Currently working for a three letter government agency in their IT department and going on three years as system administrator. I also work as the backup SAN administrator, and manage all of the hardware for various server rooms that we operate across our campus and whatever else comes down the pipe.

I'm starting to notice that most of my co-workers do the bare minimum to get by. While on the other hand, I'm swamped with work from the time I come in till the time I leave. It's typically my manager that passes this work onto me, as I know in his head, that he knows, that if the work gets put on my desk, it will get done correctly. However, this is preventing me from getting other work done, like important projects done for other folks and departments. My manager has commented on this or that work isn't getting done and it's because I'm getting work from him because either other employees let the work slip through the cracks or don't do the work correctly the first time and I have to do the re-work.

I've also looked back on my career so far and this seems to continue to happen to me. I grew up in a smaller rural environment so in my mind, my work ethic is pretty good.

I've brought this up to my manager that we have, for example, a contractor, who either spends most of their time surfing social media websites, socializing with others, or generally screwing around. I've said that I wanted to pass off some of my work to this contractor. My manager responded that this would be tough as the contract would have to be re-written. My response was that I could help with the re-writing of the contract, however it never seems to go any further then that conversation.

So to sum it up, how do I stop getting all of this extra work from being dumped on me, so I can focus on what I was hired for, system administration?

  • 14
    Your boss is right - "If you want something doing urgently, give it to the busiest person you know" is a good working rule, at least in the short term until the consequences (as in your OP) start to kick in.
    – alephzero
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 0:33
  • 14
    "What you were hired for" is often irrelevant. Now you have been hired, you are there to do whatever the organization needs to get done, and that might not include "more system administration" unless the system keeps falling apart at regular intervals! (And how does "volunteering to rewrite somebody else's contract" count as "system administration" - even if you have enough formal legal training to do the rewrite yourself?)
    – alephzero
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 0:37
  • 2
    Is the main issue the amount of work or the type of work? Do you want the ability to prioritise your core tasks over picking up stuff that fell through the cracks and that's not really your core focus?
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 7:58
  • 4
    Possible duplicate of What can I do to make a coworkers lack of effort more visible?
    – Chris E
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 14:00
  • 1
    I was once in charge of a the largest services contract for my state. They sub-contracted to an outfit that had problems with delivery on previous projects, but our concerns were dismissed. Whenever they tried to cancel a progress meeting, I'd make them show up, explain why they were not meeting deadlines, and to detail their action plan for getting on track, in a very unfriendly way. It made a huge stink, since they got the job through connections, and the owner crashed a meeting and berated government officials while bragging about how connected he was to the governor. Best of luck to you. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 14:46

11 Answers 11


When your manager asks you to perform a task and you don't have time to do both that task and everything else you've committed to, tell him that. You can inform him of your workload and still be respectful. Try something like, "Sure boss, I'd love to do X, but I've already committed to do Y and Z, and I don't have time to do all three. Which tasks should I prioritize? Is anyone available to help me?" Then go from there.

If you're concerned about future backlash from not doing a task your manager tells you not to do, follow up your conversation with an email. If there are other stakeholders involved (i.e. people other than your manager request your time), copy them on the email or ask your manager to speak with them. If someone asks you to perform a task and your schedule is full, refer them to your manager. Don't be afraid to use your manager as a buffer between you and the people requesting your time; that's part of their job.

Don't complain about the work ethics of others. It will make you look whiny, and it's irrelevant anyway. The only thing that matters is your workload and whether it exceeds the amount of work you can do. It's the responsibility of your manager to decide how to deal with you having too much work, and it's also his responsibility to deal with slackers. Don't try to do his job.

  • 69
    Perfect answer. As a "Boss" if someone came to me and said "Sure boss, I'd love to do X, but I've already committed to do Y and Z, and I don't have time to do all three. Which tasks should I prioritize?" That's exactly would would happen I would prioritize. Maybe offload some work, maybe move some deadlines around. Let your manager manage that's their job.
    – coteyr
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 1:00
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    @coteyr: You mean you haven't had managers come back later and ask why Y wasn't done later?
    – Joshua
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 2:20
  • 10
    @Joshua if a manager de-prioritizes a task requested by someone else, then they should go talk to that other person. That's part of their job. Do you think I should add something about that to the answer? A decent manager will take care of that without prompting, but admittedly there are some terrible managers out there.,
    – Kat
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 2:30
  • 17
    Very important, try to get his priority list in written form, so you can send others to him if they complain the less important work isn't getting done.
    – BgrWorker
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 12:29
  • 9
    @BgrWorker - Asking manager to write it up might be too much, but sending email to manager saying that according to your understanding, your priorities are in order X, Y, Z gives you CYA. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 12:40
  1. This first part is ALL you. You're complaining, but how many breaks do you take each workday? I'm guessing that it's zero. Eating lunch at your desk -- who made the decision to stay and work through lunch? And maybe, just maybe, you're working overtime after everyone else has left for the day -- who made that decision? Look in the mirror. If you are giving off the vibe that your role is to keep everyone else satisfied in the absence of your own self-satisfaction, you'll just stay where you are. Take your breaks. LEAVE at break time. LEAVE after eight hours. Stop being so available.

  2. Priorities. Everything that comes across your desk cannot be priority #1. When you get a request, you must let the requestor know that your current workload doesn't allow you to complete the request immediately. Someone here suggested getting your boss involved as a gate-keeper - that would help. To put it succinctly, those requestors have to be told "no" sometimes when asking for things right away. Learn to manage expectations as well as you have learned to manage servers.

  3. Stop worrying about what your co-workers are doing, and get your own situation balanced :)

  • 14
    There are companies who will reward employees making themselves always available and being helpful, as opposed to taking advantage of them. Perhaps OP should find one of these companies. I agree that this is a good work ethic to have, and if other people are taking advantage, rather than the solution be "lower your worth ethic" I think an alternative solution which allows him to maintain his work ethic should be sought.
    – ESR
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 2:01
  • 44
    @EdmundReed taking breaks and not doing a lot of overtime isn't lowering your work ethics, it's taking care of yourself so that your company can enjoy your excellent work ethics (getting things done and not goofing off during your regular work hours) for a long time instead of having to deal with your burnout in a couple of years. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 6:43
  • 4
    If your company rewards you for something that makes your workload unbearable, then maybe that's not a reward you should pursue.
    – user62210
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 6:54
  • 1
    @EdmundReed - I don't agree the worth ethic that is described by the author is "good" it is more "unhealthy" and not sustainable for decades. However, I also can't say it is a "bad" work ethic, because they are getting the job done.
    – Donald
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 14:25
  • 7
    Sadly, I worked for a company where overtime was noticed and rewarded. There were quite a number of groups where everyone partied until ~2-3pm, then got busy and worked until 7pm. I got all my work done before lunch then invented tasks to keep myself busy until it was quitting time and went home. I didn't stay there long enough for anyone to complain about my "slacking".
    – FreeMan
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 14:39

Get a spreadsheet started that lists all the projects you're working on.

On mine, I keep track of who requested the project and when, involved parties, a priority level, current status (if you're reworking a project or waiting on something from someone, put it here or create a notes section), and an expected completion date (or # of hrs required to finish if that's easier to track). This can be tedious to keep up but set aside 5/10 minutes a day to go through and update it.

Now you have a nice running list of everything you're working on for everyone at any given time.

With that list, you can set up a meeting with your manager and go over the projects you're working on and show him/her the varying tasks you have from everyone on top of what (s)he is assigning you. This should hopefully open your manager's eyes to the fact that you're being spread too thin.

Or, the next time your manager assigns a task to you, pull up the sheet, add it, and give a time estimate making it clear your plate is full and you will need some time to finish it. When they ask why it will take that long, show your list of projects and offer to meet with them to discuss how to cut back your never ending list of demands.

Visual representations can make quite an impact. There is difference between saying, "I'm already working on 10 other projects" and showing the 10 projects you're working on very matter-of-factly.

  • 7
    I had a boss that had me do this, and we'd meet once a week or so to go over it. It also illustrated to me that I needed to say "no" more often or I'd never be able to keep all my commitments. It's a great tool.
    – Kat
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 23:03
  • 7
    I did the same thing, but with a white board on my wall. I found that people would frequently come to my work area to ask me to do something, look at the whiteboard and make the decision for themselves what the priorities needed to be.
    – magerber
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 7:38
  • 3
    I second this - though you may want to make it a Kanban board (e.g. Trello, Kanboard), for easier fiddling of jobs (as priorities shift). If you have something website-based, then it'll be easy for all interested parties to be able to see what you're up to, and limit who can edit what. There's also the visual impact of having a lot of things in the "to do" column to let people know you've got a lot of shit to do. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 11:07

You should not be working for government.

People will here give you all kind of elaborate advice and attack me for generalizations, but truth is simple: In private sector people that are more productive are generally rewarded/promoted more(obviously if you are silly enough to let be exploited you will be, but generally employers will try to reward you before you start looking around), in public sector this effect is much weaker(I could say nonexistent but I do not want into arguments in comments).

EDIT: to clarify for comments who feel this does not answer the OP question. Point of my answer is that seeking fair allocation of work among coworkers or promotion for your performance while working for government (generally) is unrealistic.

  • 1
    absolutely, private sector values productivity much more, there are many big differences in what advances you compared to govt.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 9:43
  • 2
    It sounds like your answer is "quit your job", which doesn't answer the question that was asked. Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 21:15

I have been in this situation several times. There is no solution that can be had without being proactive. Ask yourself what you want.

If you're happy with the workload but want more $$, ask for more $$. If they're riding on your back a good manager will know this and push hard for a raise for you. Whenever you ask for more money there is an implication that you're eyeing the door if you don't get it. I have usually gotten the raise, but ended up leaving anyway within a year if I got a better offer.

If the workload is too much for you but you're happy with the money, then inform the manager (or not) and start limiting the work you do. Many people go this track for decades.

The other way out is to ask for promotion, this is usually a lot harder to accomplish, because you are more valuable as a worker.

Lastly job hunt, this might be the best solution and you should always be prepared to leave if negotiations go sour.

Personally I would ask for a raise and job hunt at the same time because I like money. But you know your situation best.


First ask your supervisor to prioritize when you have too many tasks to do for a reasonable timeframe. Or ask if the deadlines can be pushed further.

If everything else failed, learn to delegate, and ask your supervisor to either give you the authority to delegate, or ask him/her on a per project basis when needed. But think beforehand to who you can delegate and with what time schedule, your supervisor will be much more receptive. As my own supervisor once said: "don't come with only problems, come also with solutions".

When you work well, people tend to offload more work on you. Managing this kind of situation can be seen either as a burden (because if you have an overload of work, it is either because your collaborators are slacking off or because your manager does not estimate correctly the amount of work) or as an opportunity to train in project management.

The goal here is not to take on yourself to do all the works of others, but rather to learn how to deal autonomously and efficiently with these situations. Delegating work is thus a crucial skill, and it is very well appreciated (by others and by your future self). Indeed, delegating is not just about offloading work onto others, but about planning and supervision: it is a work in itself, and a set of skill that cannot be improvised. Thus, you can use these situations at your advantage, and hopefully you'll be able to reuse these skills in future similar situations.

You might find useful the following other posts (step by step tutorials to delegate, how to approach your supervisor to propose other collaborators to delegate to, etc.):

That's for the actual work, and assuming your managers are sensible. There is also the communication part, where you have to report about your progress. For this, you might find useful to maintain a list of projects you are working on, along with deadlines and the priorities you were assigned.

See also:

About your feeling of being assigned to something else than what you were hired for, you can refer to this excellent table and if necessary talk with your supervisor to redefine your role in the company:

But I think this last point is of importance: of course doing the work your company ask you to do is of primary importance, but it is also important you appreciate what you are doing. So it is important both you and your supervisor agree on what your role is, at least most of the time, even if you have third-party tasks from time to time, as long as it does not take over your main role.

Good luck in your endeavors.


Your problem appears to be that your work queue is not empty by the end of the day. But that's normal, and you can't expect your manager to micromanage it. Particularly when your duties include system administration, there will be unpredictable high-priority tasks coming up to your slate that shift back other scheduled work. That has to be understood by anybody putting lower-priority stuff in your queue.

When high-priority stuff comes up in a bunch, that may mean significant rescheduling of lower-priority stuff and possibly moving deadlines or moving tasks to other workers. Either will likely warrant coordination with your manager.

So at any rate the solution to your work queue not being empty by the end of the day is not to work overtime until it is, but to have good strategies for dealing with fluctuations in the workload entering your queue. In particular, strategies you are confident enough about not to get stressed out over. Your work will not self-organize magically in a manner where it fits your hours.

  • I really like this answer because it goes a bit more into details specific to the occupation of the questioner whereas most other answers are more generic. Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 7:18

Learn to say no.

When you are the one who resists the least when there is new work to be done, you will always be the first one who gets all the new work.

Next time your manager tries to give you another task, explain to them that you already have several overdue projects and that you simply don't have the capacity to do any more work. So your supervisor either needs to find someone else to do it, find someone else to do some other task you are currently doing or accept the fact that you are going to miss several deadlines.


As long as you continue to clear your work queue, people will dump more stuff on it. You might as well treat this as a fundamental law, because there is no way around it. Asking for help "prioritizing" and such as other answers suggest will only make you look lazy (or, worse, insubordinate).

The only way out is to stop working as hard as possible in order to clear your work queue. Recognize that clearing your work queue its an impossible task - the environment can and will adapt to give you additional work far more efficiently than you can complete that work, regardless of your level of competence.

Your goal should be to find inner peace in the workplace despite not finishing everything you are assigned. If you are stressed by the volume of work, don't work harder. Take a coffee break to relax and then get down to work at a reasonable pace.

Remember, if you're working harder than the guy in the next cubicle for the same pay you are doing it wrong.


Agree on timeboxes and stick to them

The most basic version of this is: I will work at most X hours per week or per day. If the hours run out, and the work hasn't, then you stop. Of course X can be variable depending on the situation (e.g. you may increase it around a go-live) but it should always be something acceptable.

A more detailed version would be: I work at most X hours per week on task A, and will work the remaining hours on task B.

Typically you will be able to agree on strategic priorities (like A and B need to be done this year), but when there are a lot of milestones in A, and B only gets checked at the end of the year... then typically only timeboxing can prevent you from fully getting drawn into A.

Practical tip: To avoid the timeboxes to be silently reduced, choose fixed (half) days which you block for A or B. You can of course leave some flexibility.

Manage expectations with these timeboxes in mind

Once these timeboxes are set, you know your capacity. The next day someone will likely come and as you to do some work on A. At this moment you should say based on your timebox, with the current workload I will work on it by T.

From this point all kind of things can happen, (and it will be most easy to defend your timeboxes if two equally powerfull managers are responsible for each timebox), but at least now the long term work will not silently slide back on the planning. The manager can of course choose to re-prioritize and tell you to work on A, but at this point you must make him say explicitly that he is telling you to work on A instead of B which was planned.

This hopefully helps you to work on short and long term stuff in a good proportion. Even if it does not, then at least it moves the responsibility for the long term stuff off your shoulders.


From the bottom-up perspective, you can do two things:

  1. Ask for small favors from others, like copy/paste tasks, to lighten your load
  2. The next time you schedule some time off, prepare for it by listing out all your responsibilities, and share that with the team

Realize that the building will not collapse if you are not there, and have some casual conversation about doing knowledge transfer with your coworkers as well as your manager so that you are not suffering in silence.


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