How Can I Offload Unproductive Work Without Losing My Job?

Just Delegate!

Time management advice says delegate work to free up our time for ‘more productive’ work. Simple. What if you don’t have a team or you think the work is unproductive irrespective of who does it? How can you offload unproductive work? Work that you don’t think needs to be done, work you’re not best suited to. How can you persuade others, perhaps senior people, that it’s not the best use of your time?

So How Do I Really Offload Work?

It’s not easy to offload unwanted or unproductive work (let’s call it unwanted, whatever the rationale, to avoid listing the reasons every time). It’s not easy to even recognise whether or not a piece of work should be unwanted, so let’s start there.

‘I’ve got a hundred and one things to do and I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what’s more important. I don’t even know why I’ve been asked to do some of it.’

Take a step back and let’s do some quick analysis. Many tasks will have a purpose, so do a quick run through to separate those from the less obvious stuff. If you’re really up against it, then stop the analysis now and get on and deliver some of those things. No point in wasting any more time if you’re going to have to do them anyway.

Now you have a list of more suspect work, then take the analysis a step further.

Taking a Closer Look

Start by taking a look at yourself. Not deep into your soul or anything, but look at yourself in the context of your job, your team, your department, maybe even the business you work for itself.

Magnifying glass on top of multi coloured papers

Look at yourself in the context of your job, your team, your department, maybe even the business you work for itself

Ask yourself these seven questions;

  1. How do I/my team etc. fit into the strategic objectives of the business?  (If you can’t answer this, unapologetically ask your boss).
  2. What is the vision and purpose of my job, my team etc.?
  3. What are the core strengths of my job, my team? (….You’ve got the picture by now).
  4. What’s the best use of me/us?
  5. What weaknesses do I/we have?
  6. What are my/our needs and wants? (It could be training, development, motivation, etc. This might not mean you don’t have to do something. You’re testing how well fitted you are to your role and thus, your ability to do a great job).
  7. What do you do already that is wasted effort?

Make Some Decisions

Now set any tasks you’ve been set against this analysis. The great thing here is you’ve only got to do the analysis once.
You’ll begin to see if;

  • The task is worth doing (Q1).
  • You as an individual or one of your colleagues or team members are better suited (Q2,3).
  • The business is wise to ask you to do it (Q4).
  • You won’t be able to do it (Q5).
  • Your heart is or should be, in it (Q6).
  • It’s actually just another unproductive task among a whole lot of others (Q7).

What Happens Next?

Armed with this information, you can now see more clearly just how worthwhile the task is and how you might go about trying to offload work you see as unproductive.

The ‘not a strategic fit’ card is always worth looking at, but it doesn’t always wash. Sometimes you’ll be under orders and at other times it won’t feel right, but you won’t be able to articulate why; more about this later. And sometimes things that aren’t strategic are still important; they just are. But generally, there should be some connection, even if it’s a tenuous one.

So what other reasons are there why something isn’t necessary? If you can quantify it, cost-benefit is a good one. If the cost of doing the work outweighs the benefit, then it’s hard to justify it. Similarly, if you’re doing something for one person, then is it really necessary? Could they have done it themselves? Check, but be careful what you say to whom!

4 Ways to Offload Unwanted Work

Finally, you’re at the point where you really might be in a position not do this thing! But how can you offload the unwanted work?
You only really have four options when it comes to unwanted work. 1. Just don’t do it. 2. Do something better. 3. Delegate to someone you manage. 4. Delegate to another person.

Let’s look at each in more detail:

1. Just Don’t Do It

The easiest thing (not) to do. Do nothing. Ignore the memo, bin the email. Easy, yes; risky, definitely. You have to weigh up the risk here. Who is asking? Just how unproductive is it. What might the consequences be? Why do you think you’ve been asked to do it in the first place? For sure it is a feasible strategy, but one that you should employ carefully and probably not too often. If you’re ignoring numerous requests from the same person, pluck up the courage to speak to them about it.

Three pieces of crumpled paper, one of the papers in the wastepaper bin

Offload unproductive work

2. Doing Something Better

This means making a suggestion to the person who has requested the work that is more valuable. It could be a minor modification to the task or a totally different approach to the subject. It’s all very well saying this, but you have to genuinely have a better idea. And even when you do there are two other considerations. Firstly it might take more time and secondly, you have to persuade someone else that your approach is better. Often when people get an idea into their head they won’t be moved from it – rightly or wrongly. Read the section on Sense Checking below, because that hard-headed view might belong to either of you!

3. Delegate Within Your Team

This is easy since you have the authority to ask your people to do whatever you want. Leadership styles apart, you ought to be able to justify why you are looking to offload work within your team, even if you see it as unproductive for you to do. Refer back to questions 2-5 above.

4. Delegate to Someone Outside of Your Team

Now, this is where it gets more tricky still. Unless you work in a very collaborative and helpful culture, then asking someone in another team, especially one outside your department, is not usually accepted with open arms. You’ll have to have good, solid and objective reasons – again refer to the questions above.

Two co workers sitting on office chairs, brainstorming.

Delegate to someone outside of your team

Sense Checking Your Common Sense

All of this sounds great, it’s just common sense. But life is rarely so simple and there are a few other points you need to think about.

You’ll encounter resistance from other people. You will, it’s human nature to favour one’s own ideas and for many a bit of a power trip. So have well reasoned, objective and honest reasons when you’re trying to persuade anyone of anything. When you want them to take on work that you were asked to do, it’s doubly important. And power is a tough one. Sometimes you should fight but choose your battles carefully. Don’t disrupt a longer-term game being played out by yourself, or your boss or your team. Give and take a little. Is there room for negotiation maybe?

If you can’t articulate your point then you’ll trip yourself up. It won’t be anyone else’s fault but your own. You have to get your facts straight – especially the financial ones. You have to know your audience, what do they want and not want to hear. What will make them sit up and listen?

How can you exceed their expectations?  And you have to be able to say what you need to say succinctly, without labouring your point or repeating yourself. Expect questions and opposition and have answers ready. Think, plan, practice, review …. a lot.

But what if you’re the one who is wrong? It’s possible. Distinguish between something that’s not good for the organisation, is best suited to someone else or something you just plain don’t want to do. If it doesn’t meet with your longer-term desires (Q6) then yes, you should be looking not to do it long term. But that doesn’t mean you just can’t do it straight off. Think very hard about it and perhaps seek other people’s opinions – a trusted colleague maybe.

Do the Right Thing 

When establishing whether to offload work, try to think strategically – even in your own limited sphere of influence. Consider what’s best for your organisation and practice making constructive arguments to explain your position. That’s a good skill to have in any situation. But get the job done – just be sure it’s the right job. 

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