Lighten the Load of Covering for Colleagues

By Harvard Business Review
November 15, 2018

You want to be a team player, but sometimes pulling double duty can feel overwhelming. These six tips may help you carry the extra burden.

Covering for colleagues can feel overwhelming. This sense of overload can compound when you have several individuals out of the office or are facing longer absences such as sick leave or sabbaticals.

Find an in-between solution where you keep up on the essentials but avoid putting the full weight of multiple jobs on your shoulders. When you have to carry the load of two or more people, these strategies can help you strike a delicate balance:

Accept reality: When someone asks you to cover their projects, consider what you can reasonably do. You can’t do everything — and that’s OK. If you have important deadlines at the same time, you may need to encourage them to find someone else.

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Ask for a plan: Your colleagues need to make your responsibilities clear. That may mean an email or a meeting where they detail the status of projects, next steps, deadlines and key contacts.

Focus on deadlines: When you're dealing with multiple jobs at once, revert to survival mode. That means a radical focus on deadlines and what’s critical to accomplish that day or week.

Pause the nonurgent: If you have a massive increase in urgent work, you may need to suspend nonurgent work entirely, such as a project with no deadline, process improvement items or networking meetings.

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Limit extra work time: If you must work additional hours, don’t let it turn into working late every night.

Ask for help: See if a boss can cover a few of the responsibilities, if a co-worker can take notes for you at meetings so that you don’t need to attend, or if you can get some contract or temp help. The temporary help can be of particular value for long absences.

Copyright 2018 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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