If you are a career-driven person, the idea of turning down a project is anathema to you. Most of us believe success lies with performance and impressing our peers. Taking on more work and completing significant projects would seem to be an obvious course to continue advancing your career and achieving what you desire.
The truth can be slightly more complicated. And it comes down to an old adage: Sometimes less is more. Below we will talk about the perils of spreading yourself too thin and how taking on too much at a job can actually hurt your career.
Failure to build leadership skills.
If you take on too much yourself, you can limit your ability to take a step back and view things strategically. Being a leader means having vision, motivating people, and seeing the broad picture. The more projects you take on, the harder it can be to develop such skills.
In a practical sense, it’s important to position yourself as a leader and to develop the skills companies view as essential to leadership. If you are constantly taking on new projects and doing the work yourself, are you learning to be a project leader? Are you learning to lead a team? Are you showing your capabilities as a top-level manager? Companies don’t always view a star performer as someone ready for a top-level management position. The skillsets are different. If you cannot demonstrate an ability to delegate, communicate and set a vision for a project, you could be holding yourself back and restricting your career.
If you spread yourself too thin, you can find yourself without a true area of expertise. It’s hard to advance in a company if you are good at many things but a master of nothing. Companies often look for experts or perceive people as experts in specific areas. The harder your role or place is to define, the more difficult it can be for you to advance.
Rather than trying to be all things to all people, it can be much more beneficial to focus on an area and use it as a vehicle for advancement. The easier it is for a company to quantify and understand your value, the easier it can be to move forward as career opportunities open to you.
Lowers your work quality.
If you spread yourself too thin, the outcome can be mediocre results. Although your intention might be admirable, to show your company and peers that you will take on additional work and are a team player, it will not reflect well on you if the quality of your work is subpar.
Ultimately, successful companies are most concerned with how things turn out. You won’t score points for getting in over your head and turning in work that is, at best, OK. The best way to impress people is to deliver tremendous results on a project or in your work. If you do, and you have the numbers to demonstrate how well you have done, this is much more impressive than doing a lot more work than only produces so-so results.
Another issue is time. The more you take on, the longer it can take you to get anything done. Suddenly, rather than being seen as someone taking on more and getting more done, you can be seen as unproductive, particularly if others are getting similar projects done faster because they have not spread themselves too thin.
Leads to burnout.
No matter how committed and motivated you are to a job, burnout can happen. If it does, the quality of your work, your attitude, your productivity, and your chance for advancement will crater. It’s also not good for your health. There are few things worse for you than stress. Working yourself to the point of being overwhelmed will not please your employer.
If you take on too much work, you are setting yourself up for failure. You run the risk of overwhelming yourself, missing deadlines, and producing mediocre work. Worse, if things go poorly, you have little recourse. Nothing looks worse than someone saying they failed or a project turned out poorly because they had too much to do.
Understand your abilities and bandwidth, and make sure you are dedicating yourself to the work you have in front of you fully. Also, managers and high-level executives appreciate honesty. If your plate is full, speak up and articulate what you are doing and your priorities. Chances are the conversation will produce a workflow that works for you and in the company’s best interest.
Meet with an Ivy Exec Career Coach to take the next step in your career.