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This question already has an answer here:

I am working on multiple projects (in IT), each one is quite extensive. As a result, I routinely work about 10 hours a day. Since I also value my free time, I would like to make sure that I can keep at least some of it.

Often, my boss wants me to perform even more tasks (like attending some event, doing an additional project, ...). I know that the right response to this is

I see why we should do this additional task. Unfortunately, I am already busy with other tasks. If I will take up this additional task, this will affect those tasks.

I have given this response, but my boss usually dismisses this by something like

This task is not that huge, it will not affect your other tasks.

(Jokingly) Thank god there are 26 hours in a day, you should have enough time.

But we have to do this new task, and the existing ones.

All tasks (existing and new ones) have highest priority, we cannot cancel one of them.

The truth is that it is hard to tell what the concrete consequences are of taking up the new task. My other tasks may be affected, or the effect may be minimal. Probably, my boss is assuming that I will just work more to handle everything. This is entirely possible, because once I have taken up a task, I want to successfully complete it.

How do I avoid getting more tasks, if it is unclear how these tasks will affect my existing tasks? What should I do if my boss insists on taking up a new tasks, without acknowledging that this will have an effect?

I know that I can always find another job, but I would like to avoid that.


Edit: My work is in academia (Ph.D.), so "overtime" is to be expected, and my contract does not really help me. I did not mention this previously because it should be irrelevant: I should be working as much as it is helpful, no matter the field (this is also why I consider this a question suitable for The Workplace). Working in academia is also the reason why it is very hard to predict how long a task will take: Research is non-linear, you often try approaches that do not work out.


I do not think that this is a duplicate of this question, because

  • I have all the necessary qualifications for my job.
  • (Some) overtime is to be expected in my job.
  • My question is more about my boss dismissing that my tasks will interfere, rather than he directly telling me to work more (although that is a natural consequence of course).

marked as duplicate by Mister Positive, gnat, Snow, Masked Man, NotMe Oct 13 '17 at 14:49

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • Why are you working 10 hours a day? It is to make quickly approaching deadlines or do you just feel like you "should" based on the amount of work you have? Having many tasks is not directly a problem, having trouble meeting deadlines or being asked / needing to work overtime (as opposed to choosing to) would be. – Dukeling Oct 13 '17 at 7:52
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    "All tasks (existing and new ones) have highest priority" - I once worked with someone who would respond to such an assertion with "OK, I'll do them in alphabetical order then". This would then swiftly result in the real priority order being given... – AakashM Oct 13 '17 at 8:00
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    In which country is this? 10 hours once in a while can be ok, but 10 hours routinely. That's unacceptable. Get yourself back to 8 hours a day. Is the boss himself working that long? – Stephan Branczyk Oct 13 '17 at 8:16
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    @AakashM, I love that response. – HLGEM Oct 13 '17 at 13:28
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If you can't prioritise these tasks, then let your boss do that.

When he gives you yet another job to do, let him know what your current work load is and ask him where this new piece of work goes.

Then let him know what tasks then fall off the bottom of the list and get bumped.

If he tells you that these news tasks won't impact anything, tell him that it will (and by how much).

It might be an idea to keep a track of how long tasks take so that you're able to give him figures.

The length of your working day (10 hours is already really long) should be immutable and set in stone. If he questions this, let him know that working longer hours will affect the quality of work.

If there's getting to be too much work, consider employing someone else. You may use this as a carrot:

You know, if we had someone else, we could get through this workload a lot more efficiently, I can't do everything by myself....

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    Yeah, and that aspect of the question is unanswerable. It's generally down to the developer to provide estimates. This is why I suggested that your boss provides the priority required. – Snow Oct 13 '17 at 6:28
  • @andreas You do not need to know what the effect of the additional change will be. You are already overloaded. Yes, even if you give your boss a breakdown of what your current tasks take, and he says drop this 5 hour task for this new 5 hour task when it's actually 10: The next time he comes to you give him the new breakdown showing you are already overloaded. – Jan Doggen Oct 13 '17 at 12:30
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If you have a boss like this, you'll probably need to be a lot more persistent in your statements. As mentioned above; you first need to be clear how many hours you can work, both in terms of your contract (I'm assuming you have one) and in what you can realistically work in a day before you get so tired that "work" just means "screwing things up".

Once you've made that clear to your boss (and the number should probably be no higher than 8, because beyond that you're not going to be able to deliver anything of value) you have a fixed amount of work you can deliver.

When it comes to work that you cannot oversee the consequences of, you need to make a new task to determine what the consequences will be. This is pretty common in IT and engineering. If your boss says "We need to produce the new gizmo", your reaction should be "I'll block [x] hours to figure out how much time that will cost."

That gives you a task for which it's clear how much it will impact your schedule, and after that you have a good idea for how much the new task will impact your schedule as well. This gives you numbers; numbers are good in situations like this.

You might even consider putting up a week calender for yourself. Put all your tasks on them, and make sure their size matches their duration. Outlook can do this, but a physical one made from post-its can also work (if you don't mind cutting and pasting a bit). That makes it really easy to point at your calender and say "Okay, this is my workload for this week. Which of these need to be removed so I can pick up this new task somewhere this week?".

And finally, you need to come up with some responses to his dismissal. Stand your ground; a dismissal doesn't change anything about your concerns, so you need to make that clear.

This task is not that huge, it will not affect your other tasks.

Only two types of tasks do not affect your other tasks: ones that are already done, and ones you don't do. A response can be as easy as "This task will take time. My schedule is already full. So it will cause a delay in other tasks. Let me know which ones to push back."

(Jokingly) Thank god there are 26 hours in a day, you should have enough time.

As above; there's only a limited number of working hours in a day, and all of them have tasks scheduled in them. As above; "My working hours are all full. You'll have to push some tasks back."

(If your boss suggests you just do it in overtime, that's a different question and I won't go into details here)

But we have to do this new task, and the existing ones.

How much something "has" to be done doesn't change the amount of work it takes. You can say "I understand these tasks are all important, but my schedule is still full. I cannot do more work than I can do. We have to either trim some tasks down, or cancel/delay some. Or we need some extra hands."

All tasks (existing and new ones) have highest priority, we cannot cancel one of them.

This one is very common and the dumbest of all. (But don't tell your boss that.) Answer is same as above.

Another thing that is likely to come up is hiding behind deadlines. When your boss says something along the lines of:

But we promised the customer it would be done by [x]!

And again, your schedule is still full, but this one gives you the option to tell your boss to actually do his job:

"I understand that this was promised, but if nothing in my schedule can be moved, this deadline cannot be made. We can either inform the customer now that the deadline is unrealistic, or we can inform them when we miss it. If we let them know it can't be done today, at least they'll be thankful we gave them time to change their plans.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is that your boss is not doing his job. It's his job to make sure you have enough work, not too much. It's his job to know which work is most important, and which can wait. And it's his job to manage the expectations of clients. Right now, he's just not doing anything and is just pushing everything on you. And probably blaming you for his failures, too.

Pushing back will either force him to start doing his job, or force him to get rid of you and hire someone with less of a spine so he can continue to blame his workers for his own incompetence. So when you start pushing back, measure his reactions. If it looks like he'll try to remove you, stop pushing and start looking for a new job.

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Some things that help, in my experience.

  1. Keep a spreadsheet of your projects. When your manager asks you to perform additional tasks, bring up your spreadsheet and ask him which project you should push aside to get this done.
  2. Sometimes you need to let the ball drop: Before you burn yourself out, you need to walk away from your desk when the day is done. If things don't get done on time accept the fact that it is management's fault for poor scheduling not yours.
  3. Hold your ground. If your manager starts missing deadlines and he tries to blame you, you'll have that spreadsheet to present to upper management if need be
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I think the main problem is not being addressed:

Probably, my boss is assuming that I will just work more to handle everything. This is entirely possible, because once I have taken up a task, I want to successfully complete it.

This is the real problem here: You keep delivering.

It is difficult to know without knowing the details of your work environment, but I have already faced managers that keep asking things to people they know they deliver. Some managers will continue pushing more than would seem reasonable risking the burn out of the employee.

I don't agree with the approach shown by other answers here. It is evident his manager knows that OP has a lot of workload and he doesn't care. He is just trying to squeeze more from him and since it is working, he will continue doing it.

My personal recommendation on this circumstances is:

  • Learn you limits. Know how much you want to work overtime (if any) and commit only to what you can deliver.

  • Understand the importance of the tasks given to you. Some managers want everything and everything has the highest priority. But you should know better and recognize when the task at hand is actually important.

  • Everything else that is pushed on to you, you should inform it will not be completed. Be true to your word and keep him informed that there are no advances on the task. If you are not getting it done he will search for resources to do it, because that's his job too.

Best of luck.

  • I would go a step further: every day (just before going home) you send a mail to your boss with a status of every taks you have performed, and immediately after that you go home (after having worked 8 hours, not 10). In case somebody is trying to hold you off, you just say "Explain me the issue in a mail, I'll have a look at it when I enter tomorrow". Never forget: everybody is entitled being assertive, so are you! – Dominique Oct 13 '17 at 13:15
  • Disagree on the point about prioritizing your own work in the absence of guidance from management. As a details-level employee, it is neither the OP's responsibility or right to determine the priority of the work. This just opens OP up to potential criticism for doing lower priority work over higher priority stuff. I'm not suggesting OP stop working, but a lack of prioritization should be regularly and consistently raised as an issue to the higher ups. – bvoyelr Oct 13 '17 at 14:25
  • @bvoyelr "All tasks (existing and new ones) have highest priority, we cannot cancel one of them." In this circumstances and if no leeway is given to OP, he has no option but to decide. And it is in his best interest to be aware of the actual relevance of the tasks at hand: OP wants his manager not to give him more tasks that pop up but doesn't want to jeopardize the bigger project since as you said, could be problematic. Escalating the problem to higher management can backfire on OP. The thing is, to higher management OP's manager is doing an amazing job squeezing OP and delivering all work. – eballes Oct 13 '17 at 14:32
  • @eballes I think we're mostly on the same page -- the point I want to make clear is that the OP shouldn't just accept that everything is top priority and drop the issue. Lack of prioritization is a dysfunction in the company, but if OP doesn't make sure it's a known issue, any failures can be pinned on him. As far as that backfiring, I'd rather get blowback from bringing up a legitimate issue rather than taking on a responsibility that isn't mine to take and making the wrong call on it. But that's just me :) – bvoyelr Oct 13 '17 at 14:52
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If your boss is unwilling to prioritize the tasks for you, you have to explain that you will have to do it yourself, since you can only focus on one task at once.

This task is not that huge, it will not affect your other tasks.

This simply is not true. If you work on X you cannot work on Y. You can't drive two cars at the same time. You have to explain this to him, in a professional manner.

(Jokingly) Thank god there are 26 hours in a day, you should have enough time.

(Jokingly) Okay, I will start on the day between Sunday and Monday.

But we have to do this new task, and the existing ones.

Again, tell him that you know the tasks are important, but that you can only concentrate on one task at a time.

All tasks (existing and new ones) have highest priority, we cannot cancel one of them

Ask your boss which task you should focus on, insist on getting a real prioritization from him. If he says "all of them" tell him that you'll never get done anything in time (or at all) if you'd do that. If he comes up with another urgent task, ask him to set a priority. If he says "it should be on the top of your list" explain that all the other tasks you currently work on will have to wait until you finish the new task.

If he still is unwilling to help you out, then you have to tell him to bring more people in. If all of the tasks are that urgent and you already work 10 hours a day, it should be enough work for AT LEAST 2 employees.

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