Should I work late?
April 9, 2008 5:05 PM   Subscribe

I am working on a project at work right now that is far behind schedule. The deadline has been extended a couple of times and the current one is this Friday. I am almost certain that the project won't be done by then. Should I be working extra hours to get it done?

I am really stressing out about this project, especially because I feel as if my supervisor blames me for the delay. If the blame is in my direction it has nothing to do with my work ethic and can be largely associated with my low level of experience, of which he should be more than aware being that I have been working right under him for more than a year.

I feel like I have been given a lot more responsibility on this project than I was prepared for and I am getting minimal support. Whenever I ask for help on something I get responses like, "figure it out" or "these are the things you need to learn to coordinate". Then I spend two days fumbling around in the dark before he gets fed up and spends the five minutes necessary to show me how to do it. I know my supervisor has a lot on his plate with other projects and I can already hear people telling me what a great opportunity this is to step up and take charge, but at this point that amounts to spending more hours clicking and typing in front of a computer coping with project changes on outdated software. It's hard for me to justify that when I feel like my time can be better spent actually learning new skills (which is what I like to do with my free time). Not to mention by the time five o'clock rolls around my brain is fried and I can barely think straight.

I don't think I will be fired for not completing the project in time, but the stress really builds up when you are constantly behind schedule.
posted by mockdeep to Work & Money (12 answers total)
It depends on how you look at it. On one hand you've been given a great chance to work hard and impress someone. On the other it's stressful, will eat into your freetime, and you might not get paid any more.
posted by sanka at 5:08 PM on April 9, 2008

Should I be working extra hours to get it done?

You have a lot of excuses for why this project isn't going well, a lot of which boil down to that you have decided that it's not very important. I bet your boss can sense that attitude and he's probably not impressed. If you don't care about this job, if it's just a check for now, do the minimum and skate by. If this job is a stepping stone to bigger things, then you need to hunker down and get to work. If there's a lot of grunt work involved, see if you can get a budget to hire temporary help, or even a few interns.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:16 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and to answer the question I quoted above: if the deadline is Friday, then yes, you should be working extra hours, if by working extra hours you could finish the project.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:19 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, you should work overtime and get it done. You might not get fired for missing the deadline, but your boss think that perhaps you're not capable of doing the job, and it could tip the scales against you in the future.

I also recommend the following-

mullingitover's magical productivity enhancer:

Step 1. Add the following to your hosts.ini file (or equivalent):

Step 2. Proceed to accomplish things you never imagined possible
posted by mullingitover at 5:27 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Frankly, I don't think there are enough hours in a day for me to get the project done by Friday. And that's with two others working on the project who are also behind schedule with their work.
posted by mockdeep at 5:29 PM on April 9, 2008

Wait, this is a programming project, right? And you didn't have all the requirements up front? If that's the case, then no, you shouldn't be stressing out, but you will. There's no real fix for it. The good news is that you're not bad at what you do: you care enough to be stressed out about being late. Programming projects often run over; many get cancelled instead of ever being finished. That's not something to cover yourself with or feel good about, but it's a reality check.
posted by yerfatma at 5:40 PM on April 9, 2008

Best answer: Here's my suggestion, given that you've just said there aren't enough hours in a day to get the project done by Friday: if you're the primary worker on this sucker, and you've been at it now for a while, you're probably the one who should be best able to estimate when you think you COULD have it done by. Even if you don't feel 100% comfortable doing that, still make an effort - you're only ever going to get decent at estimating skills by trying them. Remember that timeline estimates are only ever that - estimates - and try to be as realistic as possible.

Once you've figured something out, either in terms of man-hours to completion, or a series of milestones/dates you feel you can hit, take this to your boss and discuss it with him (or email it, if he's too busy to talk live). Be proactive by giving him the heads-up now that the project won't be done by Friday - don't avoid the matter and leave that as a nasty surprise for him come Friday. You might also whip up two versions of your estimates - one that assumes you continue working through all of your problems as you have been doing (lots of thrash and churn to try to figure out things that are new to you), versus one that you feel you could meet if you had someone to go to when you have questions - if not your boss, then some other employee the two of you identify together who can be your "go to" person.

Be prepared to explain your estimates, and to get pushback from him (obviously he's going to want it done sooner than later!). Work with him to negotiate timelines that are reasonable for both of you. Hopefully through doing this you will present yourself as a responsible employee who genuinely is committed to getting this problem done as efficiently as possible - and at the same time, you'll be doing yourself a favor by (hopefully) getting new timelines that you personally had a say in, and thus that are (hopefully) more reasonable both for the project's needs and your own.
posted by zeph at 5:48 PM on April 9, 2008

Another thing that occurs to me, although it's not really going to be of help until after you get through this current fire drill and can set aside a little bit of down-time: if there are skills you don't yet have but that you need to acquire to succeed in your role, are there any training programs your company offers that could help you gain these skills? I used to be a corporate training designer so I can tell you that (at least in some organizations, especially the larger ones) there's often a far wider catalog of relatively inexpensive courses, especially for basic and mid-range job skills, than most employees are aware of. Many of them are online and self-directed and so can be worked through as you have time, although often there are also face-to-face workshops or "boot camps" you can attend if you have the time and your department is willing to spend the training budget. Failing that, are there any "knowledge repositories" you can seek out to help with the types of questions you're having - either internal company websites, or external sites run by experts in your field, or even just books or what-have you that could help?

It's frustrating to be working on something you don't yet feel equipped to succeed at, but if there are any resources available to you to take care of that problem, seeking them out might be a better solution than relying on your manager if he's currently a major bottleneck in your work...
posted by zeph at 6:03 PM on April 9, 2008

What you like to do with your free time isn't part of this equation.

You have a few choices.

1) Figure out how to the job you've been assigned - Develop a plan to get the job done. If you need 20 minutes of your manager's time each day to help, then schedule it with him. Don't expect him to drop his job whenever you need him. If another staff person can mentor you, then ask for that. If Friday is impossible, then give him a new schedule.

2) Go to your manager and tell him you can't/won't lead the work - Do this now. Bring a professional development plan with you to bring your skills up to the level he seems to expect.

He's giving you more responsibility because he thinks you're ready to handle it. After working for him more than a year, it's understandable that he expects you to take on more senior roles.
posted by 26.2 at 6:07 PM on April 9, 2008

zeph is giving you some good advice re: proactively managing the slippage.

Let me add that if you phone it in between now and Friday, your lack of effort becomes the most visible reason why the project didn't get done.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:08 PM on April 9, 2008

Response by poster: @yerfatma Actually I work in architecture

@zeph I think your advice here is excellent. He's pretty close to this project so he already knows the state we're in, but I think he's hoping that if he ignores it and just keeps saying, "It's got to be done by Friday, It's got to be done by Friday", it will somehow get done. I'll sit down and talk with him first thing tomorrow morning and come up with a schedule (of course taking in to account the additional changes which are certain to come).

As for training, there is some in architecture, but there is still little substitute for years and years of experience. I am training myself in the latest software in my free time (Revit) so hopefully I can introduce it to our firm and get to spend less time drafting in the long run and more time learning the field.
posted by mockdeep at 7:52 PM on April 9, 2008

Yes, you should work late. If you don't do what it takes to get it done (even if you can't make the end deadline) it will be apparent and you'll be blamed. If you do your best and don't make the deadline, it won't be nearly as severe since your boss will know you gave it 100%. It's convenient to blame your supervisor but don't - he's the boss and may not take kindly to you telling him how it's all his fault (even if it is and he knows it). Sometimes supervisors seem like jackasses when they let you fend for yourself, but they're doing it for a reason.

If I didn't know better, I would have sworn you were one of my colleagues as we are also facing a looming deadline. I'm in the same boat and have been working late every night to get my part done. My programming colleagues have each been working until 2:00 a.m. and we're all planning to be here throughout the weekend. If it tells you anything, I've left at 5:00 four times in the past six months (all because I was traveling and had to catch a plane/train). For someone with such an important project, I'd be a little miffed if I was your supervisor and you were checking out at 5:00. Even worse - If you've been doing that consistently and then you came to me Thursday with "I just can't get it done" - I would be pissed. I know that's harsh, but that's the real world. And yes, that is a direct result of your work ethic, not your boss or the project.

Bosses aren't mind readers - you need to tell them when you're struggling with something. By assuming that he should be aware of your low level of experience (and therefore in your opinion he should have low expectations) and not telling him that you were facing problems, you've really screwed both of you.

Good luck today (and Friday).
posted by ml98tu at 6:47 AM on April 10, 2008

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