Project Management Institute

A timeless technique



Boom times or bust, doing more work can boost your career.


During good economic times, career counselors advise you to “take on more work.” During bad economic times, the same counselors suggest survival strategies, including “take on more work.” Regardless of the economic climate there is a right way and a wrong way to advance your career by taking on more work. Done right, it can increase your value to the project or organization. Done wrong, it can create misery and unhappiness.

The wrong way is to wander into your boss’ office and say, “You know, I need more to do.” You're likely to get some assignment the boss doesn't want to do and doesn't value. Taking on an existing assignment does not have the same impact as identifying a problem, proposing a solution and offering to implement it. The right “asking-for-more-work” technique addresses an unmet need because new assignments create value while existing assignments already have demonstrated their value and are expected to be done.

But simply doing more work may not help—you must do work that is valued. Value is subjective and heavily influenced by corporate culture, but a little analysis and good listening can help determine what your company and its leaders value.

Check the Intranet for information about employee rewards and internal announcements recognizing a job well done. These can help provide critical insights about what work is valued.

Listen carefully to what executives and managers say at team meetings. If they say things like, “We need to respond faster to customers or stakeholders,” make sure the work you identify and propose aligns with that theme and addresses some part of it.

Another reason to take on more work is to increase your job satisfaction. This requires that you know yourself, what you like to do and the skills you like to use when working. You should also know your limits. Don't take on more work if you cannot manage what you have already been assigned. Instead, use this technique to negotiate a change in assignments, trading off a task you don't like for one that you might enjoy more.

Taking on an existing assignment does not have the same impact as identifying a problem, proposing a solution and offering to implement it.

Make sure any problem you propose solving is defined as precisely as possible. “Improving our relationship with accounting” is too vague. Think a bit beyond the immediate and obvious to determine why the relationship is bad. If the reason is that your department cannot calculate its monthly cost accruals on time, your opportunity for specific improvement may be accelerating the monthly accrual process. Defining the problem includes knowing what the end of the assignment looks like. If you create a process, will you own it and maintain it once it exists? Think through all possible outcomes before proposing the additional work to your boss. Once you get the approval, get the job done. You've got to deliver.

Realize that certain kinds of work are best avoided. Organizing social events is nice but won't get you anything except a request to organize the next event. Don't take on facility issues like office space and parking, no matter how bad they are, because simply raising these questions can brand you a troublemaker. The people in power usually are annoyed by facility issues and prefer to maintain things and not change them. The same is true for any project seeking to create new work policies like flextime and job-sharing. Unless the order to change comes from the top person, these initiatives are best left to the human resource staff.

Remember the main reason for taking on more work is self-promotion. Asking for the right work in the right way isn't enough—you must take steps to ensure you are recognized. Document your proposals and record your accomplishments for use during your performance reviews. Help your boss remember that you empowered yourself to make a difference, because it's really self-empowerment that makes asking for and doing more work a good technique for promotion—and for survival. PM


John Sullivan, PMP, is employed with an automotive retailing information services provider.

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