March 20, 2019

Musings: Your Problem Is Not My Problem

Musings: Your Problem Is Not My Problem

The penchant for taking on additional tasks from our lagging colleagues may eventually drive us to the point of wearing the toga of ‘not my problem’ whenever the need for genuine assistance arises.

Eventually, your sanity depends on ignoring things that don’t affect you.

Some of us put in overtime every week, just to fix other people’s screwups. Maybe we don’t even get paid for it. We just know that certain things have to get done. So the work falls on us.

Stop doing that so much.

You might also bail out your friends when they’re caught in a jam. Let them crash at your place for a few weeks. Or months.

You’ll pay their room and board until they get “back on their feet.” Sure, you’re such a noble person.

But at some point, we all make the huge mistake of letting other people’s problems become ours.

Learning how to separate yourself from other people’s problems doesn’t make you selfish, greedy, or immoral. Actually, it makes you a better person.

Does that sound insensitive, harsh, cruel?

Then you really need to keep reading. Taking on too many problems, at work or otherwise, can burn up your compassion. Drain your energy. And leave you jaded and apathetic.

Also Read: Being Caged By The Truth

At that point, you’re no good to anyone.

I’ve seen it happen a dozen times. I’m noticing a pattern. Someone does an inhuman amount of work. They sacrifice themselves. People praise them. They ask, “How do you manage it all?”

The hero shrugs and says, “I’m just dedicated.”

A year later, they drop dead. Or quit. Something snaps. They reach a point where the work becomes too much.

What You Shouldn’t Be Doing

Here’s what highly effective people don’t do: fix Uche’s spreadsheets because she can’t do her job. Letting Uche screw up her spreadsheets doesn’t make you cruel, or irresponsible.

Not every workaholic is built the same. Some people never burn out, even though they work all the time. But they’re doing things they enjoy. Things they find rewarding.

Here’s what they’re not doing: fixing Uche’s spreadsheets because she can’t do her job. They’re not doing that.

Don’t fix Uche’s spreadsheets.

Stop writing Danjuma’s software documentation because he constantly screws up. Sure, he might cause a major disaster.

But that disaster isn’t your problem.

Just because you see something going wrong, that doesn’t mean you have to jump in and fix it. Constantly bailing out other people might help your boss or your company. But it doesn’t help you.

Not at all.

In fact, it hurts you. More than you know.

Hello, Mr Fixer. You are a recovering do-gooder. Since the turn of the year, you’ve jumped in and bailed out lots of people. Served on committees you didn’t need to. Showed people how to do things all the time. Corrected major problems with scheduling. Basically, you took on the work of an entire extra person.

Because nobody else was doing it.

But then you realized something. You’ve created a reputation for myself as the fixer. People think highly of you.

Coworkers extol your virtues, wishing you were in charge of their department.

Emphasis on the word ‘wishing’. You see, incompetence weighs a lot. It’s hard to move. The same people who wished you were in charge would exhale and say with their next breath, “But our team lead will never step down. And I don’t want to start a war.”

They were happy to let you keep solving all the problems. As long as you don’t expect anything in return.

Constantly bailing out others might help your boss or your company. But it doesn’t help you.

Sometimes, we do extra work for free for a good reason. We want to level up. Prove ourselves capable. Position ourselves for a promotion.

But when you do that time and again, simply to shore up weaknesses in your department, you’re simply screwing yourself.

Some of us tend to overextend ourselves. Other people’s projects shouldn’t become our projects, just because we want to be helpful.

Someone came to me for help with a big project last week. We met about it for an hour. I gave him some advice. Then a quiet silence overtook us. Finally, he realized I was waiting for him to leave.

At which point he said, “So could you help me with this?”

And I said, “Uh….I can give you advice?”

To which he answered, “Could you help me work up a proposal?”

And I replied. “I’ve kinda got a full plate right now.”

So he said, “Oh.”

And I nodded. “Yeah…”

You’ll be faced with these moments, too. Stay strong. Other people’s projects shouldn’t become yours, just because you want to be helpful.

It’s not the first time I’ve had to pull back. People like us, we tend to overextend ourselves. That means we have to constantly rein ourselves in. Remind ourselves what matters. What we actually want.

You should never feel selfish for refocusing on the kind of work you want to do. Stop letting people shame you into giving up your time.

And trust me, they will.

Indirect shaming does the most damage. We know how to deal with direct requests. The ones where we can just say “yes” or “no.” The sinister coworkers are the ones who say, “Oh, hey! I haven’t seen you in a while.” Implication: where the hell have you been?

Then they start talking about how much work they do. Finally, they slip in something like, “It sure would be nice to get some help.” Or, even worse, they say, “I don’t know how you manage to hold it together.”

Well, the real answer is because you’re organized. You know what you’re doing. And you manage your time well.

But you feel guilty. You doubt yourself. So you volunteer to help Chioma or Yetunde or Jide with tasks that shouldn’t overwhelm them.

Next thing you know, Chioma’s at a club posting selfies on Instagram while you’re at home making her a flowchart.

Stop letting people rope you into projects that don’t align with your larger goals or desires. There’s no shame in guarding your time.

There’s rarely a good reason to simply save someone else’s ass. You might think you’re saving the day, but you could be helping cover up bigger problems.

It sounds easy to remember. But people who possess excellent work ethics forget all the time. Some things simply aren’t your problem. Do the work you have to do. And the work you want to do. Never do someone else’s work. There’s rarely a good reason to simply save someone else’s ass.

That sounds harsh. Maybe even cruel. If you can’t jive with that, ask yourself. How many people would do the same for you?

If you find yourself constantly stepping in to save the day, stop. You might enjoy the praise. Or you’re really that selfless.

But you might be making the problem worse. You’re enabling incompetence. You’re also perpetuating workload problems. Instead, point out that responsibilities need to shift.

You can take on someone else’s responsibility, but only if they exchange it for one of your jobs.

Talk to your boss about reassigning duties.

Try to adjust work flows. If you can’t, then maybe you should consider finding another employer.

In the end, the big boss is supposed to be distributing work according to qualifications, ability, and performance.

If they can’t do that, you’re not going to help by sacrificing yourself. Remember. Not your problem. If you struggle with this idea, then make yourself a poster. Write a poem. Perform it before your image in the bathroom mirror.


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