As the old adage goes, if you need something done, ask a busy person.
This is generally fine for the asker, but less fine for the busy person on the other end of the request. Sure, they will give you the thing you need, but it might involve some sleepless nights and insanely high stress levels.
It’s a problem Josh Zerkel is all too familiar with. Zerkel is a certified professional organiser and the director of global community and training at Evernote. When I met with him in May, he told me there’s one area of productivity he still struggles with.
“I take on more work than I should because I’m really capable of getting lots of things done. I tend to be a ‘yes’ to most things. I really, really like feeling like I accomplished a lot, and I like helping other people.
“These are all good qualities, but I perhaps have turned the volume up too high on them. So I tend to end up being hyper-efficient, and get more things done than I really should.”
Yes, this sounds like a #humblebrag: Poor me, I’m so good at stuff that I can’t stop being good at stuff. But when you really think about it, the problem is just as real as being lazy or unmotivated. In both situations, you wind up feeling bad about yourself.
Zerkel said he tries to tell himself: “It’s ok to have free time and not do anything.” But it’s not an easy idea to accept — or to communicate to other people.
As psychologists have documented, we expect more of responsible people, meaning they end up feeling like their competence is a “burden.”
Or, as Zerkel put it, “If you’re a capable person and people recognise that you’re organised and productive, they’re not going to give you a gold star. They’re going to give you more work.”
And an infinite amount of “more work” isn’t the definition of productivity. It’s more about creating the life you want to live — at the office and at home; with coworkers and with family and friends.
To that end, it’s important to remember that declining an invitation isn’t the end of the world — and doesn’t make you a misanthrope. As etiquette and civility expert Rosalinda Oropeza Randall previously told Business Insider, something as simple as, “It sounds great, but I think I’ll pass this time” should do the trick.
Even when you’re dealing with a demanding boss, it’s (sort of) possible to push back. If you’re already overloaded with other assignments, you can say something along the lines of: “I would be happy to do that project, but what that could mean is that [whatever other project you’re working on] will have to be put off until tomorrow, because I was actually going to spend the next three hours finishing that proposal. Would you like me to put that off?”
As for Zerkel, he tries, only sometimes successfully, to recognise: “These are my limits; these are my boundaries. This is the bucket that [the task] needs to fit within, because I have other buckets for other parts of my life.”
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