A lot of people asking me to do small things

I find that I’m frequently overwhelmed (mostly at work) with a lot of people asking me to do what is, in their eyes, a relatively small/simple task. But because so many people have these types of requests from me, it’s not easily manageable, and overall is much harder than any one person might assume it is when they ask me.

I’m sure this is a common phenomenon. But I can’t think of a quote that captures why this is so frustrating. Anyone aware of a quote, or a cartoon, or a clip from a movie/show that relates to this feeling?

I’ve heard, “No one cow thinks they’re responsible for the stampede.”

“They have a CAVE TROLL!”

Obviously, this


How much authority do you have (or – just as importantly – do you feel you have) to politely refuse these requests ?

If you’re feeling that overwhelmed, are you in a position to set aside some time to talk with your supervisor, explain how you’re feeling, take a collective look at all that’s on your plate, and then ask your supervisor’s help with two things:

  • Prioritizing what’s already there
  • Establishing guidelines for who gets to ask what of you – what things are really yours to handle (and what aren’t)

If none of the above are viable – and that’s certainly possible (that your supervisor tells you that all these tasks are yours, and that they’re all high priority) – then you may want to advocate for resources. Maybe it’s time they bring on another person.

Sometimes, making the right person aware of this kind of situation can yield some help and relief.

If and when it doesn’t, things get much harder. You have to decide how secure you would feel in setting reasonable boundaries yourself, and then sticking to those boundaries (eg, saying no, leaving on time).

Which doesn’t always end well.

Too many companies view the majority of their employees as unimportant and easily replaced. If you feel like that’s your situation, I’d lean heavily on working on win-win solutions that take some of the pressure off of you.

Best of luck !

“Death by a thousand paper cuts”?

Great story. Makes me think of that letter that needs to be mailed… could you take care of that for me?

“I’m being nibbled to death by ducks.”

“The straw that broke the camel’s back.”

P.S. I’m sometimes in the same situation and I find that it helps to tell people “You’re number xx in the queue…unless upper management comes in with a rush job.”

That was ONE BIG advantage I had in the days before email. In-person requests would get written on a sticky note and posted above my desk with all of the other notes. The visual of a board covered with notes made things much easier to understand.

I have this same problem at work, because my program interacts with other Engineers and other programs. All I can offer is the vision of ‘Stretch Armstrong’.

'Cause I too, am at the point that @DavidNRockies is proposing. I’ve spoken with my supervisor, and he acknowledges I’ve got a lot on my plate. He agrees with me that now, stuff just isn’t going to be addressed by me, and I’m growing my own teeth to set some boundaries. I’ve started making it clear that I’ve walked away from one program in my portfolion, because, and I self-quote, “I just don’t have the bandwidth to do that anymore, and it’s outside the scope of my day-to-day responsibilities.” There’s a MasterClass by Richard Voss (YouTube link here) that I watched that helped me start ‘negotiating’ for boundaries.

I retired from Active Duty where “No” or “I can’t” was simply not in the vocabulary. Now six years into my current position, I’m learning it’s okay to say “No.” It is okay to say an unqualified, unconstrained “no”!

Damn. That last sentence still felt sacrilegious to type out–but it’s true.

People always talk as if “the company” is some monolithic entity where tasks just sort of appear as if by magic in your inbox and you have to respond, otherwise you get summarily fired. People usually have a manager, a job description, specific roles and responsibilities, and so on.

I get random competing requests all the time. Help with this proposal, help me with this client, talk about this subject to my team, help me find a template that does XYZ, attend this stupid meeting, yadda yadda yadda. Now granted I’m pretty senior, so unless you are my managing director or a partner in the firm, I can pretty much say “fuck off” (politely of course). And even then, there’s a hierarchy of requests:

  • clients always come first.
  • close is any sort of activity related to the day to day running of our practice
  • sales
  • all the other internal bullshit

When a senior consultant calls me up asking me if I can add a few paragraphs to his “thought leadership whitepaper” before he heads off on 8 weeks of paternity leave, it’s nice to be in a position to say “No. Your paper looks like shit and needs major rewrites and I’m not doing that for you because I don’t have to.” Maybe not in those words.

Don’t get me wrong. I like helping people. But I kind of feel like the OP. More with family than work usually. Like it feels like a constant barrage of children and idiots asking me to do stupid little stuff for them, frankly because they are too lazy or stupid to do it themselves.

One of my best employees had that issue. He is very knowledgeable and helpful, so his colleagues went to him with requests all day long and he would try to accommodate them. It got to where it was interfering with what he was supposed to be doing, which interfered with us achieving our production goals, as well stressing him out. At his performance review, I put as one of his goals “Learn to say ‘no’”. He took it to heart and things have been much better. I suspect he might also have used me as the bad guy, “I would but the boss says I have to do this instead…”. Whatever works. But from a supervisor’s perspective, I’d rather all the employees do their assigned tasks themselves, and know how to do them, rather than depend on one or two overachievers to take care of things. The operation flows much more smoothly that way.

I’ve begun to do something similar. I have a legal pad with a long list of tasks on it, and when someone breezes in with a request, I take it right down and put the date next to it. I love to see their faces fall when they realize I’m not about to hop to.

Which works great until someone commits you to a task in of the customer (and better yet, in your absence) and your manager’s response is, “Yeah, that is outside your responsibility but Joe McCustomerman really likes the idea of you doing this so carve out space in your schedule.” And when I point out that my schedule is already 20+ hours of often overlapping meetings per week, “Well, skip some of the less important ones,” as if I wasn’t already punting on anything that I wouldn’t be missed on.

Someday soon, Imma gonna buy my own brass cannon and go into business polishing it for myself. The pay sucks and the benefits are non-existent, but I can set my own hours and only respond to calls from “The Boss” on alternate Undays. All meetings will be on one day a year, the 35th of Septumbler in a chamber at the top of a basalt spiral tower that only appears in the dark of the moon at an unspecified location deep in the Peruvian jungle.


That was the expectation at my last job. Another expectation was to get a brutal reaming from a different manager who expected 100% attendance of their mandatory counterproductive meetings (usually beatings to punish poor morale). I ended up rage quitting. New job starts in June.

Yeah, I got that, too. In my previous job the ‘big boss’ decided that he needed to hold an ‘emergency staff meeting’ that was on top of my briefing to our customer. I informed him that I’d get through my part of the brief as quickly as I could to join his (bullshit) meeting but that the customer rep was an O-6 and it would look terrible if I skipped out on it. Nonetheless, when I came into his meeting (only ten minutes late because I reorganized the entire brief to go first) he spent five minutes insulting and belittling me in front of a group of colleges and other managers, an act for which in retrospect I should have made a complaint to HR and followed up with a consultation with an employment lawyer. His meeting actually turned out to just be somme self-fluffing about how great he was in another meeting that he’d come from and had absolutely fuck-all to do with me, our program, or anybody who worked for me.

Later on, after more active harassment and nonsense ‘investigations’ of me by HR that were clearly at his direction I badged over and ended up being in charge of overseeing his company’s subcontract work to our contract, which he complained about mightily and even called my new boss trying to insist on my replacement (good luck with that, my new boss recruited me specifically to put a stop to this kind of nonsense and all the problems it was causing). Eventually his company was acquired by another bigger fish and after a reorg he was shitcanned along with his entire team of sycophants. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy and I wish him well in whatever self-created hellscape he currently haunts, the miserable cocksucker.



That was my first thought, followed by “every snowflake in an avalanche pleads ‘not guilty.’”

I like the idea of keeping a list of tasks with dates to show people how these little things add up. I realize that keeping such a list adds another task to the pile, but it might be what you need to be able to set some boundaries.

I think I speak for everyone here in saying I hope that day comes soon so you can spend more time on the SDMB

I worked with a guy who figured it out. A salesbully (who’d made unreal promises to a client) would run in with a “rush job that HAS to GET DONE by FRIDAY at FIVE O’CLOCK!”

Smartypants guy would very nicely tell them “Great, I can do that, and frankly I’d love to. All you need to do is get Bigly Boss and Bossie McVeep to tell me I can put off their projects til next week.”

The bluster would immediately morph into milquetoast: “Oh. Well, that… so, uhhh… can you, ummm, work on mine maybe next week then?”

“Lack of planning on your part does not create an emergency on my part.”

I hear ya, I do, but I counter with, “Well ‘Big Boss,’ its outside my scope and I’m going to need to wrangle others into this for their expertise, which’ll triple the cost and time.” Or, just not do the task citing, “Other priority work came up that you directed me to do.” There are always methods to drag feet, and/or make non-priorities not happen. But I realize I say this as an entrenched bureaucratic-engineer with pretty decent supervision. That reminds me, @Stranger_On_A_Train . . .would you PM me? I had a question for you.

I think you, and I, need clones.