-balanced and happier if I'm not constantly rushed off my feet meeting deadlines and getting things done. What would be nice is if I just had a little less to do at work. I'm not saying I'm looking to slack off, but maybe not juggling quite so many things, having the space to prioritise, building in some slack if that makes sense so I don't always feel so brain-fried by Friday. Does anyone know how to do this or have any insights?

Answers that won't be helpful at this juncture:
- Look for a new job (already doing that)
- Don't sell your house (I have already postponed this, it's something that's important to me that I do)
- Talk to your boss (he is not a reasonable human being. I've found the way to work most effectively with him is simply detach and not engage at all about anything other than immediate priorities)

Many thanks Mefites
posted by unicorn chaser to Work & Money (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You sound like you are very conscientiously trying to Do All the Things but not getting the support you should be getting from your boss to make choices about priorities. Couple of thoughts:
- your boss sounds like he mainly cares about seeing some measure of progress to reassure him. Could you just throttle the amount of progress you make to create a bit of space for you to breathe. It doesn't sound like he will be able to tell.
- you mention "my own projects to do which he doesn't understand/care about" - if your boss doesn't care about these, why do you? What happens if you do less of those? Will someone in the business care - if so this is, at least in theory, your bosses problem to ensure those things are being done. If not, don't let a sense of duty to what ought to be done make you believe that it's your job to do it.
posted by crocomancer at 3:57 AM on April 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: As a project manager, I deal with this every day - I manage multiple projects, the stakeholders on each project absolutely don't care about the urgency of the other projects, and they all expect to come out on top when the difficult decisions are made. They can expect all they want, though, because that's not how it works.

This, at a very high level, is how I manage on a daily basis:

1. Know how much resource you have, and don't promise more than you have. I don't forget that I am a limited resource, just like any other resource, and I'm not some kind of magic resource balloon that expands to fill in where required (I used to try to be a magic balloon - I would write documentation, I would do testing, I would do support and admin, all of it badly, and it never really helped in the end and no one appreciated it).

2. Rank your stakeholders and pit them against each other. Who do you report to about the other projects that your boss doesn't care about? Are they less important than your boss? If so, email them and say 'I can't do your thing this week because I'll be working on boss's thing, if you want to discuss it with him that's fine, just let me know the outcome'. Let them fight it out. If they try to push back and say do both, say no. Say it again if they don't hear you the first time.

3. Make small, achievable promises, and keep them, consistently. Before your boss asks you do do anything, tell HIM what you're going to do. Send him a plan on Monday morning and a nice little report on Friday afternoon with checkmarks next to all the things you said you were going to do.

4. Let other people/projects fail and don't cover for them. This kind of goes back to point 2- when you tell the less-important stakeholder that their thing isn't going to be done this week because you don't have the resource to do it, and then they decide to just let it not be done instead of finding other resources or re-planning or working with your boss to re-arrange priorities in their own favour, THAT'S ON THEM. You told them. They chose not to deal with it.

5. Work the hours you're paid to work and then go home.

6. Do you do what you say you will do, keep your small achievable promises, be honest and reasonable, and unless you are working in the absolute worst sort of corporate hellscape, you're not going to be fired. This doesn't apply in redundancy/downsizing sorts of situations, obviously, those decisions are ALWAYS about money, but you won't be fired for incompetence or whatever because just by doing what you say you'll do you're automatically more competent than 90% of people in any given company. That may be cynical but that doesn't mean it's untrue.
posted by cilantro at 4:53 AM on April 1, 2019 [70 favorites]

You have said in previous asks that your coworkers are great; can you loop one of them in? Especially if they're not struggling with your boss the same way you are, and especially if they see your struggles, they might be able to take some things off your plate or help you out in ways that relieve your burden.

But yeah, if you're working at 100% and need to cut back to 80%, then less work is going to get done. But if you're a conscientious person, I think you might be surprised at where you can get away with not doing things, doing them late, and letting them slide. Is there anyone in the office who you've noticed is a bit of a slacker? They don't get their TPS reports in on time? Maybe your TPS reports can wait, too.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:08 AM on April 1, 2019

Have you talked to your boss’s boss about the situation? I would frame that conversation as a retention conversation. You have nothing to lose because you are actively job searching. See if there is anything the upper management will do to retain you. This can be a transfer, bonus or raise. With cash you can hire painters and repair people to prepare your house for sale.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:43 AM on April 1, 2019

It sounds like the micromanager can't be pleased, so think about the impact of not finishing each of the things coming from them. Figure out what you can comfortably fit in. Then take one more thing off that list. That's your goal today.
posted by advicepig at 6:55 AM on April 1, 2019

From your question it is not clear to me if you are working your regular hrs but have little/no downtime or if you are having to work overtime to get through your workload? The approach would be different.

If you've been working overtime you can state that is no longer going to be possible and you'd like to reassess your workload. You can address that to all the people you report to (it seems to be more than one) and ask them to work with each other and you to achieve that.

If you're not required to work overtime to get through your workload you may have to start to do less good a job. That'll mean accpeting that you'll not make all the people you report to equally happy. That may be ok, they are probably not all equally important/influential but it may also result in less good performance evaluations. Presumably you've been doing a lot of things right and efficiently to get through your to do list and if you're no longer doing that nobody can recognise you for that. So that's there may be a trade off. Alternatively, you could try to reduce your hrs formally but that would probably involve a paycut.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:12 AM on April 1, 2019

Would they let you work four 10-hour days? You'd still come home exhausted, and you'd spend Friday just recovering, but by the end of the weekend you'd get some time with some energy.

Alternatively, maybe take a week off to catch up on rest and get a plan together, then manage to make progress via a combination of To Do list obedience and days off every couple of weeks.

My experience with jobs like this is that it's pretty hard to dial them back without spending more time out of the office, at least as a jumpstart.
posted by salvia at 8:10 AM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Could you work from home once in a while?

Are you senior enough to straight-up delegate some of your tasks? If not, can you ask other coworkers for help?

What happens if you just don't fight all the fires? I used to spend quite a lot of time and energy fighting fires that weren't exactly mine to fight because I was afraid to say things like no, I don't know, or that's not something I can help you with. I now say those things all the time and surprisingly, people generally now respect me more, not less.
posted by kapers at 8:37 AM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Don't know what your commute is like, but salvia's comment made me think pulling in a Monday or Friday telecommute would allow you to do some of the home work in ways that doesn't impact your job, i.e. asynchronous choring. I do laundry and dishes a lot of time on Mondays, and the break in work for other chores actually stimulates my productivity for the office stuff. And you'd save time from not having to commute.

On preview, kapers.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 8:41 AM on April 1, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, all. Re: the work from home advice, I'd prefer to be able to work from home occasionally and before my boss came on board I used to be able to, but he straight up hates it when I ask to do that and gives me lots of pushback and aggro. I probably could wangle it if I built a really persuasive case for it, but it's not an easy or straightforward solution.
posted by unicorn chaser at 8:44 AM on April 1, 2019

Best answer: All hail Cilantro's excellent advice. Follow all of that!

I'll also add, even though it might seem weird, if you've just gotten carried away in the company culture of work and haven't spent much time lately thinking about your own skills and career path and development of you as a professional, this is actually a great time to do that. You've already got your eyes on working somewhere else....what skills do you want to talk about in that interview? What interests and expertise do you bring to the table and what sort of work will make you happiest and employable? If you have stuff on your plate that doesn't bring you fame, fun or fortune,* that's the stuff that needs to "slide" or get dropped or get re-assigned.

Also, seriously, they are not going to fire you. Practice an unflappable but pleasant demeanor and also work on saying things like, "I'll add that to my queue" and then just never get around to it. If you are a champion multi-tasker... to save energy, don't do that! If you find yourself frantically switching from task-to-task then you'll definitely be burned out by lunch let alone the weekend. Practice mindful focus on your most important tasks of the day and when you start to have your mind wander or jump from thing to thing, that's a great time to slowly make a cup of tea and take a little walk around the office.

*Fame – does this project have the potential to bring you accolades at your work, among your peers or in your industry? Fun - is this work personally enjoyable to you, utilizing skills that you enjoy flexing? Fortune - does completing this task have the potential to make you more money by making you more employable or showing up at a performance review on a metric that helps you get a raise? Anything that isn't at least one of these should get pushed to the bottom of the list if not forgotten about completely. And if you have something that is none of those things then spend as little time as possible on it.
posted by amanda at 8:45 AM on April 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

In any project, there are three things at play:

1) The work
2) The budget
3) The deadline

Don't allow your boss (or bosses) to define all three. They get to pick any two, and they already defined the budget by paying your salary. Then you get to define the third.
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:04 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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